You see, I am married to an airline pilot. And while that all may seem glamourous and glorious, the sad reality is that with the exception of those very few with highly coveted top seniority numbers, most commercial pilots have to work over the holidays, leaving their families and friends alone at home, turkey dinner somewhat subdued with an empty seat at the table.
Don’t get me wrong: I love my wife and am grateful for everything she does for this family. Especially bringing home the bacon, because Lord knows, I spend it as fast as she makes it! And, as a result of her chosen career, my kids and I get to travel cheap all over the world (albeit on standby). Also, the cool factor (and yes, the uniform is hot).
As a queer family, we’ve woven a pretty tight “chosen family” over the past decade or two, and so in recent years, our Christmas Eve table has been filled with the presence of the retired math professor we look after (our surrogate father) and a close family friend who has been a stand in uncle of sorts for the boys. And then when the kids head off to their dad’s the next morning, I usually make my way to the airport and join my wife for her overnight to whichever exciting destination she’s traveling to for work that day.
Our old man is in Mexico (his lung issues necessitate him seeking warmer climates during the cold Canadian winter months) and our Uncle Vinx is in the hospital, recovering from a heart attack and subsequent brain injury. And my dear, sweet wife is flying to Timmins of all places tonight, where she will spend the full day tomorrow and a second night (an unheard of length for a layover at her regional airline… so why now? Why?!) before flying again on the 26th and eventually arriving back home late that afternoon!
Woe is me.
The father of my university boyfriend was kind of a big deal at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies at U of T, and accordingly, Christmas itself was kind of a big deal, since it was both a personal AND a professional interest in that family. In fact, their house always had at least two Christmas trees, including one fully decorated with an assortment of small wooden creches the professor had picked up at some Christmas market during one of his many research trips to Europe.
I’m fifty now, not a child anymore. But the thirty-year-old memory still brings tears to my eyes. It was exactly what I needed during that tumultuous time.The ritual of the dinner, followed by the opening of gifts and our annual visit to midnight mass at the local high Anglican church, overstuffed with “CEOs” (Christmas and Easter only) brought some semblance of normalcy after what had been a very stilted and definitely NOT normal Christmas eve gathering in the living room at my mother’s (now my) house a few hours earlier with my poor Omi and my mother’s boyfriend, both of whom were still reeling at her untimely death!
Even when I finally came crawling out of the closet several years later, they STILL insisted that there would always be a spot for me at their table. (My ex’s new girlfriend put a stop to that in short order, but still, it’s the thought that counts, and that thought still warms my heart.)
Confession time, though: It’s not my wife’s airline that stole Christmas from me, it’s her culture!!!
Yep, that’s right. Even if my dear wife were NOT a commercial pilot, I would still have to name this blog post as I did, because as it turns out, my assumption that “everyone” in Canada just celebrates Christmas is… well… wrong.
Since my wife is not a practicing Jew, Muslim or other non-Christian adherent, and since she’d been living in a country that commercially and culturally embraces the holiday season for well over a decade when I met her, it never even occurred to me that the traditions to which I had clung since losing my mother would be a problem for her.
But they were.
And that became a problem for me.
We eventually got past this hurdle, but not before the underlying implications of our unresolved disconnect nearly broke us up a dozen times or more.
I buy my own advent calendar (Body Shop had a nice one this year!), there is no more St Nicolas Day, she and the boys take care of getting a real tree and hauling the box of Christmas stuff up from the storage locker in the basement, and I decorate the tree and try not to complain too much if it's crooked or somewhat sparce. (To her credit, she usually picks a nice one.)
We no longer do Christmas gifts. She commits to a brief “in transit” celebration where the boys and I visit her during a short break at the airport.
We’ve also co-created some unique holidays that are far more numerous than Christmas, special days of private celebration that are regularly acknowledged between us with delightful little secrets and traditions unique to our family or to us as a couple.
I would say it’s more a time of inner reflection. And in those moments, after the kids leave for their dad’s on the morning of the 25th after their stockings have been emptied (Santa insisted on filling the boys’ stockings, even after my wife canceled the rest of our Christmas traditions, haha), when I am alone in the apartment with no one to share a tea with while sitting around the Christmas tree with all its twinkly lights, I do feel a little bit sorry for myself, yes. But also, I feel grateful.
A reduced Christmas in an overly consumerist world is a small price to pay for the many strange and wonderful blessings my strange and wonderful wife bestows on me and on our family throughout the year. Christmas, as I am continuing to learn, is more a frame of mind than a particular day or time of year. And giving up the obsession of the season for the woman I love, and instead adopting a more long-term mindset of grace, generosity and love is a greater gift than any!