Holiday Horrors: The Year I Destroyed Christmas

Continuing the fabled tradition begun all the way back in 2009, Scratchbomb presents Holiday Horrors and Holiday Triumphs: an advent calendar of some of the more hideous aspects of this most stressful time of year–with a few bits of awesomeness sprinkled in.

broken-christmas.jpgI got caught up in Christmas each year as a little kid, as most little kids do. Putting up the tree, decorating the house, pulling out my collection of Christmas LPs. My favorite was the Sesame Street Christmas Album, and ironically, my favorite tune on that record was Oscar the Grouch singing “I Hate Christmas”. I also recall a Disney Christmas album, though I can’t remember much of its content, except a version of “The 12 Days of Christmas” where Goofy kept singing “five…onion rings! hyuk!” (Learning disabilities are funny!)

But obviously, the presents were the biggest reason I loved Christmas. I didn’t just get stuff as a matter of course as a kid, mostly because my immediate family didn’t have enough dough to get stuff with. So Christmas brought the promise of a decent haul of toys, and at least one Big Thing for me and my brothers to share.

The biggest one of all came when, after lusting after it for years, I finally got an Atari. I can still remember two of my uncles hooking it up to our TV, and then testing it out, and then playing with it for far too long, or what felt like far too long to me, because I thought my head might explode if I had to wait any longer to use it.

When you don’t get many toys for a good chunk of the year, the stakes for Christmas are raised to a ridiculous height. You want EVERYTHING right then, because you know if you don’t get it, you’re SOL for the rest of the year. So even though I wasn’t a greedy or ungrateful kid (at least I like to think I wasn’t), I could get carried away at Christmastime. Which I definitely did one fateful December 25.

We always had Big Family Christmas at our grandparents’ house next door, with all my aunts and uncles and cousins. I had one cousin who was near my age, who would always arrive with at least some of his Christmas haul, which invariably included three or four amazing things I pined to own. I’d spend most of the afternoon playing with his stuff, hoping I too would receive toys just as cool.

So I spent a whole day of teasing myself with somebody else’s toys–plus heroic intake of soda and pretzels drenched in French onion dip. This was broken up by all of us doing some kind of Secret Kid Skullduggery we shouldn’t have been, like having my older cousins take us to the guest room we called The Fighting Room and throw us around. (The older cousins were kidding, whereas the younger kids were deathly serious about the Fighting aspect.) Or exploring my grandfather’s cavernous, tool-and-food-filled basement, where someone–or something–would inevitably get damaged.

Present opening didn’t come until a full day of this relentless activity (usually performed in some kind of sweater) and after dinner. Needless to say, I was in a complete gift-mad frenzy by this point, but even so, I still can’t fully explain what happened next.

Did I mention that my immediately family was poor? I’m pretty sure this story dates from the long period when my father was unemployed. My mom went back to work to pick up the slack. Before she had kids, she programmed computers for J.P. Morgan (the punch-card kind), but now she took a job at a picture frame factory. She made just enough money for us to eat and keep the lights on.

At this time, I don’t think I had a single piece of clothing that hadn’t once belonged to someone else. My wardrobe was 99 percent inherited from my older cousins. I remember one time getting a new pair of pants and ripping a hole in them on the playground literally the next day, and being terrified of the retribution that awaited me when I got home, because I was fully aware that we couldn’t afford another pair. So I’m sure when my mom was asked what to get me for Christmas, clothing was definitely mentioned.

The first gift I opened came from my elderly great aunt. She was normally not known for her presents, at least to me. I usually expected something small and quaint from her. But this year, I saw she’d given me a very big box. I don’t know what I thought was inside–presumably, some G.I. Joe vehicle or He-Man playset–but I figured Big = Good. So I tore into it like a madman.

Behind the wrapping paper, a large Macy’s box. Not what I had in mind, but hey, sometimes people use boxes like this to contain lots of smaller, awesome gifts, right? Maybe there were, like, 12 Transformers inside.

I open the box, pull back the tissue paper, and staring back at me is a raincoat. Kelly green, with turned up sleeves that revealed a navy blue liner. I needed a raincoat; the one I had was both too small and too childish for me. But needless to say, this was not what I was looking for in a Christmas gift.

In a momentary lapse of sanity, I yelled AW COME ON!, loud enough for someone
in the next county to hear, and dropped the box on the floor. And the exact nanosecond I’d completed the action, I knew it was a rotten thing to do. And in the deafening silence that followed, I looked around the room, as if someone else had done this. “Whoah, can you believe the nerve of that guy?”

I’m sure my Kid Brain exaggerated this, but it felt like the whole room went silent, that everyone stopped talking and yanked the needle off the Frank Sinatra Christmas album. My mother was, of course, mortified. She made me pick up the box and apologize to my great aunt. She did not seem too angry or upset about my outburst. But I felt terrible for the rest of the night. I don’t remember what else I got, but I do remember feeling like a complete asshole for the rest of Christmas.

This incident would be unremarkable and maybe even forgotten, except that it was the last Christmas gift I received for a very long time. By the time the next December 25 rolled around, my mother had become a full-blown Jehovah’s Witness (I feel “full-blown” is the appropriate adjective here). And as I’m sure you know, Witnesses do not celebrate any holidays since they have pagan origins/overtones.

As I’ve written before, we would still go be part of the Christmas festivities, because they were right next door and we were a tight-knit family. (This was completely against Witness procedure, by the way. It was complicated.) But we wouldn’t exchange presents anymore.

So in the years to come, I would think of my outburst as the straw that broke the camel’s back, the thing that forced my mom (who was already flirting with conversion) to say “screw this” and jump the fence. No more tree. No more decorations. No more “I Hate Christmas.” It all went into the attic and languished there until long after I’d left the nest.

As for that raincoat, I wore it into the ground. And everytime I slipped it on, I’d think of it as the raincoat that destroyed Christmas.