It’s hard to understand the true meaning of Christmas when the meaning of life itself is confusing. And for me, it was a complete mystery. I grew up an upper middle class existence that I’m sure was the envy of many people. Even to my best friends, everything looked normal. No one knew I had been terrified of my alcoholic father’s temper for years. No one knew my mother was a drug addict, though her family suspected it. Even when she committed suicide, only my father knew the cause and reason for death. He told us she just died. And we would no longer be allowed to see any member of her family. But by then his life was being over taken by inner demons led him through two more disastrous marriages, being hospitalized for alcohol and drug overdose, committing fraud and grand larceny, lose his job, his fortune, his friends and slowly his kids.
So while growing up, what I loved most about Christmas – the one thing I could count on to be normal and fun and actually joyful, was the giant Harrison family Christmas Eve party held every year. My dad had two brothers and a sister and the party would always rotate around to one of their houses. Never our house, which I never thought about, but I doubt our home could have captured the spirit and laughter that the party always had. This party alone made Christmas something to look forward to, and actually gave the holidays meaning. It was so special I even went to it every year in college, though by then my relationship with my father and his new wife at the time resembled walking on a high-tension power line. But the point of the party was to bring everybody together and I happily accepted it. It was fun. It was joyful. It was tradition.
Tradition meant I could put aside hurt feelings and drunk stepmothers in mini-skirts for at least for one night. I could feel the warmth of the family and after attending it for twenty-two years, it was really special being able to bring my bride of three months to it. For Melissa, the party was even more wonderful. She grew up in a home where the only tradition was turkeys being thrown across the holiday table by a drunk father or mother, so an actual party where people met and laughed and hugged and honestly said “Have a wonderful Christmas”, left her with such a glow that one night four years later we thought this is too special to end, let’s go to midnight mass.