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God Rest Ye, Miserable Gentlemen

Christmas is coming, Christmas, that bitter time, that hard time when hearts are broken and tears are shed.

My father loved Christmas. It celebrated for him the birth of a religious figure symbolizing love and compassion; it was a time to take stock of deeper values, to reflect and ponder, to enjoy deeply but humbly. One thing it was not, though, was a time for tolerance.

My mother loved Christmas. It was a time to bake a dizzying array of cakes, cookies, and other sweet treats; to have the best tree, the best set of lights, and the most ornately wrapped gifts in the neighbourhood.

She would buy mountains of gifts for every relative, most of whom my father disliked; he would grow jealous of the obvious devotion she put into the festive side.

And I, as a teenager? My natural sympathies were with my father's view of Christmas, but my mother would have none of this. To oppose Christmas was to oppose her. If I did not help her wrap, shop, bake, and decorate, even in the height of university exam season, I was a Scrooge in her eyes, Just Like Your Father, That Bastard.

My father was jealous of any time I spent helping my mother doing all of this and would question me about it. Fearing a yell and tirade from him, I would lie to him, making up elaborate stories about homework that didn't exist. He applied relentless, even savage pressure, for me to abstain from ostentatious Xmas-ing, but that was matched by equally savage pressure in the other direction from my mother.

They would confront each other, many times. Christmas time was always the day when the most savage fights, the most furious arguments, the most bitter yelling, would rule our house. Charge and countercharge, point and parry. He thought she was a materialistic hedonist; she thought he was an elitist party-pooper.

In their war for ideological supremacy, the children were just another battleground. They fought not only for our actions, but our hearts and minds as well, not by persuasion but by coercion. Each parent expected obedience to their version of Christmas and would launch a torrent of verbal abuse on my brother or me if they were not obeyed.

My mother had post-polio syndrome, a condition which rules out any strenuous physical activity. She didn't care, and would clean, and cook with the same devoted fanaticism. She would get angered if I tried to dissuade her, or call me incompetent when I tried to do the work myself. My father accused me of "letting your neurotic mother" exhaust herself with the frantic preparations, he accused me of being selfish and not caring for her.

The day itself was tense, tensions in the air but hidden out of respect for the day. Christmas was when my parents exchanged their brief once-a-year kiss, a sight that often brought me to tears. My father's dislike of the relatives went unsaid, but was evident in his face.

Then it ended, the dust settled, the relatives went home. And the recriminations began. My father believed my mother would have a "post-Christmas letdown" that nearly always became a self-fulfilling prophecy; he was so sure she would verbally attack him that he launched, in effect, a pre-emptive strike. As one year led into another, I was reminded of the hatred, the conflict, the endlessness of it all.....

I no longer live at home, and my parents are now separated. But the memories are still there. I do not celebrate Christmas now. I feel only numbness when I hear the familiar carol tunes, see the holly and ivy decorations in stores, listen to coworkers eagerly discuss their plans. The holiday evokes no joy in me, no warmth, no comfort. There is only the pain and the memory of the pain.

S-youth, Nov. 21, 1997.