The popular classic tune proclaims, “There’s no place like home for the holidays.”
Yet in my experience, being home for the holidays is always hectic, never festive and relaxing. Every year on December 25, my family and I expect to find ourselves tearing into gifts, going to church, and driving (literally) over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house in Kingston, where we will stuff ourselves with glazed ham and mashed potatoes. Inevitably, every year something goes wrong, which then throws us all into an uproar.
The Top Four O’Connor Christmases Gone Awry rank as follows:
Number four: The Year of the Fallen Tree, 2000. It was straight out of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Two weeks before the big day, we bundled up, drove over to the nearest Christmas tree farm, and found the tallest, fattest one of the bunch. Dad, feeling quite the lumberjack, sawed it down and strapped it on the roof of the minivan himself. Once he dragged it inside, we realized that it appeared much more majestic in the woods; in our living room, it just looked too big. The top hit the ceiling, and its girth nearly took up the length of the room. We ignored that annoyance, decorated it anyway, and carried on with our business.
Until we came downstairs the next day after hearing a terrific crash and found it lying on its side, with half the ornaments smashed. We stepped on glass for days.
Number three: The Year of the Fake Tree, 2011. Despite the debacle of 2000, we remained loyal to real trees. No plastic for us. Trees come from the forest, not a box. We’ll take the sap sticking to the floor, thank you. We love the scent of it too much to care about the clean-up.
Last year, my father decided he’d had enough of the mess and bought a fake tree. The rest of the family revolted, crying out in dismay when he assembled it in two easy steps. Somehow, we soldiered on with the help of pine-scented Yankee Candles, and made it through. When December 26 rolled around, my mother packed it up and gave it to someone who actually wanted it — without consulting my dad. And that was that.
Number two: The Year of the Pizza, 2002. No doubt many holiday dinners suffered the same fate as ours that fateful day 10 years ago. Countless hours of menu planning were wasted when the Valley skies dumped more than a foot of snow on our poor, unsuspecting selves. The phone didn’t stop ringing with relatives declaring they were utterly snowed in. No one could make it, so why cook a huge dinner? Mom gave up, put away the ingredients she’d fought for at the A&P, and ordered in.
And coming in at number one: The Year the U.K. Nearly Ruined Everything, 2010. Once again, the weather caused a Christmas crisis, this time of international proportions. That year, I happened to be in London when a blizzard hit England just before the holidays. The city shut down. Heathrow and its little sibling airports shut down. My flight got cancelled faster than a bad TV show, and it looked like I’d be spending Christmas in a hotel. My rage knew no limits. To justify this frustration, let the record show that the British interpret a “blizzard” as two inches of snow.
I’m not kidding, I measured.
Through my father’s expert maneuvering around the system (read: waiting on hold for five hours until a representative picked up), I managed to snag the last ticket on a December 23 flight. Just as I made it through security, my mother called and told me to make sure I took my vitamins because half of the family had the flu. When my jet-lagged body finally stumbled through the door, the family waved, mumbled “Hey, welcome back to America,” and passed out in their respective beds.
So, it’s never just straightforward presents, church, and ham. There’s always a story attached. But these are the stories we end up telling over and over, and have actually come to love. It probably wouldn’t feel like the holidays without these shenanigans. Besides, I’ve never wanted to be home for Christmas surrounded by said shenanigans more than when I thought I would be stuck miles away.
It turns out the song is right after all.