While I was growing up, my family failed at Christmas.
There are so many reasons why, and the reasons are muddy and difficult to explain without the companion encyclopedia to our Unique Brand of Strange. Among them are that we didn’t have any amount of extra money to introduce festivity into the season; if we had had the money, it is doubtful that we would have used it to do something Hallmark-ian, because we were deeply conflicted over the commercial nature of the holiday, with all of its tawdry tinsel and tinny bells. The season was, for us, a time to celebrate Jesus’ birth, and yet we despised it more than any other time of year. It reminded us of how different we were, even as we congratulated ourselves for being so high-minded.
I say “we” because, when you are young and don’t yet have fully formed opinions, you absorb the general feelings of the greater organism that is The Family.
I do know that I speak for all of us when I say that we couldn’t wait for Christmas to be over. Every year, we felt a dull thud of dread when carols began to waft over the radio, and we collectively held our breath until the calendar page flipped past the 25th. Most of us still feel a sense of nausea in the pit of our stomachs when December approaches.
Oh, but then came February.
I don’t think that my parents consciously intended to try and make up for our failed Christmases, but when Child Number 5’s birthday rolled around, right next to Valentine’s Day, our collective mood experienced a remarkable transformation.
We draped red and pink streamers from the ceiling. We tied balloons to the backs of the dining room chairs. We made cupcakes and sugar cookies and smothered them with icing and red candy hearts. Technically, it was a birthday party for one person, but in fact it was a celebration for all of us.
After I left home, bitter and resentful at my weirdly impossible family, the tradition evolved further. My parents began to make an event of the day. One year they organized a scavenger hunt. One year they celebrated at a restaurant in downtown Portland. One unseasonably warm year, they created an elaborate dinner and served it outside. They made Valentines and gave gifts.
Without ever intending it to be so, Valentine's Day became our holiday, a day to escape our usual seriousness and be lighthearted and extravagant.
My mother called me this morning to tell me that they had their celebration last night; all of my siblings who still live in the Portland area traveled back out to the farm for what has become a cherished tradition. They made dinner and played games. "We wish you could have been here with us," she said. "But we put something in the mail for you."
This many years later, my bitterness and resentment have given way to a more clear-eyed acceptance of who we were, and why. And somehow it seems fitting, and wonderful, that this day that celebrates love is the day that my family comes together to laugh, and make merry just for the sake of it.
Today I would like to say to my strange, impossible, weirdly fantastic family: I love you, I do.
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Photo above: taken yesterday - will you look at those gorgeous pink blossoms? If that doesn't call for a cupcake or a piece of fabulous chocolate, I don't know what does. XOX