The first indication that I was not as prepared for the holidays as I thought came with the delivery of my parents’ Christmas present.
I sent my mom a message: Did you get the package?
The tracking information claimed that the package had been left at the doorstep at 5PM last Saturday. How could it be missing?
Then it became clear: I’d had the package delivered to their old house. The one they moved out of in 2006. While placing the order, I’d overlooked the outdated address saved on my Shutterfly account.
My sisters, in Indy from LA and Chicago, got in the car and drove out on a reconnaissance mission. The package was retrieved, Christmas was saved.
The secret to having a good Christmas isn’t having presents. It isn’t being prepared, or cooking a big meal, or even spending time with family.
It’s getting enough sleep.
Sleep is high on my list of priorities. I’m usually in bed before 10, and anything less than eight hours leaves me irritable and only partially human. It never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t get a full night’s sleep on Christmas eve, but then I hadn’t considered our neighbors.
These neighbors are in the apartment block behind ours, right next to Captain. I can see into their kitchen window from our bedroom and dining room windows. They have never, ever, thrown a wild party. They’ve never even thrown a tame one.
At approximately 1AM on Christmas morning (also the day of Jared’s 30th birthday), Latin beats blared from their kitchen, shocking me awake. The volume was subsequently turned down from ear-splitting to raucous jams, but it was too late. I lay awake, listening to two guys and a girl talk about the mysteries of the world while I cried inside.
Guy #1: I like dogs.
Girl: Awwwww. Dogs! My family, my family has a kelpie. (pause for dramatic effect) Kelpies have the best personalities.
Girl: I totally came over here and it was, like, dark, and I thought they’re probably sleeping, but I knocked.
Guy #2: And we were awake!
Girl: And you were totally awake! On Christmas eve!
Guy #1: Whoa. It’s 4:25!
Girl: I wanna stay up till the sunrise. Then I’ll go to bed.
Guy #2: Me too!
The whole time, the Latin audio explosion continued. I entertained myself by glaring at them through the blinds and thinking of things I could throw at the window. Finally, at 7AM, having accomplished their goal, they faded.
I have no idea why I didn’t pipe up and say something. If I had my time again, I would have. But as it was, I spent Christmas day in an odd haze of confusion. It felt like being jet lagged, when you know where you are but you’re not quite convinced. Jared and I opened presents in the morning and ate pancakes.
“Does it feel like Christmas?” Jared asked.
“I don’t know what Christmas is supposed to feel like anymore,” I said.
This was said in a sleep-deprived blur, but it’s actually very accurate. I don’t know what Christmas is supposed to feel like. Warm and fuzzy? Stressful? Busy? Joyful? I’ve had so many displaced Christmases over the past 10 years that I’ve lost touch. Instead of sticking around to figure it out, we went for a surf.
As soon as we’d paddled out, a few lifeguards in a boat cruised over to us.
“Morning,” they said.
“Morning,” we replied.
“Just wanted to let you know there’s been a shark sighting in the area,” they said, and sped off.
I pretended to be cool with it. Shark in the water, no big deal. We decided to go in, just to be safe. No one wants to be a statistic, especially not on Christmas morning.
Adrenaline kicked in, overcoming tiredness. My paddling was frantic and useless. Had the shark been nearby, I would certainly have aroused its curiosity. When I wiped out a few meters from shore, I thought I was a goner.
Obviously, I lived to tell the tale.
At the end of the night, full on ham and watching Love Actually (on DVD because the Australians literally decided to show Jaws on TV for Christmas), I decided that, against the odds, Christmas had been a success. Present rescued, neighborly war averted, shark attack nonexistent, uninterrupted sleep soon to come – everybody’s kicked a goal.
I think that’s what Christmas is supposed to feel like.