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CHRISTMAS: A HORROR STORY
By Irena Ioannou
Would any of you good people out there borrow my children for Christmas? I can’t hear anything. No? No one? What if you also accommodate my husband for a few days? He’s pretty quiet, goes to work in the morning, returns exhausted in the evening, just wants food on the table, order in the house, and the children to behave. Oh, and a basketball game on TV every now and then wouldn’t hurt.
Seriously, to all my friends living alone, I have one thing to say, and one only: I envy you, and now that Christmas is approaching, even more so. Let’s switch places. I’ll come to your house, take a long bath without having fighting children knocking on my door, sleep without waking every two hours because someone peed themselves, had a nightmare, fell off the bed, and then I’ll go for a walk without checking my watch every five minutes. Perhaps, I’ll end up in a bookstore. Sit in a soft armchair, hot chocolate in hand, and read every crime book with ugly heroines who kill their husbands that exists. And then I’ll wake up.
But no. I made my choices you’ll say. I must be responsible you’ll insist. I’m the adult in the room, and I have to open my heart to the Christmas spirit.
Christmas spirit, my ass.
I’m pretty sure when Christ was born, he didn’t exactly anticipate how his birth would influence women throughout the world. What we’d have to endure in his name. Because in most countries I know, Christmas is interwoven with tradition: in other words it is a euphemism for the more realistic ‘how to overwhelm a mother in three tested steps’.
Accommodating the in-laws.
Greeks have an awful lot of kin. Extended families, many grandchildren—many mouths—all waiting to be fed and entertained. It goes without saying that Christmas is a time for gatherings, and it wouldn’t sit well if a daughter-in-law didn’t send out her share of invitations to her husband’s relatives. It is not an obligation we can skip without a family drama erupting.
Inviting people home of course presupposes numerous preparations. The house has to be cleaned. And not only the urgent, every-day stuff. I mean everything: floors, surfaces, dishes, clothes, areas that haven’t been looked at since the last big gathering. Because female relatives and preschool children stray, and before you know it they have opened doors to rooms they have no job entering, and they are commenting on misplaced objects and stains you didn’t know how to remove.
Dinner also has to be prepared and this time for twenty people. Not just food, but also a good choice of drinks and desserts, enough in quantity and quality, about which everyone will probably offer their unsolicited opinion: the cake didn’t rise properly, the steak needed less grilling, the potatoes more salt.
Someone—guess who that someone is—must also be a pleasant host. Not roll her eyes when a sister-in-law enthusiastically narrates a recipe she read in a magazine. Smile when a male relative demands that you become his dance partner. Bite her tongue when her father-in-law talks politics and how everything is women’s fault really.
Accommodating the children.
Closed schools pose an additional layer in the Christmas experience. While you’re cleaning, cooking, and decorating the house, you have all your children at home demanding to watch more TV, eat—but not food or fruits, wanting their sister to stop bothering them, the baby to stop crying. And then they’re hungry again. And after that they get bored. ‘Why don’t we go somewhere?’ they’ll ask.
If you decide to leave the house, you’ll have to fight over which clothes they should wear. You’ll have to braid their hair, because when will you spend half your morning fighting rebellious hair if not on holiday? And why don’t you resemble their classmate’s mom who knows five different braided hairstyles by heart, whereas you have to watch an hour of YouTube to produce the simplest version of French braids?
And outside, the places you visit will either be packed with people, and thus too crowded to stay, or they won’t have any children your kids’ ages to play with. Above all, it’ll be too cold. ‘Why don’t we go home?’ your children will ask.
Buying the presents.
Amidst all this, you’ll have to complete the present-buying chapter successfully, which goes without saying is your exclusive responsibility. Along with all the town’s desperate, sleep-depraved mothers you’ll have to rush to the stores before closing time and come up with brilliant present ideas for your children who have everything. Clothes are not considered a wise choice. Books, neither, and in the last years anything that doesn’t need a cord to charge won’t produce screams of delight.
You’ll then have to remove the plastic bags along with every hint of the store you bought them from. Choose neutral wrappers. Think of a good hiding place because children will stop at nothing when scouring the house. And when everything is set, you’ll have to take to the streets to buy gifts for the rest of the nieces and nephews, something personal for your mother-in-law—it’d better fit or you’ll have to take it back to change it—and something for your husband. Something cheap, but elegant. That testifies that he’s always in your thoughts.
And then your children will start complaining that you’re always busy and don’t spend quality time with them. Your husband will start wondering about the mess the house is in, even though you’re on leave. The gathering will come and pass and you’ll be left with a raided house, and two-sizes-too-big underwear—your mother-in-law’s gift. And you’ll find yourself eager to get back to work.
Irena Ioannou writes from Crete, Greece and her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Betty Fedora, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Mortar, OTV, and elsewhere. She is a mother of five.
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