I think part of the reason was that I was working over in London last year and did not have the opportunity to fly home for the holidays. That and the fact I am usually a little more than 'slightly drunk' during the holiday season, made this Christmas rather enjoyable. (I always have firmly believed that family gatherings should never be endured completely sober - moderate to heavy drinking is strongly recommended, at least with my family!)
One of my family's long standing traditions is to hold and open house on Christmas Eve where my folks invite over some close friends and a few neighbours just to sit around have a few snacks and a couple of drinks to celebrate the holiday season.
Naturally, Dad always makes a point of ensuring that all of his expensive liquor is well hidden away on that night and the 'lesser expensive' (aka cheap) liquor is on hand for everyone to indulge in (except for him & some of his select pals). As my father stated before anyone arrived and being in his best Christmas spirit "I don't want all them moochers guzzling down my expensive booze. The cheap stuff is good enough for them & they should be thankful for it."
The other one of our so-called traditions is always for everyone to gather around the tree for a few Christmas photos. My parents have a photo album dedicated to Xmas pictures and have taken these since before Sis and me were even born. We usually take these all before the friends and neighbours arrive since Mom has demanded no drinking prior to the photos.
As she puts it "I want to be able to look back at nice family Christmas photographs later on and not a bunch of drunken hooligans laughing and acting up."
Well of course her appeal for sobriety falls on deaf ears with both my father and myself however we do make an effort and use extreme discretion in filling our drinks. (at least until these ridiculous photos are over). I think she probably is aware of this little secret however, if she is, she never lets on to anyone.
Actually this is one tradition I really hate, as the photos themselves are not the problem but rather the fact that my father insists on Charlie, his demonic dog from Hell, who is like 150 years old, be included in every snapshot.
On top of that, Dad has some creepy Santa outfit he puts on Charlie for these photos. A really old and ragged red cloth and ridiculous Xmas hat that some 'old biddy' friend of theirs created for them years ago.
Despite the poor condition of the fabric, Dad insists on putting it on Charlie for the pictures and claims "It's only once a year and everyone loves it."
That statement however is actually incorrect. It may indeed be a one time a year activity however I have met no one who honestly enjoys it, aside from my father. The outfit is old, smells of urine as Charlie 'made it his own' years ago and no one really ever sees these pictures aside from Mom and Dad.
The whole scenario reminds me of the Grinch and his dog Max from the Christmas classic 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas'.
So finally after all the preparations, and getting my sisters kids away from the TV long enough for a few pictures, we are all standing there with Dad in front holding Charlie waiting for the timer to take the picture when my 8-year-old nephew Mikey suddenly comments aloud 'something smells funny.'
As I began chuckling silently to myself, Sis responded "Now don't be rude Mikey, that smell is probably your uncle."
I looked over and she gave me the evil eye and stuck out her tongue, just like she did when she was ten years old.
"It's that damn animal that stinks" I responded loudly in my own defence, gesturing over to the offensive Charlie.
Just as I spoke those words, the camera flashed and the picture was ruined. My fault, of course.
"Can't you kids stop arguing even on Christmas eve?" Dad remarked angrily. "Now we need to take it over again."
"I think he's drunk, Dad." Sis responded, clearly trying to stir up some trouble for me. "That's about the tenth rum & eggnog I saw him with. It's not right on Christmas Eve, is it Mom?"
My Mother could see what Sis was up to and did not even bother to speak. She just smiled and shook her head.
Then with a look of sudden panic on his face, Dad blurted out "Boy, you better not have gotten into the liquor and finished off all my premium booze or I'll throttle you."
"No Dad, relax." I responded calmly. "I'm only drinking the rot gut you have set out for the neighbours."
"Well then, that's all right. Dad replied, sounding greatly relieved. "Carry on."
"Ok, the flash is set to go off in one minute." Dad finally advised. "Now this time try and act civil. Poor old Charlie here is not going to stay still too much longer for these pictures."
I wanted to reply that Charlie (aka 'Satan in fur') sleeps for like 23 hours a day and only wakes for his meals. I am pretty sure that he would stay still for quite a long time more, hours perhaps.
Being Christmas Eve and that this was my first Christmas back with the family in 2 years, I thought I better stay silent and not cause any further unnecessary trouble.
That and the fact that I had indeed been drinking my Dad's premium booze for the entire evening, seemed to be the wise course of action.
We all sat frozen in front of the camera, the toothless elderly hound Charlie just staring straight ahead, drooling. His one good eye barely focusing on the events. Snarling at everyone.
Well perhaps not everyone but rather, just me. Stupid animal.
Finally the camera flashed and the 2008 Christmas Eve photos were history. I had survived another year of this Hell.
As I was pouring myself another drink I realized that last year not only did I miss all these ridiculous family traditions by being over in London, I actually missed out on a big part of my Christmas.
What would Christmas be without all these silly traditions? Not only am I a part of them, they somehow now are a part of me.
Thankfully the doorbell rang and the guests began to arrive, snapping me out of these somewhat semi-deep thoughts.