I remember seeing Aladdin on Christmas Eve with my friend Kylie when I was seven years old. Aladdin released on November 25th, 1992. The theater, in Chatham, New York was called the Crandall and at the time it cost $2.50 for kids and $3.50 for adults to see a movie. Kylie and I drank orange soda with crushed ice and shared popcorn. I remember Kylie whispering repeatedly, “I can’t believe tomorrow’s Christmas,” during the movie, which I found irritating. I don’t remember when I realized Santa Clause did not exist, I only know that second grade was the last time I remember feeling that sense of wonder, both about the magic carpet, the magic genie, and the magic man who would sneak presents into my home.
As a child I always told people what I got them before Christmas. I didn’t like to keep the surprise to myself, even if it was a good surprise. Even now, if someone has a gift for me, like my mother or my boyfriend, and asks if I want to know what it is or be surprised, I say I want to know.
In the mornings, I’d get up at 5 a.m. and look at all the gifts in my stocking. I think this is a lack of patience on my part. My grandmother knit my brother a red stocking with a white snowman on it; mine was green with the Nutcracker—I always thought mine was better. In my stocking there was always a toothbrush, chocolate coins, a clementine in the toe.
I wasn’t good at giving gifts either. I often felt my love for people was strong but I couldn’t express or think ahead clearly enough to plan so was often up past my bedtime in my room making cards.
“You weren’t comfortable keeping secrets,” my mom recently said.
Our Christmas traditions included eating peanut m&ms while decorating the tree and listening to Charlie Brown’s Christmas on the record player. Silent night. Eggnog. A Christmas Story. Ham. Red velvet dresses. Doilies and lace cookies. Advent calendars were life; something to wake up for in the morning. Gingerbread houses. Pastel dinner mints I’d eat too many of and get sick. The smell of firewood burning in the woodstove. We walked down the short hallway in my house with the lights off and sang “Silent Night” as a family. It was always my job to put the baby Jesus in his cradle, on a tiny nativity set on the windowsill mantel.
These rituals lasted until I was around thirteen, when my parents split up, and Christmases lacked structure. Mornings at my mom’s, evenings at my dad’s, or vice versa. Sometimes I skipped the whole charade and went to a friend's house, more comfortable for me, and an escape from my own family’s dynamics.
The first Christmas my parents separated, when I was fourteen, I had my Jewish friend Rachel over for a sleepover. We watched and laughed at my mom out the window. My mom was wearing a snowflake patterned sweater and jeans and building a snowman by herself. She saw us watching her which motivated her to get more animated. We were teenagers and loved making fun of our parents. It was the happiest I’d seen my mom in many months. I have a photograph of it—the year was 2001 and my friends and I were using disposable cameras. She used wine bottles for the snowman’s arms.