I know about Christmas, I learned from my Sister:
A Sibling-Inspired Survival Guide to the Holidays
Larry Dean Harris
sister Karen will be the first to tell you that she is not the brains
of the family. To this day, she still says "Happy Birfday."
And she has a memory like Halle Berry after a hit-and-run accident.
There isn't a restaurant or rest stop in America where we haven't
had to double back to retrieve her purse.
yet, when I think of Christmas, I can't help but think of her first
and foremost. For somewhere in the merry mayhem and madness, all
the wisdom that I cling to for holiday survival originates with
is my holiday gift to anyone who stumbles across these pages. These
are the lessons I've learned, with love, from my sister.
is no Santa Claus. But there is a bounty, if you know where to look.
wasted no time in debunking the myth. For there were presents to
be found, closets to be searched. Any opportunity in which my parents
left us alone initiated a Hunt for Red December. Why should the
magic of Christmas be limited to one day? I'm telling you: if you
could pin a shiny red ribbon on Osama bin Laden, my sister could
find him by December 20th.
the Blessed Virgin Mary had her bad days.
the annual Christmas pageant at church. I am cast as Joseph (I guess
even then everyone knew I wasn't interested in sex with girls),
and Karen will be essaying the role of Mary. Yeah, I know that's
a little creepy, but we were Pentacostal.
as we're getting ready for church and I'm lamenting the oversight
that I wasn't given any dialogue, my sister declares that she's
not feeling well. Mind you, Karen doesn't crave the spotlight the
way I do, but she cried wolf so many times, how could my parents
not think she was simply faking in order to bring humiliation and
shame to the family by refusing the most coveted role in all Christianity?
arrive to the church. The house is packed. Every casual Christian
in all of Northwest Ohio has turned out to witness the greatest
story ever re-told ad nauseum. Sure, it's no Crystal Cathedral spectacular
with angels Flying by Foy, valet parking and live camels crapping
on stage. But we did have a multi-racial trio of wise men, which
was a real casting coup in a church that frowned on people "not
unto us a child is born in an effortless delivery (giving my sister
a false sense of security that would be shattered a dozen years
later with the 22-hour screamfest that heralded the birth of her
daughter). All is going according to plan. Gifts are presented.
Shepherds bow. Angels shift impatiently in their polyester garments.
then Karen whispers to me "I'm going to throw up." It
was an acting choice I, personally, would not have considered. But
as the next scene played out in all of its slow-motion glory and
baby Jesus (a doll, thankfully) was splattered in shades of liquid
gold, frankincense and myrrh, I developed a new respect for my sister.
What better way to say, "Maybe next time you'll believe me."
for what you want. Repeatedly.
Christmas is about the spirit of giving, try telling that to a nine-year-old.
Especially one who has paid his dues. I served my time with music
lessons, practice pads and even Tupperware. I wanted that drum set,
and I made it known on a daily basis. Karen, unfortunately, was
going through that difficult "I hate you" phase that all
parents can look forward to with delicious anticipation. And she
naturally assumed that the color television of her dreams was in
the bag. Santa's bag.
is the poignant, sobering moment of the story where dreams are shattered.
Like when Luke learns that Darth Vader is his father. But shed not
one tear for my sister. Santa screwed her big that year -- I got
my drums, she got something called a "cowl neck sweater."
But in the end, she got the television set, along with the big wedding
and a house.
matter how broke, or how bleak, make Christmas special for those
is the lesson my sister continues to teach. She will scrimp and
save, work overtime, make layaway payments, shop and bake and wrap
and mail and do anything she can to make the season joyful for her
family and those she loves.
even when I can't make it home for the holidays, I can count on
a bright package at my doorstep filled with carefully decorated
sugar cookies and a fun, kitschy item that I know she scoured the
antique stores to find.
pick up the phone and dial. "Hey, Sweetie," I'll say.
"Hey, Ugly," she'll reply. And then we launch into our
routine, laughing and sharing the same old Christmas memories. And,
for a little while, we'll forget about the bills that are late,
our hearts that have been broken, and the disappointments that come
those other 364 days of the year.
it's Christmas, and I have my sister Karen. And that's all I need
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