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In My Next Life: Re-Inventing Christmas Traditions

Posted By Karen Young On December 24, 2009 @ 12:09 am In Features,In My Next Life,spotlight | 4 Comments

davidnichols110BY DAVID NICHOLS

Christmas will be different, and thank God.  Over the years my late wife, My Beautiful Grown Daughter, and I developed several holiday traditions, as most families do.  They served us well, and the first year that the two of us were on our own it seemed important to observe them as best we could.  In the end, though, the whole process sort of underlined our loss and we didn’t need that.  Circumstances last year also dictated that I celebrate separately from N. and The Boy.  None of it felt quite right and all of us vowed that this year we’d shake things up a little.  And we have.

Difference Number One is that for the first time in both our lives My Beautiful Grown Daughter will be spending Christmas away from me.  This fall she let me know that it’d been several years since her Handsome Folksinger Boyfriend had been able to visit his family for the holidays.  If it was possible, she said, they’d like to go back east this year.  Her Handsome Folksinger Boyfriend is a good guy.  Not only does he treat my daughter well, but he also indulges my propensity for playing guitar and singing old Van Morrison tunes on Christmas Day.  Every year he strums along dutifully, but I suspect the conversation at their place might’ve gone something like this:

HFBF: Honey, I love you, but I don’t think I can stand one more Christmas listening to your old man destroy “Brown Eyed Girl.”  Isn’t there anything we can do?

MBGD: I know how you feel.  I’ll come up with something.

And so she did.  Those of you who have adult children will know that the phrase “I’d like to do it if possible” translates as “I’d like to do it if you’ll help pay for it.”  Since it’s nearly impossible to buy clothes for either of them, a pair of plane tickets seemed like an easy gift solution.  So I’m sending my only natural-born child away on Christmas.  The whole idea makes me feel like some stern Old Testament patriarch, but she asked for it.  And at least she didn’t insist I stop singing “Brown Eyed Girl.”

Then there’s the tree.  It’s the first one N. and The Boy and I have put up together and we all wanted it to be just right.  Even transporting it home needed to be done properly.  In past years, for various reasons, I’ve picked out a tree then had it delivered and carried up the three flights of stairs to the living room.  I tipped the guys who brought it in generously and Christmas was underway.  It was good for them and good for my back, but it turns out I’d been missing out on some of the True Meaning of Christmas.

“You are not having a tree delivered this year.” N. tells me.  “We’re going to tie it on the roof of the car and bring it up ourselves.  That’s part of the fun.”  She sounds suspiciously like my dentist when he says, “This won’t hurt.”  But we’ve all agreed to do things differently this year, so we pile into N.’s station wagon, determined to bring it back with a pine-covered top.

Our first stop is the Armstrong Nursery Center on Magnolia.  N. does a significant amount of business there, so I’m halfway expecting them to carry her from the parking lot in a sedan chair, but I guess they were busy that day.  We inspect the Noble firs carefully.  N. and I settle on one that looks fine, but The Boy assures us we can do better.  So we continue our quest.  And sure enough, he’s right.

The next lot features a hybrid breed that suits our taste even better, and we find one that’s trimmed into a Christmas-card-perfect shape.  The only problem is that the guy running the place is…well, how can I describe him while maintaining the spirit of the season?  He’s a complete jerk.  He’s berating his employees, being rude to customers, and generally casting a grumpy pall over what should be a cheery outing.  All that’s missing is Dick Cheney on a bullhorn telling the kids Santa’s sleigh is a threat to America’s air defenses.  Still, it’s a great tree so I overcome my reluctance to give this guy any money and onto the roof of the car it goes.

Afterwards, we go for hot dogs at The Dugout at Ventura and Tyrone.  This gets my vote for Best New Holiday Tradition.  There, comforted by our Dodger Dog sandwiches and the voice of Vin Scully, we decide that maybe what we witnessed was the beginning of a classic Christmas story.  We imagine our Tree-Lot Scrooge being visited by three ghosts— at least one of whom will hopefully be a seasonal worker just trying to do his best with the English he’s got.  We choose to believe Ebeneezer Evergreen will be a new man by Christmas morning.  But we’re not planning to go back and check.

At home, the three of us wrestle our tree up the stairs.  It fights valiantly against coming through the door.  I suspect it knows that once we get it inside we plan to dress it up funny.  But in the end we prevail and once it’s placed perfectly in the corner I have to admit the struggle really was kind of fun.

Now, apparently it’s an unusual thing for a man my age to still have a Christmas ornament he’s hung on the tree since he was three years old, but I do.  There’s nothing spectacular about it at all.  It’s just a kind of satellite-shaped thing I took a liking to back in the ’50s and it’s been on my Christmas tree ever since.  So even though this year is about starting afresh, it somehow seems appropriate to put it out one more time.  N. and I have bought a number of new, modern-looking decorations which, thanks to her discerning eye, fit the style of our house quite nicely.  I’ve bought The Boy a couple of robot ornaments to mark the occasion of our first tree and he seems to genuinely like them. This is a joy and relief to me.  Eleven-year-olds aren’t like adults.  You can’t buy them off with a couple of plane tickets.

I leave N. and The Boy to carry on decorating and head for the basement to dig out my Yuletide Sputnik.  By the time I come back with it they’re almost done.  After marveling at the fact that I’ve traipsed around the country with this barely-sparkling gee-gaw for half a century they suggest a likely-looking spot to hang it.  I put it on the tree and then we all notice something a little weird.  It looks…just right.  N.’s been telling me how mid-century designs are quite stylish right now.  So here I am, a mid-century guy with his mid-century ornament in his mid-century house, surrounded by loved ones who both have better taste than I, and somehow it’s all come together.  N. says, “I’ll bet it’s been in its box all these years thinking ‘Someday I’ll find the perfect place.’”  “Yeah,” I say.  “I know the feeling.”

Holiday traditions evolve over the years.  Some live out their natural course, then fall away and are replaced by others.  But the truly fundamental ones we can trace back to their very origins.  Like a woman, and a man, and a child traveling together through some rough weather, but arriving finally in a safe, warm place and looking ahead with love and hope toward what the new year will bring.  And as for My Beautiful Grown Daughter, well….  She’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

Happy Holidays to one and all!

David Nichols is a TV writer/producer who has worked on such shows as “Caroline In The City”, “Grace Under Fire”, and “Evening Shade.” He was kicked in the head by a reindeer during a childhood visit to Santa. This explains his use of words like “gee-gaw.”

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