- When someone refers to Christmas "Cheer", do you immediately think "cold water cycle"?
- When you sit down to your turkey dinner, do you start fretting about all the silverware that will have to be hand-washed in a lukewarm sink full of floating giblets?
- After unwrapping your gifts, do you find reasons to lock yourself in the bathroom for 60 minutes at a time?
Christmas Day is the definition of bittersweet. For every Lee Valley tool you receive, there is a toy to be assembled. For every friend who drops in for a beer, there is an incontinent great-aunt who smells like Cinnamon Air-Wick. For every Xbox game, there is a sweater so garish it would make Bill Cosby puke.
And let's get back to that whole not-using-the-dishwasher thing. Men of Canada, it is time for a private-members bill that would ban all dishes and silverware that need to be "hand-washed". And that goes for women's clothing, too. Ladies, the 19th century called. They want their quaintness back. Can we please dispense with this manual-labour nonsense? Take a minute and savour the estrogen-friendly utopia you live in; where men can actually be convinced to wash anything at all. Because when you ask us to stoop to sub-Amish levels of homemaking, you only make it easier for us drop everything and try our luck as a traveling carny.
So we all agree that despite the stuffing, mulled wine and Toblerone, Christmas can be a whole lot of work - actually, you can skip the mulled wine, now that I think about it. There's a way to get through it, though - even if you can't enjoy your stocking full of tall-boys just yet. It's all about doing relatively easy jobs that nobody thought of first.
Example: the kids are up at 5:30, and since Shopper's Drug Mart no longer carries chloroform, you've got a decision to make. Are you the guy who sleeps in, and is despised for the rest of the day by a sleep-deprived wife? Or are you the guy who bites the bullet and selflessly agrees to "take care of the kids" - even though the sun hasn't risen yet and you stayed up 'til 3AM to watch "It's a Wonderful Wife" and "Miracle on 42 DDDs" on pay-per-view? This should be a no-brainer. Keeping kids happy on Christmas morning is about as challenging as keeping dogs happy at a butcher store full of fire-hydrants.
Be pro-active. Kids too loud? Cram them full of hot chocolate and candy canes, then flake out on the couch while they watch Toopy and Binoo's Holiday Hallucination. In a pinch, let them unwrap one gift. If Mom asks about this, feign ignorance. "Oh yeah, like I would let them open a gift before Gam Gam got here. Right." Above all, don't let anyone forget that you were the guy who took one for the team.
If you can't bear the thought of an early morning - and who can blame you - set your sights a little later. Volunteer to make breakfast. The kids will eat anything (which is to say, nothing) and if your family is coming over, you usually can't miss with something seasonal and sophisticated, like peppermint tea and croissants - which you surreptitiously bought the day before, right? Get creative, because creative is memorable. Bake some of those cinnamon buns that come in a tube. Squeeze some fresh OJ. If your mother-in-law is English, get your hands on some scones and Marmite (a British delicacy made by simmering yeast, blood sausage and rugby balls).
Do some research, but don't overlook the obvious. If you have some Tim Horton's crack-heads in the crowd, you might want to make a road trip for a crate of Timmy's insulin-busting fat-rings and a 75 oz. double-double for everyone. Most importantly, keep telling everyone within earshot, "Oh, it's the least I could do. What with you guys doing dinner and all!". Hey, breakfast is a cake-walk compared with dinner, and if you steer clear of vendetta-worthy junk like Quaker Harvest Crunch and prune juice, you might actually improve everyone's morning and mitigate the fact that there are seven kids in the next room smashing each other's skulls with Bratz and Bionicles.
Remember, this is not about avoiding work. It's about choosing tolerable tasks over humiliating drudgery. There is nothing worse than sitting down to your new Blu-Ray copy of GoodFellas, just as your mother comes in and asks if you could 'help in the kitchen'. 'Help', in case you were unaware, is code for peeling 700 potatoes into the sink while listening to five women discuss which No-Frills has the cheapest head-cheese. Wouldn't you rather be in the basement workshop; sipping on a cold one while fixing the wooden salad spoon you just broke "accidentally"?
Better yet, be The Driver. There's always somebody or some thing that needs to be dropped off and picked up. The further away, the better. In fact, being designated driver on Christmas night is one of the best gigs you can land. Bring along some CDs and take your time. After all, we want to get there in one piece. Think about it. Being the driver means:
a) You're not in a house full of electronic toys that makes NORAD look like a nativity scene.
b) You're not listening to Gampa's perennial tale of having his leg amputated in the Crimean War.
c) You can cement your title of World's Coolest Uncle by taking your nephew out and doing donuts in the nearest deserted parking lot.
Whatever you plan is, remember: there is nothing... absolutely nothing, that is as crappy as Cleaning Up After Christmas Dinner. The grease; the clattering; the endless washing, drying and archiving of all those precious saucers in their Bone China Bunker for the next 364 days. (It's times like these that make you wish you were an ER doctor - on the remote chance that you might be paged to perform an emergency tracheotomy with a Bic pen.)
You want a Christmas Wish? Here's mine: The kids are strapped down to the couch, watching High School Musical VIII: Troy Gets Beat Up in Shop Class. The dining room table is piled with 27 kinds of Chinese food, plastic spoons, chopsticks, and a Great Wall of Chinet. There is a hottub-sized, industrial-strength Blue Bin in the kitchen for throwing away everything. My wife is doing the world's largest Sudoku in the den with her Mom and aunts. And the men are fighting over whether we are going to watch Casino Royale or The Dirty Dozen on the new 50" Aquos, as I tap the keg of Steam Whistle that's been sitting in a bucket of ice all day.
Gloria in excelcis.