Up until, well, this week, I've been disguising a huge secret. It was a secret that could very well have affected my career and even further alienated my family (ha!), but my friends called me on this small character flaw and patiently worked me through it. Or maybe they just planned on avoiding me until January.
I hated Christmas.
Yes, I had developed uncontrollable Grinch tendencies, which I found challenging within my household alone; however, the tendencies were even more threatening since I am paid to market holidays. My full-time job involves working one-on-one with Santa Claus, choosing holiday music and many other non-Grinch-like activities. Feliz Navidid. Merry freaking Christmas. Grandma got run over by a reindeer.
I was the anti-Christmas. I have been known to string popcorn and cranberries, decorate with pine cones and bake cookies. By December 1, my shopping would be complete, gifts would be wrapped under the tree, and my hand-crafted Christmas cards would be in the mail.
Yet this year I spent the majority of my free time avoiding my social life (I even missed Pub Quiz), inserting various curse words into cheerful holiday music (only the really happy ones, of course) and avoiding phone calls from my mother.
This yucky feeling developed when I labored to explain to family that Santa would not, under any circumstances, bring Monkey's toys to any house but my own. While the holiday family schedule has always been somewhat strained juggling the pharmacists' schedules with the nurses' schedules with the in-laws' schedules, the trip to North Mississippi was seeming awful bleak this year.
My family is huge and loving and Southern, a real blessing. The women of my family celebrate Christmas with new theme sweaters, Gail Pittman pottery and casseroles. We graduated from MSU and Ole Miss and the University for Women and Blue Mountain College. Christmas is a rare day in the year I have with these women. It is also a rare day for Monkey to climb the magnolias with his cousins.
I remember my childhood rides to grandmother's house on Christmas Eve. My sister and I thought the blinking light son the radio towers were Rudolph's nose. I remember the year my Granny made all the grandchildren yarn monkeys. I remember my cousins and me playing with Cabbage Patch Kids on the front porch of a white shotgun house while yellow farm dogs slept around us.
I suppose this yucky feeling has been the ghosts of Christmas past who set such a wonderful holiday standard that this time-starved single mom will never meet for her own child.
After acknowledging my flawed disposition, I resolved to have a holly, jolly Christmas if it killed me. I slated a Saturday night and let Monkey plan the festivities to restore my spirit, and I tell you that child has marketing in his future. He sold me with a well-timed emotional appeal and quickly restored my "koncha."
We road-tripped the metro area to see all the Christmas lights, had a bite of sushi and then bought our tickets for the Polar Express. Yes, it's cliché, but it worked. While I have to say that the animation freaked me out a bit like animé does when the lips don't quite match the dialogue, the story was even more beautiful than the book, with the addition and embellishment of a few characters, including our favorite character "Koncha."
"Koncha" was Monkey's attempt at "conscience," which is the Hobo character who seemed to mirror the main character's inner thoughts. To paraphrase Monkey, "That's his koncha, otherwise known as a Guardian Angel, who believes and doesn't believe all at once." Then Monkey's koncha ignites a Mommy epiphany.
Holidays are not meant to be the same year after year. We only got those Cabbage Patch Kids that one year in 1984, but I can still recall the smell of new doll and farm air. I know for a fact that Granny had many hard times and many happy times, but in my mind, holidays with Granny are idyllic.
So Monkey and I will not be stringing cranberries this year and my tree is, and shall remain, crooked. But c'mon! His mommy works with SANTA! How many kids can say that? This year, Monkey and Santa are like THAT, and this year my child still believes. I imagine he'll remember this holiday forever, and hopefully my koncha will never let me overlook that spirit again.
JFP columnist Emily Braden is a free-lance writer and mom who lives in Rankin County with her son "Monkey" and her dog Zeke.