Merry Holidays from Home!
Tonight and tomorrow, scores of people will be celebrating either Christmas (Happy Birthday Jesus) or Xmas (Yay Santa Claus) or a combination of both. As I grew up in a non-religious family, we celebrated Xmas…boy did we ever! From the orgy of gifts beneath our often plastic tree, to the piles of food, to the decorations in every corner, to the jars of hard candy that required a hammer and chisel to break free, the Marrington household was a shrine to Kris Kringle.
Then, I grew older. Eventually Santa and I had a falling out. “It’s not you, it’s me,” I assured him. “I just need some space.”
You see, as an adult, I was getting sideswiped every year by the expectations of the holiday and the expectations of the credit card companies who actually thought I should pay for all the gifts I bought on their dime (gifts most recipients probably didn’t even want or need, I might add). I saw less and less magic, more and more consumer frenzy. I followed through with the spectacle every year for my mom’s sake, but after her death and my first December in Baja, Mexico, where the nearest mall was more than a full day’s drive away, I was done with the holiday for good.
“Can’t we just be friends, Santa?” I asked, knowing that was never going to happen.
These days, I might send gift cards to a small handful of family members or close friends, and that’s about the extent of my ho ho ho-ing. Prez and I usually don’t even exchange gifts. This year, my tiny budget was eaten by the costs of publishing and marketing my book, so there won’t even be gift cards. I’m OK with this, except when it comes to my sister, Kelly.
If any person alive embodies the joy of Xmas, it is Kelly. Even when I was seven and she was seventeen, she was always more excited about the day than I was, (and I was pretty excited back then). It was no surprise to be woken by Kelly, on the edge of my bed at some horrifically early hour, bouncing up and down like Tigger on amphetamines, telling me, “Get up! Santa’s been here! Let’s open our stockings. Now! NOW!!!”
Let me back up for a minute here. Just to make it clear, for those who didn’t catch the math, Kelly was ten when I arrived as a baby, adopted into the Marrington clan. By all accounts, she was as thrilled by the new arrival as the family cat was depressed by it. In fact, it was Kelly who named me. I was nearly “Georgina” after her favourite aunt at that time, but the parental units kyboshed that. “One Georgina in the family is enough,” they said. Wisely, I might add. So the name Christine was chosen. Except Kelly didn’t want it to be spelled the same as all the other Christines out there, so an ‘e’ replaced the final ‘i’. And she wanted my name to start with K because her name started with K. And so, thanks to my sister, a Kristene was born – or, at least, delivered to the door.
Despite my sister’s unabashed affection for me, ten years difference between siblings is a lot. By the time I was old enough to speak in complete sentences, she was gone most of the time, off with her teenage friends, doing mysterious teen things I was not allowed to know about. We grew up under the same roof but we lived very different lives and were very different people.
Over time, the differences between us grew. In my early twenties, my sister frustrated me. Why didn’t she do the things I did? Like the things I liked? Why couldn’t she be more like me? (Because, you see, I know what is best for everyone and all of my life choices have turned out perfectly…yeeeeees). We tried—well, she tried, mostly—at some kind of friendship but it was awkward and uncomfortable for both of us. When I looked at Kelly, all I could see was someone who was not living the life I would have chosen for her. Things came to a head about ten years ago, and we had what I think was our one and only ‘real’ argument. And then I was off to the Bahamas, supposedly forever, and I just assumed that things would remain civil but distant between us.
If you’d asked me about my sister then, I would have said, “She’s nice but we have almost nothing in common.”
But then a funny thing happened: I grew up.
Prez and my’s move to the Bahamas was not permanent, obviously. Our journey, from that day in May when we pulled out of the Cornwall Place cul de sac, has been equal parts adventurous and humbling. As plan after grand plan was toppled, I learned more about empathy in the past ten years than I had learned in the previous thirty-three. One big lesson I learned was that through all of my life, good and bad, one person has always been there, genuinely caring about me and all my craziness. That person was Kelly.
All those years I thought I was so worldly, fashionable, and clever, I suddenly realized that I was actually just kind of shallow and mean. It took wandering the globe, seeing poverty and despair, and losing just about everything I owned to finally see just how lucky I was to have my sister.
I learned that I could not only accept Kelly for exactly who she was, and not who I wanted her to be, but I could love her for that, too. Sure, she cries at the drop of a hat, but that’s only because Kelly has a gigantic heart and her life revolves around caring about the tiniest details of the people she loves. No one was more excited, or more proud of me, when my first book came off the press, than Kelly. From the day I showed up on her doorstep until today, she has loved me whether I deserved it or not. How amazing is that?
I’m always going to be who I am – more likely to crack a joke than offer words of kindness or comfort. Kelly’s always going to be who she is – a big, sentimental softie. Thank goodness, the world needs more softies. I don’t want my sister to be like me, she’s perfect just the way she is.
I think of my sister often these days, but never more so than on Dec.25th. I may not celebrate Xmas anymore but I cherish my childhood memories of the holiday, and it was Kelly’s infectious and unwavering enthusiasm that made it so special. In the last Coconut Chronicle, I spouted that all we have are experiences and all we leave are memories, so we should make sure they’re good ones. When it comes to Xmas, that’s exactly what my sister gave to me – good memories.
And that is the best gift ever.
Merry Xmas, big sister, I love you.
Now go get some Kleenex.
Until next time, may your days be merry and bright, and I hope this finds you healthy, happy & lovin’ life!