Recently — on October 3rd, to be exact — I went to a home improvement store and was pleasantly surprised to be met with an exuberant, festive display of Christmas merchandise. I can pinpoint the exact date, because it triggered my childlike enthusiasm to check my watch. For me, seeing the Christmas display in the store meant the countdown to Christmas had officially begun. I posted the photo to my Instagram stories, which was most likely met with the collective eye-roll of anyone who cared to watch it. October 3rd is just an obnoxiously early date for most rational people to even think about Christmas.
I know that a considerable number of people would have probably walked into that store, looked at that Christmas merchandise, and fought the intense urge either heel-toe it out of there or light the display on fire. The Christmas season triggers stress for many – particularly those with small children – because let’s face it, anything that’s even remotely fun is also typically a considerable amount of work, stress, and expense. And I get it. I feel these things too. For me, however, the Christmas season will always be worth the work and stress, because the festivities of the season will always remind me of my late father – who my family often referred to as “Mr. Christmas.”
When I was only eight years old, my father was diagnosed with a rare, slow-growing, barely understood type of terminal cancer. In his doctor’s words, the cancer would “eventually” kill him, but with treatment and a positive attitude, my dad could still have quite a few years left with his family. Despite the painful reality of having to deal with this tragic news, and the hardship of my parents having to shut down their business a year later, my dad made a conscious choice to spend the rest of his days being happy and making sure his loved ones were happy. I guess when you know that the number of “tomorrows” you have left are limited, it ignites the passion of living for today.
As someone who had a larger-than-life, gregarious, passionate personality to begin with, the Christmas season suited my dad perfectly. Every year, as Christmas approached (and much to my mother’s dismay), my dad would go out of his way to make sure the house was filled with chocolates, candies, treats and eggnog. From the time I was a little kid, I recall that every time I climbed up into my dad’s van during a snowfall, Christmas music would be blaring from the radio. He always made sure to embellish the childhood magic of the season with his description of Santa Claus coming to town, making sure that my sisters and I felt the wondrous thrill of anticipation.
Every year, when the magical day finally arrived, my dad always took the lead role as Santa on Christmas morning. He would carefully pick up each gift under the Christmas tree, examine it deliberately, read the tag in a bold voice, and proudly present the gift to its recipient. I can still hear the happiness and animation in his voice:“Tooooo Jenny, LOVE SANTA CLAUS.”
When we hosted Christmas dinner, my dad was always the first to bust out the nutcrackers and put one of those tacky neon tissue crowns on his head. Christmas dinner in our house was always loud, full of laughter, and nobody left until they were so jolly and stuffed with food and drink that they could barely move. To this day, I’m convinced that my dad enjoyed Christmas just as much as any child on the planet.
My dad fought cancer for 11 long years, passing away just after my twentieth birthday. The first Christmas without him was empty – I had flown home from university, and on that particular Christmas morning, it was just my mom and me. We tried to keep my dad with us by starting off the day with my dad’s tradition of Christmas Bailey’s and coffee. I strapped on the Santa hat and tried halfheartedly to play the role of Santa, coming nothing close to what Christmas felt like with my dad.
By about 9:30 a.m., my mom and I were reminiscing and in tears, slurring our words, and decidedly calling it quits on the Bailey’s. I don’t remember much about the rest of the day, other than making it as fun as possible for the kids in our family – which, at that time, were my two oldest nephews.
With each Christmas that’s gone by since my dad’s passing, a little bit of the magic and nostalgia has returned. I am married to someone who also considers himself to be “Mr. Christmas.” And now that I have two children of my own, you can bet your last penny that when they look back on their childhood, they will most definitely remember Mommy’s Love Of Christmas.
I am the zany person who will buy Christmas sweaters for the entire family. I am the zealous person who will start talking about Santa Claus to my kids in October. I am the quirky person who will walk into my kid’s preschool and start dancing in the classroom as soon as Christmas music is playing at pick-up time. I am the impractical person who will make sure our house is loaded full of Christmas treats for my kids to eat long before the first snowfall. I am the optimistic person who will plan an entire day of Christmas-cookie baking with my kids, even though I don’t even have a shred of aptitude for baking. I am the enthusiastic person who will jump into a snowsuit upon the season’s first snowfall, and build a snowman with my kids. I am the embarrassing person who will belt out off-tune Christmas Carols in my house as soon as humanly possible. I am the festive person who can’t wait to decorate a tree and sit by a fire while watching snow fall outside.
I am also the annoying person who thinks Christmas Season begins on November 1st. And I won’t be changing that anytime soon.