Christmas carols drifted into the living room of the small apartment from the tablet plugged into speakers in the kitchen while Mom prepared dinner. It clashed only slightly with “A Christmas Story” running on TV where two young girls lay flopped about like lazily thrown blankets. It was already dark outside the living room window but it was fought against by the soft glow of a single string of lights hastily hung about the small windows.
Dad was late getting home but the children were already used to that by now. The big adjustments came months earlier when they moved to Southern California so Dad could work on films. Somehow it made things feel more “normal” in the family now that Dad went out to work and Mom could work from home. Dad never seemed happy around their old home in Minnesota which made no sense to the children. Why did they trade their big house with a yard for this little place and so many cars? Still, it was always a celebration when Dad came home. The door handle rattled as someone fumbled with the lock.
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” came a voice booming down the hall.
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” cried the children as they jumped up to meet him.
They ran into the hall but were not ready for what faced them. Instead of their father they faced a floor to ceiling pine tree waddling down the hall. They quickly got out of its way.
“What is this?” cried Mom half in shock and half laughing.
“Haven’t you seen a Christmas tree before?” said Dad’s voice, his face still not yet visible from behind the foliage.
Soon enough the tree popped through the hallway passage into the living room and the children could finally embrace Dad and his wife give him a quick kiss hello. He leaned the tree up against the window next to the TV then stepped back to admire his work.
“Where’d you get it Dad?” said the eldest child.
“The lot around the corner.”
“You carried this a whole block?” asked Mom.
“Why not? It’s Christmas Eve. We don’t have to give up all our traditions since moving out here,” replied Dad.
His wife smiled and shook her head knowingly like she had done a hundred times before. She turned back to the kitchen then said over her shoulder, “Well, dinner’s ready. Let’s eat!”
After dinner the Dad and Mom sat at the dining room/kitchen table. Dad was leaning back on his chair, one arm hanging over the back of the chair, the other resting on the table holding the base of his glass. The eldest daughter ran in wearing her pajamas.
“Will it snow tonight?”
“Not likely. It almost never snows in Southern California and certainly not here.”
“Oh,” she said casting her eyes down. “I miss our home.”
“This is our home, remember?” he replied.
“I know, but I don’t even know how we’re going to celebrate Christmas anymore.”
“We’ll celebrate it as a family like we always do. Now go brush your teeth,” he said while turning her around an giving her a gentle push.
The children could be heard jostling with each other in the bathroom as they fought over the sink to brush their teeth. The Mom listened to them, laughing to herself, as she cradled her wine glass. She looked across the empty bottle standing on the table between her and her husband. His eyes were fixed on a pile of parcels on the floor next to the tree still leaning against the window, Christmas presents received over the past week from their mid-west family.
“What are you thinking about?” asked Mom.
“Oh, just wondering what we would be doing if we were back in Minnesota right now,” he answered her without moving or taking his eyes off the packages.
“You know what we would be doing. In the even numbered years, we would be at your aunt’s house, with everyone else in your family. In fact, judging by the time, they probably tore into their presents hours ago and are probably figuring out who is the least drunk to drive home. Same thing they do…we did, when we were there,” she replied.
Dad chuckled slightly at the drunk driving remark.
Without taking his eyes off the presents he replied, “And in the odd years, no pun intended, we would see your family on Christmas day after church services and open all their presents. Then break open the wine and then have to figure out how to get home.”
Mom nodded to herself then said to him pointedly, “So what’s bugging you?”
Dad suddenly snapped to and turned to his wife.
“Nothing’s bugging me. I was just thinking about how the longer we stay here the further our kids will be from the family traditions we grew up with,” he said.
“You know we can’t afford to fly home right now.”
“I know and I can’t take the time off work, yet. But still, I can’t help but feel like we’re missing something. Christmas just feels smaller now somehow.”
“Smaller?” she asked.
“Yeah, well, you know. Sometime tomorrow we’ll open presents, and that’ll be it.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad to me.”
“Yeah, but there will be fewer people. Less time spent. And besides, my family always opens presents on Christmas Eve.”
“Ok, but my family always waited until Christmas Day.”
“Santa comes on Christmas Day.”
Again the eye rolls came from the Mom. They sat in silence for a while. Mom looked up to see Dad staring through the table then she looked over at the parcels on the floor.
“Well, why don’t we open all the presents we got from your family tonight?”
“You said your family always opened presents on Christmas Eve. Well, we’ll do your family’s presents tonight and tomorrow we’ll do mine.”
Dad scratched his head for a moment, cocking it to one side, then back again to look at his wife. A smile grew on his face starting from one corner of his mouth then moving to the other.
“Oh yeah. Why didn’t I think of that?”
His wife rolled her eyes.
“Call the kids.”
“Hey kids!” Dad shouted.
The children ran out in their pajamas.
“What Dad?” they asked slightly asynchronous with the eldest leading as usual.
Holding them close, Dad looked them with large eyes, “How would you two like to…open some presents?!”
Screaming and hopping around ensued causing Mom and Dad to wince from the shrill noise.
“Which ones?” they yelled.
“Go find the packages from my family sitting next to the tree and we’ll open those tonight,” he said.
“Not until we’ve cleaned off the table!” yelled Mom.
But it was too late. The children were already off going through the boxes. Dad completely ignored her, too, bending over the kids and setting aside packages. Again Mom smiled to herself and shook her head. She grabbed a few plates from the table and turned to the sink such that she couldn’t see the kids and Dad anymore although she could still hear their voices through the kitchen doorway.
“And when will we open the other presents?” asked the eldest astutely.
“Well, we’ll open them tomorrow of course, just like we’ve always done,” replied Dad.
“Ah, it’s like we’re going to have two Christmases instead of one! Thanks Dad!”
At that last remark Mom looked indignantly.
“Thank your Mom,” said Dad quickly, “now let’s get this tree set-up first.”
By Holiday Guest Blogger Thomas Lopez
President / Latinas and Latinos of Mixed Ancestry (LOMA) Founder and Director
Thomas Lopez has been a member of MASC for over fifteen years and is a past president of the organization. He has made numerous television, print, and on-line media appearances and speaking engagements as a keynote and panelist. As a long-time board member he has also organized conferences, a mini-film festival, and diversity training workshops. Apart from MASC, Thomas is a mechanical engineer having worked in multiple industries the most recent being medical devices. He was born and raised in Southern California with parents from Mexican American and German-Polish roots.