William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Growing up in my house, we always put the tree up the weekend after my birthday. That was the rule; I’m a December baby & never wanted the two celebrations to overlap. Wrapped presents slowly found their way under the tree. Christmas Eve became the family’s twice annual pilgrimage to church, if only to listen to the choral service. Before bed we were always allowed to open one gift; my mother would use her Jedi-elf skills to magically find those new pyjamas hidden under the tree for each of her three boys. Unwrapped Santa presents waited the next morning for the kids as Mom put together a full breakfast before the full-contact sport of present opening began. It was joyously the same every year. Our family traditions.
Traditions like these give the season a sense of ceremony, and families bond with shared history and stories. But this story isn’t about my traditions; it’s about when I discovered some new ones.
In 1991, my girlfriend Andrea and I both attended Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. Early that spring, we had decided to move in together, sharing our living space and our lives. That year for the holidays, we returned to our respective family homes in Toronto and celebrated apart. We quickly realized that didn’t work for us. So the next year, we committed to being together. After negotiations, our first Christmas together would be at her family’s home.
Between late fall exams and busy work schedules, we didn’t arrive in Toronto until early Christmas Eve. The first thing I noticed was that there was no tree. I was quickly informed that the tree went up later that afternoon. The tree was already here, of course, waiting in the backyard.
All right, I thought – this is different.
Andrea’s father went out to the backyard with saw in hand, made a fresh cut on the bottom of the tree, popped it in its stand and it was carried into the living room to warm up. You have to let the branches drop, I was told. Have to let it get comfortable.
Over the next hour, the scent of spruce filled the house. Boxes were dug out of their storage homes and laid out on the dining room table, boxes full of family ornaments and tree decorations. When the tree was ‘ready’, the lights were strung and garland wrapped around the tree.
Then it began. Wine & egg nog were poured. Slowly, people started selecting decorations, holding them up and telling stories. “I remember this one – I made it when I was seven.” “Didn’t you make this one for our presents six years ago? Or was it seven?” Over the next hour, the tree filled up with history and glass balls, homemade beaded hangings and memories.
There was no rush, no hurry. Just time together. It was the commencement of the celebration.
Bing. You’re Asleep.
Later that evening, I was presented with my very own stocking. You see, everyone in the family has a stocking made by Andrea’s Mum. Tradition. And not those tight, felty ones either, but crocheted; the stretchy kind that looks just like a sock but is easily manipulated into any shape so as to accommodate an overflow of stocking presents.
I was touched at receiving it. It was a symbol of acceptance. Perhaps moving in with their only daughter was ok, I thought. Needless to say, I was a tad concerned that soon after I had received such a wonderful gift, it had disappeared. When I asked quietly if someone had seen my stocking, I was introduced to a new family saying.
“Don’t ask silly questions at Christmas.”
All right, I thought – this is really different.
The evening was full of food, homemade chilli and fresh bread, and games around the table. There was lots of laughing and silliness with just enough competition to keep everyone on their toes. As the evening wrapped up, Andrea and I retired to the basement; it was agreed upon weeks prior that we would be allowed to share a room. Normal ‘sleep wells’ were passed around. The tree lights were turned out. The house settled down for the night.
As Andrea and I just were beginning to tuck in for our long winter’s rest, a knock came at our bedroom door. As it slowly opened, there stood her father looking quite serious. He starred at me for a long, silent beat. Then, he said the following words to me, words that I will never forget. He said,
“Bing. You’re asleep.”
Pardon, I thought. Looking over to Andrea for clarification, all I found was my girlfriend, head on pillow, eyes closed, it the position of sleep. Great, I thought. I’m going to close my eyes and Dad gets a little revenge.
Eyes closed. Head down. Waiting...
After just a few moments, our room door closed. I opened one eye. Safe. Then the other. All clear. Andrea was going about her bed routine as if nothing had happened. I, of course, noticed two VERY full stockings hung with care at the end our bed. I pointed and was about to ask about this appearance when I was quickly cut off.
“There’s nothing there.” Andrea said. And that was that.
Before going to sleep, I asked Andrea, “What time do things start happening in the morning?” Without hesitation, she answered, “7”.
Seven? A.M.? There was no way a house full of adults were going to be up at 7 a.m. to start unwrapping. I let this pass. We’ll see what happens when everyone wakes up, I thought. Go with the flow.
Now I can tell you that I didn’t get woken up by any alarm the next day, but rather a strange, high speed vibration coming across the mattress. I opened my sleep-covered eyes to be greeted by my bedside clock that read 6:52 a.m. As I rolled over, I found Andrea curled up in a ball in the top corner of her bed, knees pulled into her chest, a pillow hugged tightly. She was shaking with pure childhood excitement about Christmas morning, physically quivering enough to send vibrations throughout the whole bed.
As her eyes moved over to me, she quietly whispered, “I was hoping not to wake you up!!”
Then she reached down to the foot of the bed, unclipped her stocking, and held it up in front of her at arm’s length. Looking right at me with the grin of a six year old, she exclaimed, “Presents!”
All right, I thought – the woman I’ve fallen in love with is crazy.
I unclipped my stocking. I held it out, nodding my head up and down in a coffee-deprived haze. “Presents” I said. Best to mimic the natives lest they turn on you, I thought.
At the strike of 7 a.m. she opened our door and we quietly crept up the basement stairs. We were returning to the land of logic, I thought. Her brother, whom I had known for over six years now, was practical and level headed; I’ll sit close to him, I thought. As we reached the top stair, the basement door opened. There, standing at the top of the stairs, arm stretched out with a full stocking in hand and a grin from ear to ear was her brother. “Presents!” he exclaimed. And we were quickly ushered into her parent’s room, everyone piling up on the bed, to start the day opening our stocking together.
I married that wonderfully crazy woman just a couple of years later. Over the years, we have blended our traditions, bringing together the best of both families.
On December 25th, 2011, for the twentieth year in a row, my wife and I will be celebrating Christmas together. My in-laws will have the comfort of our guestroom in Halifax this year; my brother-in-law and his new bride will be here with us as well. At the crack of 7 in the morning, our two young sons will come running into our bedroom, their stocking, handmade by Granny and stuffed by Santa, held high. We will all pile onto our bed to start the day.
I will be holding my stocking, that same stocking from my first crazy Christmas twenty years earlier, at arm’s length. And with a grin, I will exclaim, “Presents!”