Christmas Eve has arrived.
Your Christmas list was diligently overstocked months ago. You’ve covered all your bases. If you don’t get thing X, then you know for sure thing Y will be waiting under the tree. You also know that if your mom or dad won’t get it, then maybe Cousin Kenny will bless you with that Xbox you need in your life. Cousin Kenny is the plug. You give him a special list full of the heavy hitters, because fourteen-year-old you knows that the Yale finance degree payed off really well for Cousin Kenny.
And on Christmas Eve every year, you and your parentals climb into the car an hour later than originally planned, in order to get early access to your presents. Last year, Aunt Pam bought you the spirit of Christmas when she brought your family a beagle. This year, it’s Xbox or bust. Cousin Kenny’s approval rating hinges on this night. Christmas parties are also an ideal time to eat, drink, and be merry with your family.
* * *
You wake up from the sweet embrace of a nap, just as your dad pulls into Uncle Tim’s packed driveway. The Christmas lights lining the house are shining bright, and the cold air makes every breath look like a puff from a non-lethal cigarette. As you make your way to the front door, your mind is racing. Xbox? Will my Favorite Cousin Jess be there? How messy is my hair right now? Can I go back to sleep? The front door opens, and—with a lovely smile—Uncle Tim’s wife welcomes you into their humble and festive house. She excitedly remarks on how much you’ve grown in the last year, and you still don’t see what all the hype is about.
It’s been about fifteen minutes, and by now you’ve exchanged but merely round one of mandatory party pleasantries. As you enter the kitchen, the extended family praises your arrival with a cheered “Heyyyy!” You’re smattered with hugs and kisses from that great aunt whose name you don’t remember. Aunt Pam smooches your cheeks like a Parisian. Your younger relatives cling to your legs/waist, and you feel a little bit older and cooler than you did last year. You greet Cousin Kenny, too, but after giving him a high five, you lay on your best glare and hope it translates to“you better have my Xbox.” Uncle Kenny doesn’t seem to notice, but your mind is already dreaming of a veritable shower of Xboxes and controllers and games. After you’ve greeted and relearned the names of the adults in the kitchen, you make your way to the family room.
In the family room, there’s basketball on the television and a Christmas tree in the corner. Uncle Tim is sitting upon his armchair throne, remote in one hand and a Corona in the other, talking basketball like an expert with none other than Favorite Cousin Jess. As you hop onto the couch, the two notice you. Uncle Tim greets you with a “Hey bud,” but Favorite Cousin Jess gets up out of her chair and walks over to you. The world falls away as Jess, the nineteen year old six foot ball of cool that is your favorite cousin towers over you playfully. You mutter a reverent “hi,” but she’s grinning like an evil super villain. With a quick “What’s up Sam?,” Favorite Cousin Jess is on the attack, her pinpoint tickles destroys your thin veneer of teenage cool and leaves you hysterically laughing in the fetal position on the couch as you flail and fail to fight her off. After yet another unceremonious tickle defeat, you’ve laughed up an appetite, and your mom won’t stop asking if you’re hungry. So you partake in the second most important aspect of The Family Get Together™—the food. You load a plate filled with American culinary goodness and proceed to devour it. You never really finish your third plate.
* * *
You sink into the couch, watching the final minutes of the basketball game as the night slugs by—courtesy of your overindulgence in the barbecue meatballs. Uncle Tim is on beer number four, and his critiques of the game have only gotten more slurred, nonsensical, and funny (only to Uncle Tim). You’ve reached the eye of the storm. Half of the family is drunk and/or tipsy, and it’s right around then that the family begins to share its most hallowed, and most rehashed, stories. They’re the stories everyone already knows but wants to hear again, because it’s Christmas and what’s Christmas without the family gossip. So you get up from the couch and slide your way into the dining room to listen to this year’s rendition.
Pictures from 1967 are conjured out of your great aunt’s purse as she pokes fun at the youth and beauty of her now wrinkled and debatably senile husband. This year, like last, there’s talk about Sandra (a cousin you barely remember), her prolific romances, her wasted potential, and how she’s always “busy” when it comes time for The Family Get Together.™ Like last year, the vague dissection of Sandra is concluded by a chorus of disapproval and shaking heads. As family story time ends, you awkwardly leave the table confused as to what exactly Sandra did wrong, how she’s related to you, and why everyone seems to loathe Sandra.
It’s getting close to midnight. Now that your family has aired out its moldy laundry, Uncle Tim drunkenly announces that it’s time to open presents. Your heart skips a beat, but you try and keep it cool. You repeatedly glance sideways at Cousin Kenny, hoping something in his eyes will give away the present you know is coming. The suspense is deadly. Everyone slowly wanders into the family room as you and your younger cousins sit around the tree. Your younger cousin Chris can’t sit still and nearly topples the Christmas tree in excitement. You continue to try and play it cool, but you can’t hide a grin as it rolls its way across your face.
Cousin Kenny enters the room with several large gift bags, and your grin shoots into a smile. This is happening. Your Xbox is merely seconds away from your fingertips.
And your smile reverts to a forced grin after you open your presents and realize that, all together, they’re worth about the same amount as an Xbox, but they are most certainly not Xboxes. You scramble to politely thank Cousin Kenny and the rest of your extended family for your early Christmas presents. You’ve lost the battle, but the war isn’t over. You set your lofty sights on Christmas morning.
* * *
The Christmas Eve presents have been doled out; midnight has long passed, and the party is waning. Your younger cousin Chris falls asleep almost immediately after opening his final present and is now being held by Aunt Pam. Uncle Tim has entered an oddly quiet alcohol and pie induced stupor. You’re certainly ready to go. When you’re mother tells you it’s time, you’re quick to grab your jacket and say your goodbyes to anyone who hasn’t left and isn’t asleep. Favorite Cousin Jess gives you a hug and a fist bump. Uncle Tim’s hug is tight and reeks, and he seems really emotional when he tells you how proud he is of you. Cousin Kenny’s goodbye hug feels like a pretty weak apology.
You pile into your parent’s car—the underwhelming pre-Christmas loot in hand—eager to get sleep so that Santa Claus can get to work.