Hey! My family doesn’t act like that!

By Holly Budd

It is almost time for the onslaught of sappy, well-meaning Christmas TV movies to begin. This year it would be nice to see some reality mixed in with the happy families, angels who spread cheer like it was a virus and hobo grandpas who finally reunite with the son they abandoned in order to ride the rails.

Let’s start small and suggest that the Christmas trees we see in our television family counterparts better reflect the majority of our families’ trees. The trees we see in television are dressed up in their Christmas finery and are veritable holiday works of art. They sparkle and shimmer; they match. We all know it’s not really Christmas until your mom hauls out the crusty, glue spackled ornaments you made as a second grader. Anyone who was educated in the public school system surely created a delicate Christmas bell, ingeniously crafted out of an egg carton, aluminum foil and a pipe cleaner. On TV, I want to see gingerbread ornaments that are shellacked with lethal amounts of glue to ensure a long life. Look a little closer and you will see the bite marks. Though no one will admit to it, you saw your brother do it.

The next point of contention revolves around family relocation. When you move from an area of the country with snow to an area without, your Dad does not hijack a SnoCone machine and spend Christmas Eve gently and carefully covering your backyard with crushed ice in order to give his beloved family the illusion of a Winter Wonderland. When real people move at Christmas, they can’t get into their new house until after the holidays. As a result a family of five has to stay with Grandma in her retirement village. Mom and Dad get the pull-out couch. The kids get to share Grandma’s unfinished basement with shelves of canned goods. As the family pulls up to Grandma’s, Dad forgets he’s driving a U-Haul and promptly crushes Grandma’s eaves trough, causing several hundred dollars worth of damage. At Grandma’s, there is no tree, there are no lights, there is no Christmas dinner. There are sausages. Merry Christmas.

Family rituals are another area that must be addressed. On TV we see families with kettles of bubbling apple cider and delicious cinnamon sticks adorning every reindeer Christmas mug. The reality is two grown-up children being forced into the back of the family vehicle to partake in the hallowed Christmas light tour while listening to festive Bony M or Zamphir and his magical panflute.

Another popular televised family ritual is the traditional sing along, where everyone can sing and several people have harmony know-how. It’s amazing how every fictitious family has a string quartet within their ranks. One time my mom and I tried to work on a Christmas piano duet. I believe this moment of tranquillity was broken when we started delivering elbow blows and I screamed, "I hate you and the piano."

Another favourite Christmas storyline involves the family who has scrimped and saved and finally made it to Disneyland. And when they get to Disneyland, they win a special contest which makes them the royal family of Disneyland for the week–a week they’ll never forget! According to a reliable source, her family’s Disneyland Christmas fantasy had them staying at her dad’s friend’s bachelor pad and in lieu of turkey dinner they ate at Fat Burger. The Fat Burger in Venice no less, where they amused themselves by shooing away roaches. There, however, is a happy ending to this story. My friend did get an acid-washed jean jacket from Sears, making the whole experience worthwhile.

Others are not so lucky. While TV kids get a pony or a house to call their own, some of us would just be happy to receive an outrageously expensive brand-name shirt–what with Christmas being a time of miracles and all. Christmas morning, Mom rubs her hands together in anticipation and hands you a tell-tale clothing box. Please let it be a bum equipment, your 13- year-old mind fiercely wishes (Note to youngsters: there really was a time when bum equipment wasn’t just a Wal-Mart mainstay and considered a hot commodity.) So you squeeze your eyes shut and take a breath and rip open your present. Your mom squeals, "Do you love it?" It being a genuine rear attire. No, not bum equipment, rear attire. You feign excitement and choke back your salty tears. There will be no reprieve from junior high purgatory this Christmas.

So as you watch those hallowed Christmas specials with their pristine trees, happy families, fun rituals and fancy presents, know that no one remembers the Christmas their Dad made up with his estranged hobo father, only the fist fight that broke out when Grandpa wanted his hobo friends to stay for dinner. That’s what it’s really about.

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