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Tuesday, January 06, 2004

 
As promised, here is:
Christmas, Part I: Michigan
This was the first year of trying to fit multiple families into the holiday season. The result was basically that we didn't get to spend as much time as everyone wanted in each place, but we did get there for at least a little while. Since we did Thanksgiving up in the Great White North, Christmas was below the bridge with Mark's mom's family, and then post-Christmas in NC. Next year, it'll have to get all rearranged, no doubt. Life was much easier when I lived in the same town with both sets of grandparents and all the other relatives came to me.

Anyway, first, Mark and I did our own Christmas Day actually on Christmas Eve morning. I did not spring out of bed all that early, because I was lacking my habitual anticipation of what would appear in the living room from Santa, (who, yes, does still visit my parents' house for me and my brother, even though we're both over 20). But Mark got me up rather earlier than is his wont, and when I walked into the living room, there was a dog under the tree! A full sized black Lab, too. And just perfect for our apartment, because it's a stuffed animal, with all the calming advantages of petting a real dog, without having to feed it or take it outside. Plus, its tail is posable. Someday, we will have a real dog, but this will do for now. Mark had fabricated an excuse to go out to his car after making sure I was close enough to sleep to not get out of bed again, and was very pleased with his sneaky self.

Then we opened the other presents that were actually for us under the tree. Mark gave me little amethyst earrings that match the ring he gave me last year. I gave him a code poet t-shirt, as well as an RTFM mug and t-shirt. Thinkgeek.com is my friend. From Debbie (Mark's stepmom), we accrued a cookbook, two CDs, two pictures, and a regular book between us. We also got a scanner for Mark's birthday, early. And from Mark's half-brother, we got a crockpot, which kicked off the general theme of this Christmas, which was "kitchen stuff."

Around noon, we left for Chelsea, so we could spend the night at Mark's mom's house. The house was full for the holidays, with Char (Mark's mom), Warren (Mark's stepdad), Aarisa (Mark's step-sister, previously un-met), Tessa (Mark's full sister), and Inch (Mark's aunt). In this crowd, there was a majority of omnivores, but also a vegetarian and a vegan, leading to 3 different lasagnas for dinner and a lot of strange non-dairy products in the fridge. I also got to find out about a lot of the Bacon family Christmas traditions, which are rather different from my own.

Growing up, Char and Inch's family had a huge Christmas tree that sat in the middle of the two-story winding staircase. There was a protocol for dressing the tree. The lights had to be wound around each branch from the trunk out, so the tree was lit "in depth" (as I heard from Mark over and over again this year). Tinsel was hung one strand at a time along the length of the branch. Ornaments were hung in size order, small at the top, large at the bottom, as well as according to shininess, with the shiny and reflective ones near the trunck to reflect the light outward, more decorative ones toward the outside. This kind of tree decorating has now been passed on. Our own tiny 3.5-foot tree has 400 lights on it. A Bacon decorated tree can provide the illumination for a whole room on its own. It is pretty, quite true, but not something I'd ever do on my own.

Then there are the presents. Even Mark's mom admits that she might have gone overboard on the present wrapping this year. The tradition is that the presents are wrapped thematically by the wrapper, but have no tags, only a cryptic numbering system. They are then displayed in tableaus around the room, so everyone can try to guess who gets which present beforehand, but there is absolutely no touching. My family goes in more for disguising presents by using weird shapes and bogus packaging, so shaking is allowed, and weight is often used to confuse the giftee beforehand. Mark considers me a horrible cheater for touching presents beforehand.

Touching was not a problem at Char's house this year. Two sets of her presents were done in impeccable department store window style, with coordinating paper and ribbon, and set on top of cabinets and shelves. The main display, though, outdid anything ever done before. She had used plain brown paper with a slight gold sheen, then gone out in the yard and picked up dried leaves, twigs, seed pods, Queen Anne's lace, and a fallen wasp nest. She brought all these back in, and proceeded to handpaint them in shimmery metallic paints. She then attached them to the presents, with thematically linked haiku written underneath. No one wanted to unwrap them, and when they did get unwrapped, the wrapping was reassembled after the present was removed. I wish I had the pictures already. They have to be seen to be believed.

But that was the next morning. On Christmas Eve itself each family member opened one present (which was admittedly a break from tradition) from Warren. He had made letter openers for each person in his forge out in the garage. They were beautiful. They were all different in the style of the curve, handled with peach wood, and in a carved wooden holder with magnets to both hold the knife in and attach the whole thing to whatever metal surface desired.

Shortly afterward, Aarisa crashed, having taken a red-eye flight that morning from California, and Warren wandered off for a nap. That left the rest of us still up, and Char suggested games. We played Wordsters, which is an evil game that Tessa is far too good at. But then we moved on to Taboo, and Mark and I cleaned up. There are definite advantages to playing that with someone you live with, as well as playing it with an over-educated crowd who have fun playing with big words to get around all the taboo ones on the card. We need to own that game. Mark's mom apparently had a lot of fun watching me and Mark play, even though she and Tessa were losing.

Eventually we all went to bed, too. The next morning, the present extravaganza started. In addition to having such extensive wrapping on the presents, there were just a lot of them there, plus a very stuffed stocking for each person. Mark got 5 new cookbooks there alone, and a mid-sized cooking pot. We also jointly got a rice cooker (yay!) and another crock pot, the same kind as the other one, except this one has a divider so you can do a main dish and a side at the same time, plus a carrying case. My own personal theme there seemed to be "Dana is Southern, and therefore frequently cold," so I got silk long underwear, as well as a hat/glove/scarf combination, and a fleece sweatshirt. In my stocking, amongst many other things, I had a little stuffed tree spirit, or kodama, from Princess Mononoke, and a notepad with little Japanese-speaking soybeans, complete with a sticker page. We wrote all our driving directions in it for the whole trip afterward.

After lunch, we went to Mark's uncle Drew's house for the Bacon family party. Like most other people in their family, Drew has inherited something of a mania for being "neat and tidy." His house is decorated in black, chrome, mirrors, with red accents. Even his pool table in the basement had black felt, and the chalk is black instead of blue, so it won't show. He has the most incredibly organized tool room and garage that I've ever seen. It is oddly inspiring, and we reorganized the kitchen when we got home that night, ostensibly to make room for all the appliances, etc. that we'd accumulated, but really, I think, from a feeling of inadequacy.

After dinner, there were the guessing gifts, which is a family tradition that no one actually really likes, but it survives anyway. If someone feels so inclined, they get a small gift for each person or household, but no one gets one, or gets to open one, until someone guesses what it is. This year's items were fortune cookies, refrigerator magnets, and, I kid you not, corn-on-the-cob butterers. The person who brings the present becomes visibly more and more pleased the longer it takes for people to guess, but eventually we got all of them. Mark and I have no idea what to do with the corn cob butterers, but we've got two, should you ever need them.

Then we drove home, tried to put some stuff away so we could still walk in the apartment, and fell asleep to get up the next day and head to NC, which is our next installment.

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