Since I told the story about a fantastically epic Christmas, I feel like I should tell the story about the worst.
Christmas Eve was always the BIG day in our family. It was THE day you got most of your presents. My Dad’s parents being softies, who would cave and give us our presents on Christmas Eve morning. But, the biggest haul was Christmas Eve night.
See, my mom’s side of the family is gigantic. So, for whatever logistical reason, the Christmas get together was always at my Mom’s Mom’s house on Christmas Eve night, as opposed to Christmas day. I guess it was so everyone with kids could just enjoy Christmas day at their individual houses with all their toys and shit.
And it was a fucking HUGE get together. At its height, the most attended event of the year. Peaked out at slightly over 40 people. I have cousins that I literally only know from their attendance at my grandmother’s house.
The celebration always went down the same way to. People would come straggling in for an hour and half. I think dinner didn’t get started till like 8pm at the earliest. And it would drag out. Everyone would bring the best of the best of what they were cooking. The actual dinner portion would last at least two hours between dinner and dessert + coffee.
Spread out all over the house too. For such a big festivity, the house wasn’t equipped to have 40 people eating at the same time (what house was). So there was people EVERYWHERE. The old people got the table in the back (sometimes it was my job to entertain them with whatever was the latest goings on at elementary/middle/high school).
But, the kids would eat quick and run straight to the tree. Cause there was like 10+ kids, the presents would pile up so big you couldn’t actually touch the tree from where it started. The uncles used to tease the kids for most of the dessert + coffee phase. Point and yell things like “Nuthin but coal and toilet paper in derre.”
Eventually the presents would start, and it was a celebration of pure unfiltered capitalism as you had ever seen. Boxes and packaging fucking everywhere. Paper piled up.
Sometimes the whole party lasted to the wee hours of the morning. To the point that on more than one occasion a group of the revelers would go to midnight mass at the local church.
It ONLY made sense to have Christmas Day be everyone’s day at their own houses cause you would be burnt out after that celebration.
And this was every single year without fail. Until…
A few Christmases after the greatest gift Christmas…
Everything going like normal. Met my dad’s parents in the morning. Headed to my mom’s parents in the evening. My mom had to work, so she was going to meet us at my grandmother’s house.
We walk in like its normal. And with 40 people in there it was loud as fuck. So, we went in there loud. Quickly realized it was quiet. Fucking quiet. You could hear a pin drop.
I was dropping off my desserts when one of my aunts comes up to me. “I think you need to go talk to your Uncle.” For reference, not her husband. I have 8 Aunts, this was one of the aunts talking about a different uncle.
I look around as she is saying this and realized everyone is like shoved in the front dining room. Definitely fewer than in previous years, but they are all crammed in there whispering. Out by the tree is my uncle sitting there by himself. In a giant fucking living room. Pile of presents by the tree. And its just him.
So, I nod. Walk over. Say hi. He is talking complete gibberish and spitting on himself. His eyes are completely glazed over. I don’t remember alot of our conversation. But, I do remember bringing up Men in Black II. We were both fans of the first one, and they just announced that there was going to be a sequel. Neither of us knew at that point that the movie would be about the dog.
But, being a thing in common, I try to engage him with it. Conversation goes like this:
“Oh did you hear they are going to make Men in Black II?”
It was one of those situations where you just kind of shut out the world. I didn’t even think about what was going on. I was going to get my uncle through whatever was going on.
I sat next to him the rest of the night. At one point, he flat out passes out, face down in his dessert. His wife and I clean him up. I remember my other uncles making fun of him behind his back.
The rest of the night ended fast. Fastest one of those parties we ever had. I remember we took our presents home without opening them. Fully wrapped. So did pretty much everyone. We all got out of there really quickly.
My brother rode home with my mom, and I rode home with my dad. We didn’t know it, but we were both about to have the exact same conversation.
“Was my uncle on drugs?”
‘Son, your uncle has had a drug problem since I was first dating your mother.’
It was one of those moments that really sinks in your head. A moment of growing up. Being a kid of the 90s, you were inundated with commercials and specials about SPOOKY drugs. As a kid, I just remember thinking that was all so stupid. No one I knew did drugs or ever would… I was very naïve. And plus his drugs wasn’t even the drugs they were trying to scare us 90’s kids with. He was fucked up on that Sackler family shit.
That car ride home Ill never forget. It was like learning that your family is just people. People like everyone else. With their own problems and issues. And, they each have their problems. My uncle just made it much more dramatic.
If he didn’t show up, I would have probably not noticed for another year or two.
A lot of stuff went on without my knowing after that. Fights. My dad snitched my uncle out to his best friend to try to get him some help. The only one who got in trouble was my dad.
My uncle OD’d a few years after that Christmas and fucked up his heart real bad. Went back on drugs after that, but eventually got clean(ish). As steadily clean as he could be…
Everyone saw the writing on the wall after that party. My grandmother had the Christmas eve party for a few years after that…my uncle never showed up stoned again, but people stopped going. It was a slow fade out over 3-4 years…I went to a few of them. Attendance waned and waned. My dad’s side of the family never went again after the incident. My brother stopped going. Half the uncles… And then they just stopped having it all together.
My grandmother does everything in her power to make the Christmas party happen again, but it never has. Not at least to her satisfaction, and definitely not with the same regularity.
I think about this event often on Christmas Eve.
Especially as an adult now with my own family…I wonder if my uncle even knows he stopped Christmas. Or at least, the innocence of it.
You know, I really don’t tell this story to bum everyone out on Christmas Eve. I think about it every Christmas Eve for two reasons. 1) Its really a defining memory I have. Something I can point to. 2) I think everyone has something like this.
Maybe not this dramatic, but I feel like everyone has a holiday or some such event that will always be colored by this kind of foolishness. I don’t let it ruin my Christmas. I think its just something to learn from.
And as for you dear congregation, I hope you enjoy the time with your family this holiday. It may not come around again. At least not in that picture postcard, Norman Rockwell way again. So enjoy it. Make a better memory.
Peace on Earth. Goodwill toward men.