My kid sister loved the shit out of Christmas. You think you know people who love the holidays and get all nutty excited? Well you don't. They are probably half asleep and drooling compared to my sister and I miss her this time of year more than any other.
Because of having Down syndrome my sister never matured intellectually beyond the age of 3 or 4. So it was like living with a very little kid for 15 years. Most children grow up and stop believing in Santa Claus. They become sullen, sour and insolent teenagers and then move on to become bitter, jaded, cynical adults (or was that just me?) about everything but especially so around the holidays. But my sister didn't. She stayed a little kid on the inside and she believed in all of it.
*As a side note, in very tiny font that I'm putting at the top of this post rather than the bottom, before I dig into my sappy sister holiday post I would just like to say that although I have written posts about my little sister before I always skirted around terminology and today I really struggled up there trying to find the right words to use. My family and everyone we knew in the special needs community used to just say "mentally retarded", but I've been out of it for awhile and now am given to understand that it's not always considered politically correct, although I used to belong to an organization called ARC which stands for "Aid Retarded Citizens" - it's still called that - so I'm confused now. Anyhoo... I would just like to let anyone reading this know how much I despise the word "retard". It's never funny to me. I Hate it with a capital HATE. Even when you change the emphasis like in the movie The Hangover (which I enjoyed very much by the way ) and say "re-tard" it still sets my teeth on edge. I think that anyone that uses the term "retard" should be forced to spend the afternoon volunteering at a group home for mentally challenged adults (which you can do through an organization like ARC) with varying degrees of special needs. Get to know some of these fearless, joy-filled and loving people and use the word "retard" after that. I dare you. Frankly I think the world would be a better place altogether if everyone spent some time with people who are mentally challenged or have special needs - we all have a lot to learn from each other. Using the word "retard", no matter what the context, degrades people who are mentally retarded or whatever term you care to use. Thanks for listening. Carry on...
My sister believed in Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and pixie dust, the Easter Bunny, Batman, Superman, Isis and Wonderwoman. She believed in Mork from Ork, Scooby Doo and the Fonz. But she lived year round talking about and anticipating Christmas and Santa Claus. She believed that a bunch of reindeer flew all the way to our house and landed on our roof without ever pooping (when you grow up around animals you think about these things and you never hear about anyone getting pelted with dung falling from the sky and our dad never had to hose off the roof on Christmas morning) and that a jolly fat man in a red suit let himself in with a key left under the mat on the front porch (we didn't' have a fireplace until later). She believed it all. And not just in a quiet wishful way, but in a jumping up and down, shouting out loud to anyone who would listen kind of way.
It wasn't the kind of enthusiasm you see every day is what I'm saying.
Right before Thanksgiving one year there was a guy wearing a Santa suit and ringing a bell in front of a bucket outside of the K-Mart in our town, he wasn't even wearing a beard or anything, not even trying to look like Santa (other than the suit I guess) and my sister ran towards him, arms open and squealing with delight, looking almost like those teenage girls you see in old news footage grabbing their faces and screaming like lunatics over the Beatles. It was a little embarrassing but once we peeled her off of him he said it was the best thing that had happened to him all week and I don't think he meant it in a perverted way at all because the man had tears in his eyes and seemed pretty overwhelmed.
Nobody in my family ever made any effort to tamp down her excitement either. No, quite the contrary, we would build it all up. My mom let my sister mark off the calendar every day, counting down till Christmas starting on my birthday in July, so that by the time her birthday arrived on December 20th, she was nearly apoplectic and bursting into flames from all the hype. Not to say that it also wasn't an ongoing lesson to help her learn about counting and dates and seasons and such, but a mostly the lessons ended with, "and that means it's only this many days till Christmas!"
You might be able to tell by looking at the picture at the top of this post that my mom also let my sister be in charge of most of the tree trimming. That's our old mashed up fake tree that I mentioned in my previous post and I love how all of the ornaments are right in the middle. I would also like to point out the vomit-y blue and green shag carpeting that my mother actually had installed - on purpose - when we moved into that house.
We would get her so worked up that by the time Christmas Eve finally rolled around my sister was bloody freaking exhausted and getting her to go to sleep was never the problem you might have thought it would be.
After we went to bed my dad would eat all of the cookies she'd left out for Santa except for one that he would leave behind with just one bite taken out. My mom would make sure that some of her toys were left unwrapped and set up to look as if someone had been playing with them already, like a dollhouse all set up or one time a new record player was left turned on with a record spinning on it all night (needle off of course), so that it looked like Santa had just left before he got caught in the act of playing with her stuff.
Maybe lots of families do these kinds of things. I hope you'll feel free to tell me about some of the goofy stuff your family did or does in the comments. My parents used to do it for me too when I was little enough to still believe, but they got to continue to do it for a very long time afterwards and I think that must be pretty special. Eventually I got involved in it too. I was all quiet and cool at school (I believe I mentioned something earlier about sullen and sour), but at home I would do anything to get my sister started. Not that it took much more than asking her how many days till Santa comes? or singing carols at the top of my lungs to get her to start squealing.
Have I ever mentioned that we were not Christians? I'm not sure how relevant that is to my story here, but we weren't anything. Maybe you could say agnostic, but my mom never wanted to put a label on it. We ended up celebrating Christmas in a non-Christ kind of way. We never talked about Jesus, but we had a tree and presents appeared under it on Christmas morning. She put up mistletoe, served eggnog and baked cookies.
I think my mom really liked Christmas and after she left her church continued to celebrate it in ways that incorporated her own favorite things about the holiday without having to think about or explain the religious portion of it to me and maybe also to herself, since she stopped putting out the gorgeous hand painted porcelain nativity set that she had inherited from her grandmother when I got old enough to start trying to apply logic to the story and began asking the tough questions about Christmas. If Joseph isn't Jesus real daddy then was Mary married to someone else before Joseph and got a divorce like the Shapiros?
All of our holiday fervor was fueled by our love for my sister and for me it still is. I love Christmas. There I said it. Even though she's gone now and Christmas will never be the same without her, and surly as I've become, I've managed to hang onto a bit of that joy that was always in the air around her and hope that you and the people you love, whether you believe in Jesus, Santa or Mork from Ork, can feel it too.
If you're interested, here are links to some of my other posts featuring my little sister (they aren't quite as sappy as this one):
Cat-like Gag Reflexes
I'm Sure Your Family Is Weird Too
Scare Tactics for Teens