by Jason Sprinkhuysen
As if finding out that Santa didn’t really exist wasn’t already enough to ruin a little kid’s Christmas, next year things were even worse. There was no Christmas. My dad, coming home from work late on Christmas Eve, got in a car accident. From that day on, Mom stopped celebrating Christmas at home; it had become a day of dismal memories that were best avoided completely than frosted over with Christmas lights and candy canes. Besides, she had never cared much for the celebration in the first place. I eventually got into the habit of avoiding Yuletide activities, and Molly, who later became my devoted wife, was also forced to adapt herself to my very un-Christmassy attitude. When the rest of the neighbourhood was all aglow with Christmas cheer, our house kept up the same sober atmosphere it had on any other day of the year. I was no Scrooge, no matter how much my neighbours tried to paint me as one, yet Christmas had gained a sort of sour taste for me. All the presents and things seemed a bit exaggerated. The only problem was in getting my little son to play along.
Shu had been born to us a few years before, but, to be exact, I cannot remember quite how many at this point in the story. What is important is that he was still enough of a kid to see Christmas with magical fascination and just grown-up enough to dislike being called Shu anymore. Since the first Christmas he could talk, he constantly bothered me, asking why we couldn’t celebrate Christmas like everyone else. In an effort to keep him on my side, I repeated the same little spiel every year, explaining as best I could how Christmas was a waste of time and money, and for a few years at least Shu let me have my way. But it couldn’t last forever.
One fine December day, then, as I got home from work, decidedly unworried about Christmas, and quite free from the stress of Christmas shopping, Shu came bolting down the hall with the most unwelcome news I had heard in thirty years.
“Dad, Dad, guess what!” he didn’t leave me any time to guess anything. “Lizzy handed out cards today at school, and I got one.”
“That’s real nice that she thought of you, Shu,” I said slowly enough to give me time to guess what sort of card Shu might have received.
“Dad, you don’t have to call me Shu anymore. I’m growing up, you know.”
“Sorry Shu… uh, I mean, Joshua”
“Look at the little snowmen on the card. Lizzy said she cut them out herself.”
“That’s great—Josh. Uh, what’s it say?”
“She invited me to a Christmas party at her house, and Mom said we could go!”
I thought I was going to fall flat right on top of Shu. Molly had said yes? By the wonderful smells wafting from the kitchen, I guessed that that was where she was hiding. I burst in like a chill storm.
“Dear, I thought we were going to spend a nice quiet December together this year. Didn’t I say no Christmas parties?”
“Nice to see you home, sweetie.”
“You too. But how could you let Shu get his hopes up like that? You know he’s just going to come home asking us for presents like the ones his friends are going to get.”
“Look, I’m sorry. I was sort of busy making dinner, and I didn’t exactly hear what he was saying. At first I said no, then he stormed out crying, so I tried to calm him down—you know how he is—and I just couldn’t say no. Get rid of that frown. It can’t be that bad. Maybe he will stop his whining about Christmas if we go to this little party. You won’t even have to prepare a thing.”
Two weeks later, I unloaded Shu from the car as we pulled up in front of the largest, most ostentatious display of disgusting Christmas cheer in town, which also happened to double as Lizzy’s family’s home. Shu’s smile burst from ear to ear as I led him in his mismatched outfit of all the green and red clothes he owned up to the front door. If the outside of the house made me sick, the inside almost made me run away. Would-be cheery Christmas music blasted from every wall, door, and appliance in the place. Screaming kids ran every which where, clutching candy canes and half-eaten gingerbread men. Laughing adults lounged around drinking eggnog, hardly aware of the kids or the music. Shu disappeared immediately. Molly saw some neighbours and sauntered over. I just swayed and turned almost as green as Shu’s sweater until I felt something tugging at my leg.
“Uh, Mister, are you OK? You don’t look very good.”
“Huh, what? Oh, no, I’m fine, thank-you. Now go run along.”
The concerned little girl’s smile instantly sprang back on her face, and with a look of intense, sugary glee, raced downstairs again, screaming as she went. Hardly keeping my balance, more out of wooziness than enthusiasm, I approached the snack table, hoping not to be noticed, but that was impossible.
“Hey, look who managed to show up!”
I froze, literally caught with my hand in the cookie jar.
“It’s old Scrooge himself! What brought you out of hibernation to join in our humble celebration?”
It was certainly going to be a long evening. The first chair I saw received my resigned body while I tried to put on my friendliest Christmas-cheer face.
“Well, you all know how I feel about Christmas. It’s just that, well, I think it’s fine and all to go around buying presents and stuff if it’s someone’s birthday… I dunno. Christmas… You wouldn’t understand.” None of them knew how I truly felt about Christmas.
“Ah, whatever, Joe. It doesn’t matter. You’re here.”
“Yeah, cheers to Scrooge! And may all his Christmases be white!”
And while they all tipped their glasses brimming with Christmas cheer, I sank further into my chair, feebly clutching the little cup someone had handed me. There amid the happy cheers of party-goers, amid the gleeful shrieks of the children romping around downstairs, even amid the obnoxious blasting of the stereo playing “The Twelve Days of Christmas”—a song which I never understood—I alone did not feel the joy of Christmas. I could only hope that Shu was enjoying himself because his joy was dearly bought.
Molly interrupted my grouchings, appearing as out of a cloud and accompanied by a very preoccupied look as she hurried over to me in quite a fluster. Her hair was a bit rumpled and the elfish glow had flushed back into her cheeks as they burned red with worry.
“Honey, it’s time to go.”
That was all she said before turning, grabbing hold of my hand and cup of eggnog, and lifting me bodily out of my seat. In a shower of eggnog and paper snowflake decorations, we arrived at the front door where Shu, dressed to leave, sat in a puddle of melted snow and tears. His shoulders bounced up and down a couple times with a few sputtering sniffles as I bent down to see his puffy little face better.
“Oh, right. What’s wrong Josh?”
He just buried his face back into his coat. Molly suggested we go straight to the car and picked up Shu as we headed out. The car ride was absolutely silent. No neighbours. No Christmas music. Only the occasional muffled sniffle from the back seat broke the stillness. The house was nice and dark as we drove up, devoid of any tear-bringing Christmas decoration. Shu still stayed buried deep inside his jacket, so Molly put him right to bed, winter jacket and all. I just slumped down on the couch, happy (or at least relieved) to be home.
Molly cuddled up beside me on the couch when she came down from Shu’s room. She seemed as relieved as I was to be away from the awful Christmas party. The two of us sat there for a while in the dark, saying nothing, hoping the other would start the conversation that neither of us wished to open. Finally, Molly let out a long, deflated sigh. I took the cue and asked what was wrong.
“Josh is pretty upset.” That was all she said.
It got all quiet again. Molly seemed to be waiting for a response.
“I know.” I didn’t know why he was upset, nor did I want to know right now. He wasn’t the only one.
“I mean, really upset,” Molly said, a little more insistently this time. “He says it’s your fault.”
“Mine? What did I do? I brought him to the silly Christmas party. I braved all our pesky neighbours so he could enjoy himself a little, and here he’s blaming me? If he didn’t enjoy it, that’s his own fault.”
“His fault? He just wants to have a nice Christmas like his friends, just for once. But, no, you never let him. Do you think he’s satisfied with running around at other people’s Christmas parties? He’s dying to know that you love him and would buy him a Christmas gift. How can you blame him?”
“Look, I don’t think you realise how bad Josh feels. Maybe you could try making it up to him. I dunno, a little Christmas at home probably wouldn’t be so bad just this once.”
“What? It’s Christmas that’s the problem! Don’t you see? It’s meaningless. Just presents. That’s it. Presents, presents, presents. It’s just selfish! I don’t want that for Shu.”
“Can’t we make a little exception just this once? Do something special? Surprise him?”
Of course the answer was no. Besides, Christmas was only two weeks away!
Photo Credit: Raul Lieberwirth