Monday, December 12, 2005

The Great Christmas Compromise

Christmas is full of compromises.

When couples wed they bring many things into the union. I’m not talking about bachelor-apartment wire-bale coffee tables, milk-carton two-by-four college-dorm shelving, or great-grandmother’s tacky faux-antique tea set. I’m talking about family traditions and ideas about how things are done within the family unit.

Nowhere are family traditions and longstanding practices more evident— or volatile— than during the holidays.

Christmas has such fond memories attached to our youth. We like to celebrate the holidays exactly how we used to do it, and that is the way we want to keep celebrating for ever, and ever, and ever, ad nauseam, ad infinitum, and a partridge in a pear tree, or a partridge on a wire-bale coffee table depending on who wins the argument.

The granddaddy of all Christmas quandaries is whether to open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. My wife would open presents on September 28th if they were available. She came from a family that opened presents on Christmas Eve. Actually, she came from a family that had to take drastic measures in hiding presents from her so she wouldn’t break into them as soon as they were placed under the tree. My wife can open and re-wrap a present with the stealth and precision of an international secret agent.

The dilemma of living with a Christmas-present peeker is that all gifts must be locked down in a bank vault until Christmas morning. Either that, or all presents must be completely bound by layers of duct tape before being stashed under the tree.

The first Christmas compromise that took place in our marriage was the icicles-no icicles debate. I am a direct descendant of a long line of icicles-on-the-tree Yuletide decorators. We take our tinsel seriously. We throw icicles on the tree in heavy clumps. As a matter of fact, children from all over the neighborhood used to come to my house to throw tinsel with abandon.

My wife’s family views icicles with a contempt normally reserved for dog beaters. In the St.John house, the weeks leading to Christmas are filled with the constant placing and removing of icicles from the tree.

The children are on my side and will thankfully carry on the longstanding St.John icicle tradition. When tree-decorating time rolls around the three of us hurl tinsel on the finished product with the agility and accuracy of an Olympic discus thrower. For the next three weeks, my wife comes behind us and removes most of the icicles from the tree, which, in turn, leads me to wake up at 3 a.m. to add more tinsel to the tree. I have spare boxes stashed all over the house.

White-lights vs. colored lights is another predicament. We used to alternate years. My year we would use colored lights on the tree and during her year we used white. Finally we compromised eight years ago and place both white, and colored, lights on the tree. Our children each have a small Christmas tree in their respective bedrooms. Amazingly enough, the tree-light debate has fallen along gender lines— my son likes colored lights and my daughter sides with her momma.

Some families eat their “big meal” on Christmas Eve, others opt for Christmas day. My family always ate a formal dinner on Christmas Eve. We still do. Chalk up one for my team.

Luckily, the other typical Christmas food compromises have not had to be made within our union. When it comes to the ham vs. turkey quandary we both prefer poultry over pork. When adorning the aforementioned bird, we both prefer dressing baked separately instead of giving the bird a celery and breading spiked enema. No stuffing in the St.John house. Stuffing is for Yankees.

And when it comes to dressing, we both came into the marriage with a strong appreciation for cornbread dressing. My soon-to-be brother-in-law once brought an oyster dressing to our Christmas Eve dinner. It was shaded in a freaky green hue and had a pudding like consistency that could curl your toes backwards after one bite. No thank you. My family eats cornbread dressing, it is yellowish tan, it doesn’t jiggle, and that’s that.

Our marriage has seen a few disagreements through the years, but I will be eternally grateful to my Creator for placing a woman in my life who hates marshmallows on her sweet potatoes as much as me. Marshmallows do not— I repeat— do not belong anywhere in the vicinity of a sweet potato.

My holiday advice to newlyweds is: Hide the marshmallows, keep oysters out of the dressing, install non-tamper security features on all under-the-tree gifts, no matter how tacky her grandmother’s tea set looks— don’t comment on it, colored lights or white— it doesn’t really matter as long as you decorate the tree together, and finally, throw icicles with your children, throw them hard, throw them long, and throw them with abandon.

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