As you might imagine, I haven't posted much in the last few days due to the holidays. As a Christian who serves a local church as an arm-waver and ivory-tickler, the holidays for me began well before Christmas Eve. There's this little thing called Advent, see.

Anyway, I didn't have it too rough. I had a special winter solstice service last week, Sunday services and then on Wednesday, Christmas Eve service at 11:00. This is usually the fog-shrouded, life-menacing service when it's time to go home. Very romantic, all wrapped in dark gloominess, but also a bit of a white knuckler if you're planning on driving home. This year was less romantic: it rained off and on much of Tuesday and Wednesday, and so there wasn't enough moisture in the air to drive the dreaded Tule fog.

Weather aside, though, rain or shine I always seem to have three Christmases. There's the church Christmas, with whatever obligations I've signed up for. Over the years, I've learned to pace myself, so that I don't feel that I'm overwhelmed or missing out on experiencing the season of giving. Then there's the in-law Christmas, which (as detailed below) is what I've come to expect over the last decade or so. Finally, there's the personal Christmas.

Now, my wife's side of the family typically has a very boisterous mass gift exchange on Christmas Eve between all parts of the family. This was less rowdy than usual, perhaps due to the somber note cast by the fact that this was the first such celebration since the family patriarch, my father-in-law Jay Lawley, died. Jay certainly loved these times, and it's been my job the last few years to 'play Santa' and distribute the gifts. The nature of this role can be best appreciated by considering the accompanying illustration. If I passed them out too readily, then my wife would holler at me to "SLOW DOWN!" so that the gifts could be savored (and, in some cases, tabulated) with commentary, flattering or otherwise. Yes, I was the very Avatar of Avarice, dispensing the goodies.

Well, not this time. I've made a commitment to myself to not get over-exercised by anything during my time off. I'm really just trying to relax! So, I sat and let some other poor unfortunate mimic Kris Kringle. And I chuckled while my wife yelled at them, and anyone else who might listen, that Christmas was going too fast. Because, really, for my wife Christmas Eve is Christmas. All her kids have grown past the Santa stage. Christmas Day is more of a 'sleep-in, hang-out, have a big dinner in the late afternoon' kind of day. Much public discussion of what is tasty and who needs to do a better job of cooking in the future may follow. Later, we play a game where we 'steal' gifts from each other, which has become something of a tradition. Again, much hollering and complaining, and thus, much entertainment value.

Now, my side of the family does things differently. No presents opened Christmas Eve...that would 'spoil' Christmas! Instead, all the presents are opened Christmas morning, then a mid-day snooze, followed by an afternoon meal, and a few chuckles but not so much hollering. We might play a game or work on a jigsaw puzzle together, but it would be tranquil. Or, as my wife might put it, boring.

My ex-wife, meanwhile, is a Catholic church musician. So, she doesn't have one service on Christmas Eve. She has multiple services on both Christmas Eve and Christmas, and over the last few years this has drawn in both my son and his grandfather to participate. Therefore, my son's house doesn't open presents until the mid-afternoon of Christmas Day. Talk about delay gratification! I managed to rouse myself and take my presents over there, and so there's one last, more intimate exchange of gifts. And then, in a fog of contentment, I settle in with my eggnog and a (not-so-peaceful) commitment to whatever first-person shooter is happening on the video game console. Frankly, this helps me shed whatever stress and angst is provoked by juggling the various Christmases.

This year the carnage is EA's "Dead Space":

Very scary, very cool. Peace on earth, good will to men, and nothing but fragging for the sprites. I will have to redouble my efforts in that department today, as I will be heading down to SoCal in a few days to have a Fourth Christmas with my brother's family and my Mom and Dad.

Anyway, to all of you out there, believer and non-believer alike, have a Merry Christmas. Enjoy your friends and families, find some way to give back to your community and get those batteries recharged! Another year of struggle will commence, soon enough.

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