Confessions of a Christmas diva

Posted: Wednesday, December 24, 2003

My name is Vicki and I am a Christmas diva.

It's an addiction way beyond Christmas spirit, more than a religious experience. The scent of evergreens makes me high. My eyes glaze over at the sight of tinsel and twinkling lights. My mouth waters at the thought of gingerbread, fruitcake and eggnog. It's an obsession of the first magnitude. I just can't help myself.

It started out innocently enough. The first Christmas I spent as a wife was very simple. We had Christmas dinner with my sister-in-law's family. I gave my beloved a scarf I had crocheted for him. At least I intended it to be a scarf, but in my exuberant efforts to make it a gift of love, it turned out big enough to be a small lap robe, kind of wide on the ends and narrow in the middle.

But he smiled and said he loved it. He even wore it once, tucked carefully inside his coat to hide the uneven stripes.

A year or two later, our celebration grew. We now had a beautiful baby girl. I wanted to make sure she had a wonderful Christmas. I dressed her up in red velvet and lace and took her to have her picture taken sitting on Santa's knee. She was only 8 months old and that picture (which I still put on the mantlepiece each year) showed a squalling, bald baby in the arms of a disgruntled old man with a white beard and a wet lap.

Dirty dishes sat in the sink and the floor was unswept while I made her little outfits and toys and wrapped them up in pretty paper and bows. My husband looked at me like I was totally crazy.

"I don't understand why you're doing all this," he told me.

"I want our baby to have a merry Christmas!" I replied indignantly.

"She's a baby! She doesn't know what's going on at all. Quit being so silly."

Then it dawned on me. I had married Scrooge! I knew from that day forward making Christmas merry would be totally up to me.

So I threw myself into it full steam.

I baked dozens of loaves of fruitcake and banana bread, cookies by the hundred and candies of all varieties to distribute to neighbors, extended family and friends.

So what if I stayed up late every night and spent every spare moment making preperations? It was all in the spirit of giving. I loved the look on their faces as I gave each recipient a gift they hadn't expected.

As our family grew with the birth of our son, I had even more reason to celebrate. Then when my stepdaughters began spending the holidays with us, I had six children to lavish gifts upon. I made clothing, dolls, hats and mittens. I wanted to make sure each of the children received a homemade present from me every year. There just seemed to be so much more love in a gift made by my own hands. Neglected housework would still be there when I was finished.

Of course with school age children came Christmas concerts, parties and plays. I never missed one. And of course, each child needed a gift for the teacher and their best school friends.

By now the children were full of the spirit of giving, too. I'd cover the kitchen table with a plastic sheet, bring out the poster paints, paper and glue and we'd have our own "Santa's workshop." The mess was horrendous and it always ended with Dad asking, "When's dinner?"

I took them all shopping to buy gifts for each other and even for their Dad, whose holiday demeanor got more dark and grumpy with each passing year. When the children asked him what he wanted for Christmas, he would grumble, "There's nothing I need."

They always thought of something to give him, and each one always found a package from Dad under the tree with their name on it. (He would disappear on the day before Christmas Eve to go shopping.)

I started our own holiday traditions. We had our big Christmas turkey dinner on Christmas Eve. Every year I invited at least one guest, who had no one to spend Christmas with, to share our dinner with us. Each child could open one gift after dinner, usually pajamas or slippers. Then, it was off to bed to wait for Santa's arrival.

On Christmas morning, they could open the little presents in their stockings before our holiday breakfast, complete with omelets and hot cinnamon rolls. Then they could dig into the mountain of presents under the tree, each one opening a gift in turn.

This lasted until at least noon. We would play board games and watch holiday movies on TV all afternoon. To prolong the excitement, I insisted that the biggest gift for each one had to remain unopened until after dinner on Christmas day.

Once the big day was over, I would find myself feeling blue. My friends said it was from the long dark days and told me I should get out more.

But in my heart, I knew what I was suffering from was Christmas withdrawal.

As the years passed and my stepdaughters married and had families of their own, I made sure they all came to "Grandma's house" for Christmas. Eventually we had 30 people in the clan. I still insisted on keeping up our traditions: homemade gifts, baked goods for everyone, including friends and neighbors, and the whole family together for the holidays.

My sewing machine was humming nonstop from September on. Every weekend was a baking marathon. I recruited my son and daughter into the preparations. They helped with the baking and gift making, but balked when they really wanted to spend their time with their teenage friends.

"Where's your Christmas spirit?" I would demand.

They just scowled at me in the way I'd seen their father do for years.

Just like with other addictions, my need was causing distress to my loved ones and financial disaster, but I couldn't help myself.

Finally, this fall, my family called an intervention. They ganged up on me and told me it had to stop.

"Mom, don't you realize you're sick? You need help! We're not going to enable you to do this any longer," my daughter said. "This year, Christmas is going to be different, no more extended family, no more giving to everyone you know. This year you can only give one gift to each of us. Promise?"

I agreed to change. I locked the door to my sewing room. I stayed off of the Internet. I really tried to be good.

But then, the day after Thanksgiving, I went to the store to buy milk and I heard carols coming over the PA system. I could feel my resolve failing. I saw the candy canes, the aisles marked "stocking stuffers" and row after row of ornaments and gifts.

I tried to run. I shoved my credit card deeper into my purse, but it was no use. Before I knew what had happened, I was walking out of the store with bags of gifts.

I had perfume, earrings and books for my daughter. Wrenches, a pocket knife and socks for my son. And yes, a digital camera and slippers for Scrooge.

I'm hopeless. What can I say, except ... Merry Christmas!

Victoria Steik is a mother, grandmother, college student and writer who is just a little over the top when it comes to Christmas. She lives in Kenai.

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