The other side of Christmas


By Thamar Jones
I wrote this true story three years ago and shared it for the very first time with you, the readers of The Guardian. Today, I was asked by a reader to tell this story once again. So for those that have never heard it before, I hope you enjoy. For those that have heard it before, I hope you enjoy the encore!
It was not until I was nearly a 25-year-old woman that I realized that for some people Christmas was not the most wonderful time of the year. Sure, I had always known some families have it better than others. My family had it better than some and some had it better than ours. But what I did not realize was that for some people, Christmas was a time of utter sorrow and misery.
One Christmas Eve when I was five years old or maybe I was six–I don’t quite remember now–my dad upon arriving home from work, informed my mama and me that he would be working the next day, Christmas day.
My dad, who was the manager of his work station, calmly explained that yes, it is Christmas and the other employees all wanted the day off so although he was not scheduled to work, he volunteered to do so.
My mom was visibly upset. “Ren, hon why would you choose to spend Christmas Day away from home? You work on Christmas day every year. Man, you are not making any Christmas memories with these kids.”
The rest of the evening we were all sullen. My mom and I were both very upset with Daddy. I have an older brother, who must have been home too that evening but I cannot remember his reaction to this news that distressed my mother and me so.
I awoke on Christmas morning to the sounds of Christmas carols blaring on our huge analogue radio that was stationed in the living room. Mom and Dad were joking about something or the other out there. She had apparently forgiven him sometime over the course of the night.
It was Christmas day! Without even changing my pajamas, I ran straight for the living room to wish my mom, dad and brother the merriest Christmas ever! After we all greeted each other, we began our usual Christmas morning ritual: Dad read the Christmas story–all about baby Jesus being born in a stable and the wise men that brought him gifts. After the Christmas story, it was time to dig into the presents under the tree. I can’t remember exactly what all of mine were but I’ll always remember the pink kitchen set, complete with tiny plastic pots, pans, plates, cups, spatulas and a whole stove in it. It was exactly what I wanted and I was ecstatic. The rest of my presents were probably Barbie dolls and baby dolls that I abandoned in a corner. While I delighted over my new toys, my mom was in the kitchen making the classic Christmas breakfast of fry beans, eggs, cheese, cinnamon rolls and of course ham, with hot cocoa.
My dad took his to go.
After breakfast my mom started right away on Christmas Dinner. I wanted to help her, but I was too distracted cooking my own imaginary meal on my new kitchen set. But soon I was bored with that and I joined my mother in the kitchen.
“Mom, why does Daddy never get a turn to get a holiday on Christmas? The other guys should give him a turn. They are so unfair to my dad” I said to her.
“Hon, I think your dad is the one who actually prefers to work on Christmas.”
Being best friends, sometimes my mom told me things she probably shouldn’t.
“Ma…. Why would daddy prefer to work on Christmas?” I equated that absurdity to me preferring to go to school instead of taking Christmas vacation. It made no sense and my mom had to be wrong.
“We can ask him when he gets home later”, was her response.
The rest of the day flew by rather quickly as several of my aunts and cousins stopped by to eat my mom’s delicious Christmas cooking.
When my dad got home that evening it was already dark out. Christmas Day had come and gone. I felt sorry for my dad. He wasn’t here when we carved the turkey, he wasn’t here to enjoy Aunt Charmaine’s boisterous stories and the laughter during lunch; he had completely missed Christmas. He was alone in the Audubon welcome center where he worked without so much as a ham sandwich for lunch.
I decided to ask him why he chose to go to work instead of celebrating with us. I did not realize the impact of what he said until many, many years later.
“Well,” he began, “I try not to think too much about what day it is when it is Christmas. If I go to work as usual then, it’s just a regular day but if I am around too many things that remind me that its Christmas then I remember what this day was like when I was a boy.”
“Well daddy… Didn’t you like Christmas when you were little?”
He gave a little chuckle. Not a happy chuckle. It wasn’t a sad chuckle either; it was one of those little laughs that said, “You don’t know the half of it.”
“Why you neva like Christmas Dad?”
“Well Thamar, when I was little and Christmas came around, my dad would drink. He drank all the time really, but on Christmas he drank much more. He would take all the little money he made from selling meat and fish and squander it at the bar. As kids we knew Christmas was coming and we would hear all the other kids in the neighborhood talk about all they would be getting for Christmas. New clothes, new shoes, toys, ham, turkey and we would get excited too because Pa would be rolling in dough from his little business. So we would feel like, yes! This year Christmas will be different, Christmas will be good. Ma will get some money and go shopping in Belize City, and things will be Merry. Things will be bright.”
He paused for a long time with this look of sadness on his face.
“But cho! Christmas Eve, Pa will go to Christmas dance and we already knew what was coming after that. When he comes home he would be very rough to your grandmother.”
That I’m older, I know now that he would beat my grandmother and the kids mercilessly when he would return home drunk.
How terrified my poor father, my aunts and uncles must have been when their dad came into the house being drunk and abusive toward them! What’s more, how sad they must have been waking up on Christmas morning to a battered mother who was too fragile to even get up and prepare a meal for them! While other kids laughed and played and had magical stories about Santa and all he left for the under the tree, my dad and his brothers and sisters got no food and beatings.
I hugged my dad and told him he didn’t have to worry anymore because he didn’t drink and my mom would make sure he had nice things for Christmas from now on. But I never really understood how painful it must have been until I was a woman myself and a friend of mine told me similar stories from his childhood and how it fostered negative associations with Christmas, so much so that he refrains from celebrating in any way. There is never even a single Christmas light on his house and he would eat “Christmas dinner” every day of the year except for December 25.
I hope you are one of the blessed ones like me who are not rich. Christmas is a happy time with great memories filled with love and family. For those that are not as fortunate, I pray that your heart will be healed from the negative scars and know that it gets better. It really does. May your holidays be merry and bright!