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How To Hold On Tight To Your Christmas Spirit

In anticipation of the holiday season, I herd my family outside, usually sometime in late fall, to partake in the annual torture I now call:attempting to capture a $*%@!#% family photo for our Christmas cards. There’s nothing quite like it to bring on the festive spirit. Last year’s attempt can best be summarized as follows:

“Fancy” dress shirt for spouse — $8

Hair gel to support entire clan of hairy creatures — $5

Photographer (bribed with batch of cupcakes) — $4 (not including my donations to the swear jar, which are inevitable when I attempt to bake)

Photo that focuses on house in background rather than family — Priceless

I’ll admit, I’d rather pull out my eyelashes, one at a time, than take a family photo. Without fail, everybody ends up getting ridiculously irritated and getting a picture with everyone looking at the camera, at the same time, both eyes open, with a wide,we’re-so-darn- happy-to-be-heresmile proves more elusive than obtaining photographic evidence of sasquatch. And I find myself asking: why do we do this to ourselves? At this time of year, I often feel like I have to achieve a certain level of perfection; find the ideal gift for everyone, learn how to knit a magnificent scarf, take the perfect family photo, get cards mailed out on time, decorate our home in a way that would make Martha Stewart swoon and make New Year’s resolutions to help ensure I’ll become a better person one day. Why do we always forget what’s truly important? I swear, one minute I’m driving down the streets, enjoying the wondrous glow of the street lights gleaming off the freshly fallen snow, humming some Christmas carols, you know, counting my blessings and reallyfeelingmy divinity, and the next minute I have to damn near restrain myself from attacking the person who cuts me off with their tank-sized cart in Costco to snatch the last gift set I was about to pick up.

A few years ago, my mom instituted a new rule about buying presents. The rule was simple: we would not buy presents. When conversing with my family members, this type of simplicity is strongly recommended. Her theory was that no one needed anything, so why put ourselves through the pressure and hassle of Christmas shopping when we could be enjoying that time with our respective families instead? Fair enough. To keep things interesting though, and because secretly we all enjoy the torture, we decided to wrap up something from around our house that we didn’t use anymore. It’s important to note here that we were fully aware the gift would still be considered useless (enter submissions from my brothers), but no one would have to spend any money and we could still have some fun with it.

Game on. All of the gifts were wrapped and placed in the middle of the living room, and we picked numbers from a hat to decide the order of play. When it was your turn, you could steal a gift that had already been opened or you could pick another one from the pile. I realize this sounds remarkably simple, but like anything in our family, the explanation of how to play turned into an hour-long production, which resulted in most people wandering into the kitchen to get another drink. After an ironclad process had been laid out in meticulous detail for the A-type personalities, the three-hour hostile combat, pardon me, family bonding commenced.

Mere minutes into this ordeal, with two pending divorces on the table, one of my brothers announced that a box in the middle of the room was moving. The box did look a little odd, particularly as it wasn’t wrapped and had several holes cut through it across the top. Someone had definitely embraced the concept of not spending any money. Nevertheless, my mom made eye contact and motioned for me to remove the remaining vodka from the table, suspecting that some of her offspring were dangerously close to overdosing on Christmas cheer.

It so happens that two of my friends from the city had joined us on the farm for Christmas that year. Just my luck, one of them decided to pick the tattered box in question. He was all smiles and in childlike delight, slowly put his hand into the box to retrieve his “gift.” Almost immediately, he started screaming at the top of his lungs (and I could have sworn I heard him squawk), scaring the living daylights out of everyone present. We jumped up and pushed through the crowd to see what all the fuss was about.

It turns out that someone, in their infinite wisdom, had gifted a rooster and two hens, alive, unharmed, claws up, chillaxing and comfortably nestled on a bed of straw, (Did I mention no animals were harmed in the making of this yuletide memory? I think PETA would be proud to know that the chickens found a good home in the city and now have a chance at a university education), thus explaining the mystery of the moving box, and the barnyard squawk. Apparently there were individuals in attendance who did not understand the seemingly obvious phrase, “Wrap up something from around the house.” This statement was not intended to include things that were found running wild, laying eggs in the barn. Did I mention that I really miss my family at this time of year?

Although our social experiment failed, I think my mom was on to something. It’s not about finding the perfect present for everyone, or getting your Christmas cards out on time, or heaven forbid, learning how to bake the perfect batch of sugar cookies. I think the Grinch, in his moment of wondrous clarity, said it best. “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” In your panic and flurry to make it all happen this holiday season, take a moment to reflect on the true importance of this special season. It may look a little different for each one of us, but in the end, I think it’s about shouting out a big thank you for our blessings. It’s about saying, “I love you” to our family members, even though many of us tough farm kids would agree that drinking cyanide is more palatable than showing some emotion. Well I say, what are you waiting for? Make your peace now — release your burdens, love your neighbours, forgive your foes, and most importantly, love yourself. You’ll feel a whole lot better for doing so. After all, that nasty little concoction in the Christmas punch bowl gives you the perfect excuse to get a little crazy.

JanitaVandeVeldegrewuponafarmnear Mariapolis,Man.Sheholdsabachelorof sciencedegreeinagriculturaleconomics fromtheUniversityofManitoba.Shelivesin Regina,Sask.,withherhusbandRoddyand theirchildrenJackandIsla.Herfirstnovel, PostcardsNeverWritten,wastherecipient oftheSaskatchewanReader’sChoiceAward andalsolistedbyCBCasoneofthetopfunny booksin2009.Formoreinformation,ortoorder herbook,visitherwebsiteat www.janita.ca.

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