Family Fiction posted December 24, 2014


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Joy to the World

The Christmas Cringe

by mfowler


'Brad, honey, what did you think of the guacamole. I made it for tomorrow?' Julie had interrupted my writing to force feed me her latest creation before swanning off back to the kitchen like a successful performer after applause. I really hoped she wouldn't ask me for an opinion.
 
I know I shouldn't say it, but she's been getting on my wick since Christmas became her latest project. 'Great, baby. Though, I'd tone down the garlic.'
 
'Eeeeeeh! How dare you criticise my cooking! You never do a thing towards Christmas.' I hear a clatter from the kitchen and another stifled scream. There's guacamole slicked across kitchen surfaces streaked like frog diarrhoea on shiny rocks. Julie's eyes are filled with tears.
 
'Baby, maybe you're taking this Christmas malarkey way too seriously.'
 
'I'm not going to argue. We all know you're an agnostic. We all know you hate Christmas, but I want us to at least be a family on Christmas Day like normal people.'
 
I avoid my usual diatribe. I could tell her that the whole Christmas deal is based on a falsehood wrapped in a deception, which in turn anaesthetises the masses into accepting a holiday which is purely designed to fuel the corporate machine. But, given her mood, I err on the side of caution.
 
'I'll help you clean up, baby. It won't hurt if your parents don't get to dip a corn-chip in avocado. They come for the kids, not your cooking.' There's a silence so intense that I know I must be wrong again. Julie carefully removes her apron and folds it neatly with all the precision of a Japanese funeral ritual. She walks out of the room leaving me alone with a kitchen strewn with half made delicacies and a broken bowl of guacamole.
 
I hear, 'Going to Sandra's. Good luck with Christmas.' The door slams with the intent that was meant.
 
My thesis remains unfinished. Before the crisis, I was tidying up the final section of Pagan Practices in Modern Religions. Ironically, I was deep into an exposition of the Christian adaptation of the Sun God's festival as Christmas Day when Julie chose to have a meltdown. She usually supports my study 100%. Anthropology isn't her thing, but she knows a PhD will help my career no end.
 
I begin the clean-up with the diligence of a condemned man. A meat platter sits invitingly in the middle of the bench with smears of avocado adorning the prosciutto. It's tempting to taste, but I notice how lovingly arranged they are on a bed of greens. I remove the sullied samples and rearrange the pieces.
 
'Hi Daddy,' says Susan as she skips by, 'why are you in the kitchen? Mummy does all of the work in here?'
 
'Mummy has gone to Aunty Sandra's. She left me in charge.'
 
'Silly,' giggles Susan and skips away. I resume and discover a folder of recipes. A loose sheet reveals Julie's plans for cooking and more. Angel cakes, plum pudding with ice-cream,  dips of all varieties....I feel strangely hungry, and strangely in awe of the scope of Julie's plans.
 
The kitchen door swings open and in rushes Mikey. 'Hi Dad, what are you doing?... Ooh, did you make that mess? Mum's gunna kill you.'
 
'No, I thought I'd add my expertise to the occasion. Just a little mishap.'
 
'Oh. Can I have one of these biscuits?' he asks, as he removes a ginger bread man wearing Santa hats, and disappears into the dining room.   
 
It seems my credentials in the kitchen are known to all. I text my sister, Fiona. She'll know what to do.
 
Later, the carols begin in the street outside. The kids want to know if they can join in. 'Mummy taught us lots of songs. She said we could join the community carollers this year,' says Susan enthusiastically.
 
'Mummy's not here and I don't think she can get away. Perhaps next year, Suzy-Q.' She shrugs her shoulders in contempt. 'Besides, darling, carols are old, recycled pagan songs. Did you know that early Christians followed ancient practices and stood around in circles singing songs of praise? We get the word carol from the French word, carole, meaning songs of a circle. Fascinating, isn't it?'
 
'She just wants to know if we're going, Dad,' interrupts the fourth wise man.
 
The night's cool, but we rug up and join the neighbours in the park nearby. Everybody's there except Julie. I've tried contacting her but all my calls go to Messages at Sandra's and Julie's left her cell by the bed. Father Ted from St Thomas' calls all to action. 'Merry Christmas, folks. Tonight we're going to reprise the tradition of singing carols begun by none other than St Francis of Assisi in the twelfth century...'
 
I have to set him straight and raise my hand. 'Don't embarrass us, Dad. Not here!' says Mikey and SusyQ pulls on my hand and heartstrings. For once, I hold back. The night is festive and I find myself singing as loudly as anybody. Good King Wenceslas, Silent Night and my favourite from childhood Away in a Manger.  For a moment, I suspend my cynicism and err on the side of celebration.
 
I'm tucking the kids into bed at 10 pm. Still no word from Julie. I'm starting to realise how much of Christmas I have left to her in the past. 'Gee Dad, did you have sing so high on Away in a Manger? My friends were watching.'
 
Mikey's protest is noted, but Susan adds, 'Thank you, Daddy. You were so much fun tonight. Will you wake us if Santa comes?'
 
'Sure SusyQ, sure will.' I realise that I have no idea what Sandra's bought them for Christmas. I resolve to suspend my Scrooge McDuck behaviour for the next twenty four hours.
 
Christmas is a crazy time. Our, Julie's tradition, begins with a gathering of the clan at 11am for present sharing and brunch. They then disperse to the four winds and do the Christmas rounds.
 
When Sandra, Bob and the kids show up right on time, I am relieved to see them. 'Where's Julie?' I ask Sandra.
 
' I thought she came home?' she says balancing an assortment of gifts as she enters the room.
 
The gift sharing is brilliant. SusyQ is over the moon with her dollhouse; Mikey's stoked with his new Air Hogs Remote control set. Everything is perfect until Susan says, 'Where's Mummy? You have to have Mary here if it's Christmas.'
 
I feel helpless. Suddenly, Julie bursts into the room, dashes up to me and plants a passionate kiss on my lips. 'Darling, you're wonderful. Merry Christmas. How did you do it?' The penny drops. She's come through the kitchen and seen her plans laid set out before her.
 
'Oh, yes Sandy,'says Julie, 'Brad did all of the cooking. Here try the guacamole. Delish!'
 
They all raise a glass and offer, 'Merry Christmas'. I text Fiona and thank her.
 
Christmas may be based on a pagan festival, but if it brings us as much joy as it has this year, I may have to start believing there's more to it than I've been prepared to admit.

 


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