An almost holy night

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 2, 2004

Mary Ann Fitzmorris FAMILY TIES

My children would probably challenge my assessment of Christmas 2003, but I consider it grand. This year, for the first time in memory, I think we got closer to the real, no-jokes “meaning” of Christmas. It was as close as Americans get to the original One.

We celebrated it in our barn.

Naw, that was a joke. But we could have, if we had a barn. There were not a lot of frills to this Christmas. Except for an extraordinary amount of pre-holiday “decking,” this Christmas passed without a lot of frenetic obligations.

This year, we spent a lot more time just enjoying the most important thing in our lives: each other. And the wonderful friends we have accumulated throughout the years.

Usually, I find myself filled with self-loathing as the big day arrives. Such unproductive thoughts are the result of my annual review of how I should have been better to everyone around me.

That’s what I am thinking while I behave the worst with those closest to me. I am disgusted at the way I screech from place to place collecting things that will be forgotten in a few weeks. That exercise makes me angrier at all the other people doing the same thing, which puts me in a testy mood for the people closest to me.

But the blame for my Christmas misery should go to the overly ambitious schedule I usually set for myself.

This reached its peak a few years ago, when the children were little. Our family used to attend a Christmas party where the clothes on the attendees were considerably above our standard fare. (That wouldn’t take much, but in this case it was way above.) Only my husband keeps such clothing. The rest of us needed something to wear.

In my days of true insanity, that meant that I constructed garments for my daughter and me, and ran around getting something for my son. All of this,,in addition to the standard goals everyone else has for Christmas.

Usually, I was finishing something as we rolled out the driveway. One time I actually sewed buttons on a garment the entire trip. It’s a wonder my very tolerant spouse didn’t throw me out of the car.

Naturally, I arrived at this party without the required Christmas cheer.

After it was over, we returned home very late to the chores parents of young children have on Christmas Eve.

The next morning, we slapped ourselves awake to watch the children open presents. But they couldn’t play with them too long. We had to rush to church, then off to a family gathering far away.

It was only after all those obligations were met that we could just collapse and enjoy the family and the holiday at leisure.

One year we even went on vacation the day after Christmas. The actual holiday went by in a blur.

But this year was different. My children would groan, “Yeah.” On Christmas morning while it was still dark, my daughter woke me up with a statement tinged with disappointment. “I saw all the presents, and there aren’t many there.”

My son was not as tactful. He stole some words and a melody from a song to express his feelings. “I got rolled! What I want ain’t here. I got rolled.” This has become his holiday theme song.

I got what I have always wanted most from Christmas. Peace. There was not a lot of frenetic rushing to stores, which my son could unhappily verify. It was enough.

We dumped out of that big party years ago, opting to stay home on Christmas Eve. The Big Day was spent at a large family gathering where new clothes were not necessary. The sewing machine remained silent throughout the holiday.

My husband is enjoying his one gift. It is a huge book that he has had a lot of time to read.

We still haven’t learned our lesson about post-Christmas vacations. My daughter and I were planning to run to Atlanta for a few days. Then we decided it was okay to stay home and do nothing.

It was the kind of Christmas I dreamed of in past years when I rushed from place to place.

Only the retailers would object.