It’s beginning to look not at all like Christmas

My husband and I grew up two blocks from each other in the same town just outside of Kansas City. It’s called Independence, which is the best name a town could have. We met on the school bus. Our mothers run into each other at the Wal-Mart. We graduated from the same high school, had the same teachers, knew the same people, ate at the same restaurants. It goes without saying that whenever possible he and I dust off our winter coats, shake the moth balls out of our sweaters, look for and then give up on our gloves and shuffle onto a plane, just two of the many Midwestern refugees heading back to the land of casseroles and light-up holiday sweatshirts.

Any year we can. This year we can’t. I have to tell you it’s weird.

I love L.A. I love every inch of its dirty, eclectic, multicultural, dream-crushing, artistic, tarnished soul. I love it 364 days a year, but on December 25th, I go home to Missouri. I see aunts and uncles and strays my family has picked up. I yell too loudly at the hard-of-hearing, tickle the little ones, eat Mom’s cookies for breakfast – both when she’s looking and when she’s not – and play Scrabble in front of the tree. It’s just what I do.

This year my husband put up our tree, God bless him. I wasn’t sure I had the energy. We decorated it with ribbons and red and gold balls and the ornaments my stepmom, the Jewish soldier, brought back from her tour in Germany. I love those. I love them because they’re beautiful and heart-breakingly delicate and have somehow managed all the miles of travel. But mostly I love them because they’re Christmas ornaments bought by a Jewish American service member and given to her grown, agnostic kid-by-marriage. It’s so fantastically mixed up and weird and us.

When the tree was up and lit and things were seeming a little more holiday around here, Austin looked at me and said, “Okay, so what do we do on Christmas? We could see a movie.”

No. No, I’m sorry. We can’t. I love that people see movies and go to Chinese restaurants for dinner on Christmas. It’s exactly the sort of thing I would write about. But in Missouri, we wouldn’t do that. It would be wrong. We would be denied Christmas fudge for such heresy.

So instead I’m making chicken tetrazzini because it’s my favorite dish of my mother’s, and would be the meal I’d request on death row complete with Pillsbury croissants and salad because that’s what she serves. And we’ll go ice skating because that’s what we do back home with Austin’s mom, even though she refuses to actually go on the ice. I’ll still eat my mom’s cookies for breakfast because she sent two big tins that arrived just today, and it will be okay.

Not the same but okay.