I drew pictures representing five Christmas memories, and then wrote about them. I’m super good at never going viral.
Just to get this out of the way: Yes I draw like I’m five and no it’s not for effect.
Underneath the Christmas Tree!
I used to love laying under the Christmas tree. I mean directly under it, looking straight up at the lights and ornaments. It was another world down there.
Sometimes I’d bring a pillow, and twist my neck so I could watch cartoons. Linus’s speech was much more resonant when I was covered in needles. I was like the squirrel from Christmas Vacation, or more accurately Chip and Dale from Pluto’s Christmas Tree — the old Disney short that inspired me to do this in the first place.
But the best times I had under the tree were with my action figures. The tree essentially became a super-sized Castle Grayskull, supporting four inch monsters with its thousand branches. They’d weaponize ornaments and fight over candy canes, while I grew drunk off of the pine scent. It was so good.
Salvation Through Soup!
In our family, Christmas Eve *is* Christmas. That’s when we have the party. That’s when we do everything. It’s common practice in Italian families, but sadly for me, so is this next part:
On Christmas Eve, Italians eat fish. A ton of fish. We’ve grown looser about that in more recent years, but when I was a kid, it was just fish, fish and more fish, followed by fish and supplemented by fish.
The problem was, I hated fish. I never ate so much as a fish stick. I could barely stand the sight of it, let alone the smell.
Even assuming that I could’ve been coaxed into trying fish, it certainly wasn’t going to happen on Christmas Eve, when everyone was eating shit like octopus salad.
The only respite was my mother’s meatball soup. Picture a cross between chicken soup, Chickarina soup and Italian Wedding soup, all completely homemade, and absolutely freakin’ delicious.
Since the soup subtly signaled six hours’ worth of fish, I’d eat more than my fair share, slurping down bowls like a dystopian nomad who didn’t know when he’d find food again. I loved that soup, and I loved sprinkling 700 ounces of shaved parmesan on it, too.
(Before anyone mentions it, yes I am aware that my soup looks like a pizza.)
Arrival of the AT-AT!
Let’s head back to Christmas Eve, 1983. (Well, technically Christmas Day, since this would’ve been after midnight.)
When the clock struck 12, we opened our gifts. I was four years old and obsessed with Star Wars, so imagine my reaction when I unwrapped the biggest gift with my name on it: The Kenner AT-AT!
The AT-AT was that giant dog/robot/thing that put the good guys through hell in The Empire Strikes Back. It also scored a cameo in Return of the Jedi, which was Kenner’s justification to leave it on store shelves during the ‘83 Christmas season.
It was the largest toy I’d ever even seen until that point, and I couldn’t believe it was mine.
A gift that magnificent had to be opened immediately. I tore into the box and zipped into my bedroom to fetch a dozen action figures. Under the glow of the Christmas tree, I messed with my new AT-AT until at least 2 in the morning, eventually falling asleep right there on the living room floor.
It was pure Christmas magic of the most materialistic sort.
After Eight Chocolate Mints!
Since my family goes all-in on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day has historically meant little to us. As a kid, I often found Christmas Day boring, and sometimes even depressing. How you felt about December 26th was how I felt about December 25th.
If I was lucky, I’d spend a portion of Christmas Day at my childhood best friend’s house, right across the street. By contrast, Christmas Eve meant nothing to his family, but Christmas Day was nonstop insanity.
To be honest, I kinda wedged myself into the fray. It’s not like my friend was dying to hang out on Christmas, when his house was full of cousins and new toys. It made no sense for me to be there, but since the alternative was sitting at home in comparative silence… fuck yeah, let’s do it like the Germans do!
I was more spectator than participant at those parties, but my God did I love them. Decorations everywhere, people everywhere, and the music always way too loud. A hundred family traditions happening in every direction, and none of them were mine. No wine and no fish, but tons of beer and bratwurst.
What I remember most about those parties were the little green boxes of After Eight chocolate mints. They were all over the house. My own family never bought them, but I came to see the appeal: After Eights were as close as kids could get to eating those energon snacks Hot Rod used to bribe the Junkions.
My Fake Pet Cardinal!
Mixed in with our Christmas decorations were many things from before I was born, including an endless army of fake cardinals. I’m guessing they were from the ‘60s. By the time I was around, they were definitely showing their age.
Each cardinal had thin wires protruding from its feet. The gimmick was that you could wrap those wires around branches to make your Christmas tree double as a fake bird nest.
Course, I had other ideas. As crude as the birds were, I still found them adorable. I’d commonly adopt them as “pets,” and spend much of December treating my phony birds like real ones.
Some years, I found more joy in those busted cardinals than in my actual Christmas presents. Nintendo games and plastic spaceships had their plusses, but they weren’t so good at fake-eating Cheerios.
Thank you for reading about my Christmas memories, and for looking at my bad drawings.