I knew the Christmas Grinch long before Doctor Seuss did. He lived in our house. He ate our pasta e fagioli. He used our bathroom. Back then, he didn’t call himself Mr. Grinch. He went by the name “Dad.”
You probably never heard the song “All I Want for Christmas Is … Peace and Quiet.” My father wrote it. For hours, he’d sit in his Barcalounger, doing crossword puzzles, saying his prayers and watching war movies on the TNT channel with the volume so loud you thought the Battle of Guadalcanal was being fought in our living room.
At this time of year, we’d anxiously ask, “Dad, what do you want for Christmas?” Without hesitation or equivocation, he’d answer — “Peace and quiet.”
“Then, you should turn off the war movies and watch Sesame Street,” I’d respond.
He didn’t want a flannel shirt, an electric drill, an all-expenses-paid trip to Vegas or a weed whacker. That would have been too easy, too … normal. Our Christmases were anything but normal. Despite his request for “peace and quiet,” he’d get an assortment of socks, boxer shorts and shirts, which he never wore.
God, however, eventually gave him what he wanted. He died on Christmas Eve, and the minister who met my sister in the emergency room, where they had rushed him after a heart attack, said, “What a wonderful gift to spend Christmas in heaven.” Peace at last. Certainly a lot more peaceful than our Christmas was that year.
I’m following in his footsteps. I crave peace, but it’s nowhere to be found. Our Christmases are often marred by crisis, misadventure and misfortune. A death here, an illness there, family squabbles and assorted mayhem. There are also grudges, and if I were asked to chronicle all the cases of “who isn’t talking to whom,” I could write a book.
For years, one woman hasn’t talked to her sister, and no one knows why. A guy refuses to visit his sister-in-law. A father isn’t talking to his daughter. A niece isn’t talking to her aunt. We don’t go to a certain uncle’s home because he does nothing but argue about politics. And no one wants to visit a family where everyone is always dropping the F-bomb. No Christmas spirit there.
When we come together as a family, no one knows what will happen. I still remember the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve several years ago. Unfortunately, we had only five fishes. My gourmet-minded daughter made shrimp, clams, sole, squid and lobster, but the lobster got cold, so she put it in the microwave and it came out like Turkish taffy and got caught between our teeth. Since we had no floss, we used thread and toothpicks, at which point a major argument erupted over who was to blame. Time to open gifts, everyone!
Our grandparents who lived through the Great Depression would get an orange, a fig, maybe a date and perhaps a piece of chocolate on Christmas. And they were content. However, when I became a parent, in an effort to make my four daughters happy, I bought too many gifts. I realize now that I should have given them raisins and apples.
One daughter would tear off the wrapping paper, pull out the present, look at it, snort, toss it aside and reach for the next box. She was jaded by age 10, and she’s worse today. She never learned that Christmas joy comes from giving, not getting. (On the other hand, there’s nothing worse than giving to an ingrate.)
Somewhere along the way, we stopped giving conventional gifts because everyone was rushing to make exchanges the day after Christmas, which meant holiday shopping had become an enormous waste of time, money and emotional effort.
In the olden days, when my great-aunts gave me underwear or a sweater that I didn’t like, there was no question of exchanging it. In the words of my mother, “You’ll learn to like it.” Now, we pass out Amazon gift cards with the sentimentality of a blackjack dealer in Vegas.
My father was right. Peace is the best Christmas gift you’ll ever get. We need to push aside the grudges, the mall madness, the drunken revelry, the vulgar TV shows, the political insanity and the family feuds, and get back to basics.
Peace is something you can’t buy, not even with an Amazon gift card. Peace is something the world can’t give … You find it in the manger.
Contact Joe Pisani at firstname.lastname@example.org.