Today is Christmas Eve, and I’ve been up since four thirty this morning because, well, I’m a little kid. For twenty years, Christmas Eve was something I craved every December. Yesterday, as I sat in traffic, I thought about myself at thirteen—salivating for Christmas eve, my family’s big day. My dad owned a well operating business when I was little; Caliber Well Operators. He did well for himself and a few employees but was needed all the time. This meant every morning he was in the field, doing whatever he did to put a roof over our house and presents under our tree. Every morning, no matter the day. This pushed our festivities into the night before: Christmas Eve. We’d have a big dinner with the family at either our house, or one of my aunts’. Mom is one of three women in a family of eight children—not all would attend with their families, but you could always count on at least the sisters getting together.
To ensure the entire brood would spend at least a piece of the holidays together, we began to have family Christmas parties. Five families would come together with the auxiliary uncle, sometime in December. Sometimes at a rented hall, sometimes at uncle’ Mike’s acreage, but one or twice we had it at a friend of my father’s, where he had a cabin with a wood stove and a horse drawn sleigh. If we weren’t on snowmobiles going for rips across the fields, we were pushing each other off the sleigh as it meandered through a thin wooded area surrounding the cabin. There were twelve cousins in those days, fourteen when our Grand Cache family came to town, and we tore it up like only cousins can. Santa came to visit us when we were younger, and we evolved it into an assigned gift exchange as we grew older, until eventually they stopped happening. Families shuffled members, kids grew up and we all generally just grew apart in that slow way you only really notice in hindsight.
Though the parties stopped, Christmas never died at home. From my earliest memories, the house was always done up proper. We had lights, hung by my father on the outside and miniature, snow covered towns with mechanized townspeople scattered around the house. The banister was covered in what I remember as a Christmas vine, like a tree, but stretched out over the length of the staircase. There was a tree downstairs in the foyer, decorated elegantly and in gold and silvers, while the main tree in the den upstairs was covered in the heirlooms, colourful decorations from our preschool days and anything else of sentimental value. Soft lights peppered the house, turning what used to be a dark, depressing early evening into a warm, inviting space for comfort. It instilled a longing for that space in me, every year since then, I’ve craved it. There’s nothing I loved more as a teenager than curling up with a blanket on the couch, surrounded by tiny lightbulbs glowing softly against the light of the movie I had picked that evening. I have vivid memories of The Virgin Suicides being watched like this, and for some dumb reason, it’s forever categorized as a Christmas movie in my head.
As dinner wrapped up and the adults took their coffee into the living room to digest, we’d all just pass the night until it was time for Midnight Mass. Mom always made the effort to go when I was younger. As I grew up, I began to see that it’s her Irish bones dictating the behaviour, not necessarily belief. Attending Catholic School, for the first while, I wanted to be a good boy and get into heaven, so I would go to Jesus’ midnight birthday-bashes. By the time I reached twelve or thirteen, though I was done with it. I’d revisit the celebrations in my twenties, having moved out and missing my mom, it was a way I could reconnect with her. The Catholic Church is a source of conflict for me—I value my upbringing and thank my parents for exposing me to that but allowing my choice of lifestyle. I’m on board with a lot of it’s teachings, and it’s architecture and art are among the most amazing things I’ve ever been privileged enough to witness in person—but you know, all that boy fucking and whatnot. Hatin’ the gays and all. Not cool with me.
After dinner, after mass, or whenever the end of the night came, and the nuclear Kenney/Morgan family was left alone again, we’d open presents. Even though Rod sold his company eventually and was given Christmas Eve and Day off every year, our tradition didn’t change. We’d open gifts from each other, the mere mortals on Christmas eve, and then the next morning, as per the ancient world order: the ethereal Sinter Klaus would leave his droppings. As we got older, mom insisted on keeping Santa alive, and Rod played along, but we all stayed up later than they could and caught “Santa” in action once or twice while grabbing a turkey sando at eleven thirty.
My family is a little complicated. Cassandra and myself have a different father from Amorette, which naturally means she has a grandmother that isn’t related to me, and the same goes for her. Both my biological father, Curt, and his mother, Nona, treated Amorette as if she was one of their own, because she was our little sister. She’d be included in everything. Goldie, Rod’s mom and Amorette’s Grandma, on the other hand, was seemingly into throwing shade at little kids. For the first few years I can remember, she sent us things along with Amorette’s present. One year I got a giant blanket with bears on it. One year I got an old book. It’s like she set things by the door labeled “Goodwill” but decided that we needed presents too. Maybe it was her form of good will, I don’t know. After a while though, she just dropped all pretenses: Amorette might as well have been an only child. I don’t resent her for it though, it’s just a sad, funny memory now.
That’s not to say my absentee father was any good at gift giving himself though. He usually nailed birthdays, I still think to this day that he changed my life by sending me Stan and Judy’s Kid by Adam Sandler on my eleventh birthday, but one Christmas, he sent me a prayer book and a set of twirling batons. Twirling batons. With ribbons on the end. The randomness of all these gifts became very clear when, after he died, I found a small “Narcotics Anonymous” book in with his things. That’s a dark joke—merry Christmas.
I’ve always loved dark humour, and Christmas doesn’t escape my grip. When I was twelve, I decided to prey on my older sister—you know, take her down a peg, like little brothers are want to. I got my dad to buy me a sizable piece of rubber dog poo, and I wrapped it elegantly in a box, saving it in my sock drawer for Christmas morning. On Christmas, after Santa had made his drop but before everyone got up, I snuck the tiny present into the mix—inconspicuously marked, “To Cassandra, From Santa.”
When the family arose that morning, we woke up our mom and made our way to the small stack of presents. We opened them like the animals we are and when it came time for Cassandra to open that golden-brown landmine I had planted, I became giddy. I pretended it was because of my sweet new Harry Potter board game, but as she opened the top of that box, I couldn’t contain myself. I was exposed—or so I thought. My laughing made it obvious to my mother what had happened, but Cassandra was too busy being swallowed by the demise of her innocent childhood belief that Santa Claus rewards the good boys and girls. She cried so hard her face turned red—a real ugly cry that sticks with me to this day. She didn’t find it funny when I told her it was me, not one bit, but she stopped crying and that’s what I was after.
As we got older and older, Cassandra moved out and both Amorette and I ascended one step in the family hierarchy, creating room for a new little sister. She came to us in the form of a new cousin, Jordan. Circumstances kept her parents from taking care of her as an infant, and she spent her first few Christmases with us. It was like a lightning bolt into my family. Suddenly we had something to pull us out of ourselves, a source of joy and wonder we could all live vicariously through at the holidays. My family got tense when we were all teenagers. Not an everlasting, present tension, but we had moments that seemed to melt away when that little girl was eyeballing a present taller than she was. Jordan was the breath of life my parents needed in the midst of their own children growing up, from where I sat, they both became more patient people once caring for a baby again.
The inescapable grip of time caught up to us though, in 2010, Rod died on the way home from work. The Christmas of that year was non-existent to me. I was invited to Phyllis’ house like old times for a big dinner, but once I left my house that day, I knew I couldn’t go. I drove to work, which was Long & McQuade at the time, parked my car, shut the engine off and sat in the dark alley, crying until I fell asleep for an hour or so. I woke with a start and went back home, crawling into bed for the next three days. I called in sick to work on Boxing Day, a retail faux pas, and generally shut down. In the years after, it got easier and easier, and by the time I met my ex-wife, I was ready for Christmas again.
She, along with our goofy little basset hound, showed me that Christmas really was something to love. She’d spoil me and my family rotten, she showed me how to spread the holiday love thick like cheese whiz on toast. She’d spend three months baking, knitting, cross-stitching and dedicating herself to the season—something I don’t relate to at all. I was happy to have her around though, in hindsight, she allowed me to coast through the holidays on her good will. I came back around, and began to love the holiday season again, but as it happens when you least expect, death and fate came knocking.
Around Christmas of 2014, my uncle Rick committed suicide and we drove from Edmonton to Grande Prairie as fast as we could manage. A strange series of events followed, from the day we arrived, to the funeral a day later and Christmas after that, the hand of fate was at play all around me. I found myself in possession of a guitar I had sold years before while in the throws of a depressive drug addiction, I faced with the true grief of my father’s death in the face of my cousins’ matching grief, and I was unable to account for any of it. Christmas of 2014 gave me the tools I needed to come to terms with my father’s death, and honestly, one of the best stories I’ve ever told. It took me three years to figure out how to tell it because of how deeply it affected me.
It’s four years later, and the telecaster rests on the wall behind me in my mother’s house. I’m single again, and for some reason this Christmas I feel light. This year it’s about my family, I saw my uncle John and aunt Louise last night, and my sisters, mother, nephew and I had Chinese food and had a grand old time opening presents like old times. This year I feel light because there’s no financials involved. As selfish or superficial as it may sound, I haven’t gotten anybody any gifts this year. I heard a long time ago that “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” and the Christmases I shared with my ex were exemplarily of that. We often pushed ourselves deeper and deeper in the red to provide the Christmas that we saw in our heads. It became an almost untenable yearly crush that I can feel the absence of this year. I’m trying to make this Christmas about the people that matter the most to me, as well as myself.
I’ve had a hell of a year, and I’m using this time to spoil myself. Let’s look at a bullet point list of what the big things in my 2018 have been.
In January, I self published a book.
In February, I tried to kill myself.
By March I knew I had found the career for me.
In May, I discovered my true self.
In June, I got divorced.
In July, I got serious about this blog.
In August, I finally saw the proper doctors, was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder, and I began taking medication.
In September I began to hold steady for the first time ever.
I’ve never been in this space before. I’ve never felt more capable of the things I’ve laid out in front of me. I guess that’s the real Christmas gift from the universe this year, confidence in a future I never had before. Tonight, I ate Chinese food with my family, grew fat and laughed at the silly things my nephew said. That’s all I need for Christmas. That’s all I’ll ever need.