sbarabu/ShutterstockReader’s Digest editors asked the Reader’s Digest contributor network to reflect on the true meaning of community during the holiday season. The following piece was written in response to that prompt. To share your own 100-word true story for possible inclusion in the magazine or on RD.com, click here.
The War of Christmas
To some, Christmas can seem like a Norman Rockwell painting of Jimmy Stewart and Clarence the Angel. But that’s just what people want you to think.
I know the truth. I’ve been in the trenches of the War of Christmas. I’ve walked through the emotional minefields. And I’m here to report back on some of the hottest spots in a war that has been raging for as long as anyone can remember.
As Christmas approaches, one of the first battlefields is the front yard. On one side are those who opt for lights with enough voltage to be seen from Santa’s sleigh. This would, of course, include Santa’s sleigh and reindeer, standing shoulder and haunch with Mary, Joseph, and a donkey (an odd juxtaposition), blinking candy canes, and Frosty rocking drunkenly at the foot of the steps. (These are our 24 favorite DIY Christmas decorations.)
On the other side are those who prefer that Christmas be understated and elegant: a wreath on the front door and a single white candle in every window. Could Santa find this house from the stratosphere? Probably not, but he might find it in the pages of Better Homes and Gardens.
On this issue, compromise is not possible and the battle rages.
Fake and charmless or real and a total mess. To tinsel or not to tinsel. Lights that blink or ones that do not. Colored lights or white lights. A star at the top or an angel. As combatants unpack ornaments and tangles of lights, perhaps they should ask, WWCD? (What Would Clarence Do.) Probably an angel, but don’t tell the star people that!
The kitchen and dining room table together make another bloody battlefield in the War of Christmas—and not just because of all the meat!
First and foremost, do you cook the stuffing in the turkey or in a separate, oven-proof casserole dish that still has the baked on, dishwasher proof remnants from Christmas past? Cook it inside the turkey and the opposition swears you are trying to poison them. Cook it in the aforementioned casserole dish and the stuffing-inside-the-bird advocates will say it’s dry, lacking the all-important turkey taste.
Nutmeg, cinnamon, or brown sugar in the sweet potatoes? Choose incorrectly and you’ll have an angry (and hungry!) battalion to deal with.
Baptist-approved eggnog or a brew strong enough to see Clarence peeking in at the frosted window by night’s end?
When it comes to presents, it’s not about what you get, but what you give—and, to some people, how you give it. Should someone be assigned to pass them out or should there be a mad free-for-all with everyone pushing and shoving, grabbing and tossing? If the choice is someone passing them out, who should it be? Whoever the choice, this is bound to be hurt feelings.
Then there is the question of the wrapping paper. Some want to keep it neat, placing ribbons and bows in a plastic bag as soon as they are removed from the packages. Others revel in the spirit of getting new stuff and choose to let shreds of paper land wherever they may. They do celebrate the debris and the accompanying crinkling and crunching underfoot.
And, as with all wars, there are innocent victims, collateral damage. In the War of Christmas, gifts battle, it’s the member of the family who will sit quietly, staring woefully at her gifts. She is suffering silently, but suffering nonetheless. She may make her suffering known with The Sniff Heard All Through the House. She is a victim of a war she didn’t start and that may never end. Maybe she will fare better next year. (These habits relieve holiday stress and anxiety.)
The only members of the family who are happy to mop up the end of the War of Christmas are masochists or those who are too young to be considered for the task, or those who are too old and can’t remember their own name. They are left to pick up the balled-up wrapping paper, to dry any tears. They are the forgotten soldiers of the War of Christmas.
There is a day when Peace comes, even if only until the next Christmas season. And, because Christmas is a magical holiday, it’s on the day itself.
This uneasy Peace often comes at the church service. It is not divine intervention or wise words from the minister or priest. It comes because there is no talking except for the requisite “amens” and hymns.
The drive home is also peaceful. Exhaustion has set in. Once home, family members will head to the kitchen to snack on leftovers, memories of stuffing battles past faint, or find a comfortable chair and watch TV.
This is the time, if there is a Clarence, he would peek in the windows and whisper, “God bless them, one and all.”
Eileen M. Carlton is a Reader’s Digest reader from Hamilton, Virginia. She is also a member of the Reader’s Digest contributor network.