Am I jaded?
Christmas is on my birthday (not the other way around) and every year I get at least a few gifts marked "Happy Birthday & Merry Christmas," or the eye bleeding "Merry Birthday." Merry Birthday? Who thought up that jewel of a greeting? The second worst birthday on my record was the year all of my presents were wrapped in Christmas paper, a passive attempt by friends and family to not acknowledge my special day.
Yes, I think I've won the ‘Who Want's to be a Jaded SOB?" jackpot, and this keeps me warm at night.
For all of you splendid people who get "double gifted" on your Christmas birthday, here is something you might try. This Christmas, take the art of double gifting to the masses by putting "Merry Christmas and Happy EARLY Birthday" on the gifts you hand out. Smile like the Cheshire Cat as they read the card, and watch their face squinch-up in that "what the heck?" manner in which we've become accustomed. Lie through your teeth in your explanations of gift consolidation and being the early bird. And then, end your soft-spoken reasoning with the same five words we hear every December, "I figured you wouldn't mind."
I wasn't always this jaded. As a child my parents understood the want and need of a Christmas baby to feel special. Standard procedure in the Driscoll household was celebrating Jesus' birthday in the morning, and my birthday at night once the entire family arrived. I remember blowing out the candles on my mom's cloudy-white coconut cake and opening my presents surrounded by family, friends and neighbors. Like the great literary genius Bryan Adams wrote, "Those were the best days of my life." I was John-boy without the mole.
So what happened? Everyone grew up, birthdays became more like a chore than a celebration and both Love Boat and Fantasy Island were cancelled. Things went down hill from there. I became agnostic (Pascal's Wager to be exact), I had to decorate the family tree one year by myself, and awoke the next morning to find it redecorated and repositioned across the room. A few years later I heard about a girl who was given her own "birthday tree" to offset her dual holiday, so I passed around rumor she ate dirt and paste together.
I became the kid who sang "Fruit cocks and Hazel's nuts" instead of "Fruit cups and Hazelnuts" at holiday sing-a-longs. Everything changed in my mind. The song "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" became "The Deer with the Big Pimple," "Frosty the Snowman" was reworded as "That Frozen Bastard Who Stole My Carrot," and "Silent Night, Holy Night" was transformed into "Silent Night, Holy Crap" the mega-dance mix version, of course. I stayed in my room well into the dinner hour only to emerge with a Johnny Cash like presence and silver anti-Christmas rings with skeletons and anarchy symbols. I spent a great deal of energy mourning the days gone by like the Rolling Stones do now, but with less wrinkles. I put the drama in melodramatic, even winning best actor and supporting actor at a family hoot-nanny. This was before I designed my own version of Michaelmas on the Web with pictures of Santa standing salaciously behind a grimacing Rudolph yelling "Yo, ho ho ho."
As I got older, I put the past away and saved it for a future argument with God. I figured that if I ever do meet this person that I should have something to say. My parents divorce was a mixed blessing and I spent Christmas Eve with my mother then Christmas Day with my father and his new family. Mom would fuss over me and make any dish I requested, which usually consisted of her artichoke dip, breaded chicken with green bean casserole and a small gift exchange afterwards. Once I turned 21 I felt bad for making her cook and changed my request to something more modern, more us. Beer and pizza accompanied by the same artichoke dip appetizer greeted me every Christmas Eve. We even got a bit tipsy one night and prank-called my sister who lived out of state.
My favorite part of our evenings together was when my Mom retold the story of my birth, placing it right up there with the religious Christmas story that single-handedly drowned out my birthday. Just like Jesus' mother, my mother was named Mary. Just like Jesus our mothers went on a journey to give birth, mine to a sterile hospital and the other to a livestock infested barn overseas. The parallel falls apart when my mother had a stiff drink (who knew you couldn't back then?) before going to the hospital, and ends with the administration of painkillers. Both Mary's held their children; both fathers witnessed the birth. Michael means "one who is like God", and Jesus also has some meaning.
Yes ma'am, the good days were back. I was moved by Mom's ability to make Christmas fun again, and told her so in a poem about a mother and a son looking through old family photographs during the holidays called "Photographs and Milk." She cried when she read it and didn't stop until after my sister called from out-of-state to wish us a happy holiday and tell us all about the weird phone call she received from an Indian woman trying to find her cheating husband Rafi Shameonu.
On December 25th I will be 27 years old. I've been at the peak of holiday joy and at the trough of halls decked without holly and back up again. What's different about this year is that I'm making my own traditions and have stopped relying on others to make my season brighter. I've also come to realize that the "season of giving" wasn't named the "season of receiving," but I'm working to change that through legislation in the form of a grass-roots campaign yet to be named. Any suggestions?