Let’s be clear about one thing from the start: I have no doubt that my dad meant well.
I was 10 years old, and Dad thought it would be a great idea for us to trek out into the woods behind our house and cut down our very own Christmas tree. At first, it seemed like a splendid idea, but then we dragged home a scraggly pine tree that looked like something from a very special Christmas episode of Little House on the Prairie. Dad rigged it up onto this wooden box in the back yard and prepared to haul it inside. We sighed.
It was ugly.
I guess he could see the disappointment on our faces, because he started brainstorming about how to spruce it up a little. And that’s when he went inside to get the laundry detergent.
Yes, the laundry detergent.
Within minutes, he whipped up a witch’s brew of the detergent, water, and who knows what else; and then he began coating the Christmas tree with it. We were confused at first, but then we realized that our fortunes had turned — our pitiful Mississippi pine tree had turned into the cleanest, snow-covered Christmas tree ever. We beamed at the glorious wonder that was perched next to the air conditioning unit and waited for Dad to take it inside.
It was all downhill from there.
Shortly after Dad placed the tree in the living room, my mom began having sinus problems that only worsened as Christmas approached. She told my dad that she was certain it was the powerful smell of the detergent emanating throughout our country rental house, but he shrugged it off. He liked it; the kids liked it; and Mom was always having sinus problems anyway. His tree could not be the culprit. But it was, and by the time Christmas Day rolled around, Mom was so sick she could hardly get out of bed.
It was depressing. Mom looked horrible, she felt horrible, and there was a pall in the living room as she tried to enjoy watching us open our presents around the Tide-soaked Christmas tree. She later told me she felt like she was going to die that day. Nonetheless, when all the present-opening was done, Mom got off the couch, dragged herself out of the living room, and she baked a ham. She would not be defeated, and she would not let a toxic Christmas tree rob her family of a decent Christmas dinner.
On the other hand, I did not handle it as well. I felt like Christmas was irreparably ruined, and I went off to my room, shut myself in my closet, threw myself onto the mountain of clothes inside, and said, “This is the worst. Christmas. ever.” And then I started crying. (I know that’s pathetic, but I was 10 years old — give me a break.)
Listen folks, I’ve got news: Somebody’s probably going to mess up Christmas for you this year, and it’s probably going to be a relative who has no idea how inconsiderate they’re being. Maybe it will be a parent who forgets that you’re not 12 years old anymore, a sister who shrugs at the gift you thoughtfully picked out for her, or that aunt who wonders aloud whether you might be gay because you still aren’t married. Regardless, 35 years of Christmases have taught me that the holidays are ripe for dashed expectations, and other people are usually the ones doing the dashing.
The question is: What are you going to do in the face of your Christmas disappointment? You can follow in the footsteps of my 10-year-old self and pout about the fact that you can’t control the imperfect people around you. Or you can suck it up, find your “pan,” preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and focus on making things a little merrier for you and everyone else. Come on, people. Before someone’s carelessness threatens to ruin Christmas, go ahead and decide to do what you can to make it a good one.