By Kris Woll
Like many families, my family keeps several Christmas Eve traditions. There is the array of treats, brought by each of us to share, with a few new recipes appearing annually amidst certain staples – Mom’s meatballs in a little crockpot, almond bark pretzels in a holiday tin. There are the Christmas carols sung – off key, off tempo – first around the piano and then, after bundling up in hats and mittens and boots and coats, in the yards of kind neighbors, neighbors who actually open their doors in that frigid air to listen to us croon. They always clap when we finish, and I understand why.
And there is one other, a tradition kept year after year, season after season, a staple of our holiday fest, something that lasts longer than anything else we share in the glow of that one holiday night …
You know the tradition, right? The exchange of germs. The sharing of bugs. The passing of the virus. There were at least three years in recent memory shut down early due to stomach flu, and one particularly uncomfortable yule featuring lice. Other ailments – sore throats, sinus infections, standard-issue colds – have made an also made an appearance in Christmas’s past.
Such a tradition is unavoidable, really. We are a collection of people living our ordinary, non-holiday lives in varied germ pools. We are toddlers and teenagers and college kids and teachers and parents; some among us (I’m not naming names, but you know who you are) don’t even wear tights with our Christmas dress even though the night’s temperature starts with a minus sign. We travel through airports and stop at grimy convenience stores on our way to that evening’s gathering, and then hug and sing and dish up some meatballs off the spoon that some young person, just a bit earlier, decided to lick.
Suffering through the season’s bug, whatever it might be, is never very merry. For the inflicted, festivities come to a crashing halt as the first symptoms appear. The music stops, the lights dim, and goodies are packed away; there is extra praying (O God, I hope I make it …) and some promises for reform (I will never eat another meatball…) followed by a whole lot of silent nighttime suffering behind closed doors.
(At least we are all cozy and warm in the new flannel PJ’s Mom and Dad gave us. The whole family, young and old, sick and well, resting in matching plaids.)
And then, as the flu and the holiday passes, the story forms, the story that will be retold at the next Christmas gathering, after the spinach dip — new this year — and the meatballs, that old staple, are set out on the table and before we start singing indoors or out. We laugh about plagues past. It is our own sort of holiday cheer.
Which sort of makes me scratch my head when I think about it, because it seems that the closeness of my family – maybe of any family – probably has more to do with making it through the stuff that goes wrong — through the long nights, through whatever might come up — as it does with sharing the stuff that goes right. A good thing to keep in mind during and after the holidays, and through most of the year, I guess.
Of course, I could also be scratching my head because I remember that year with the lice. No more sharing Santa hats at our family festivities! Now we all bring our own.
Kris Woll is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor. Read more by Kris at kriswollwriting.wordpress.com.