There’s no Christmas Spirit

Darius was despondent. “We’re not going to have Christmas this year, Dad.”
“Why not?”
“Because no one has any Christmas spirit in this house. No one cares about tradition. Nobody is doing anything. It’s sickening.”
“Are you a little upset?”
“Upset, Dad? Upset? No! I’m not upset, I’m disgusted. Why don’t
you care about Christmas? Why isn’t Mommy doing anything? Why aren’t you doing anything? Where are the decorations? Where are the…”
I interrupted. “Darius, we
are doing traditional things. Mommy has Mitra’s needlepoint stocking out and…”
“Yeah, Dad, she’s got it out, but she’s not doing anything with it. It’ll never be finished.”
“That’s tradition, Darius. Tradition—a wonderful thing.”
“That’s disgusting.”
Darius, while typically annoying, was also correct. Prinsevinkenpark didn’t have the seasonal feel. Christmas shopping hadn’t begun, the tree hadn’t been installed, Christmas cookies hadn’t been made, and cards not only hadn’t been mailed, they hadn’t even been purchased. It wasn’t as if we didn’t have enough warning—the Dutch shops had been promoting Christmas since September. The problem was logistics. We had visitors—parental visitors—who took lots of time. We had colds. We had play practice. We had… Well, we had waited too long. We were behind.
Darius wasn’t the only person with problems. Mitra was swamped in schoolwork. A singing role in
Oliver had her in endless rehearsals. She had volunteered for the speech and debate team before finding about their rehearsal schedule. She was a chem lab assistant and a defense attorney in a mock trial for her English class. Her French book report on the five-hundred-page Le Fantôme de L’Opéra was due. (Her friends read things like the fifty-page Newcomer’s Guide to Paris.) Mitra was reacting to the overload situation by shedding “unimportant” tasks. For many children, this would have meant things like bed-making, clothes picking-up, and other routine household tasks. Mitra had already shed that load. Her response was to scatter homework around the house, and to first forget, and then lose, her locker key, her house key, her replacement locker key, her bus pass, her homework… It was really getting out of control. She was beginning to remind us of Darius.
Nazy was also swamped. While she had enjoyed her parents’ visit, she had concluded that daily entertaining chores rapidly ate into her time. She wasn’t amused by needlepoint jokes, and she didn’t even have time to make Christmas cookies. Everyone could tell it was a major disaster: Even Nazy had been unable to find time to go shopping.
I was overwhelmed as well. Shell was in the midst of its annual reorganization. Cormac, my mentor and the person responsible for the family relocation, wasn’t going to be part of the new organization. Shell’s Committee of Managing Directors (CMD) would be meeting in an extraordinary session to endorse the continuation of the project and, coincidentally, my job. I wasn’t worried. Annoyed, dismayed, besieged, and disgruntled, but not worried.
Only Melika was calm, serene, and totally prepared. She had saved her allowance and had enough money to buy presents. Mitra tried, but her nest egg had been markedly diminished by required and regular purchases of replacement locker keys, house keys, and tram passes. Darius? Let’s just say his body contained a chemical compound that created a flammable mixture in any pocket containing money. Melika had selected and wrapped each present. She had even decided on what she wanted from Santa Claus—a real cat.
The good news: The current overload situation was coming to an end. Guest departure, the play, the speech tournament, and the CMD meeting were all scheduled for mid-December. If we could stay alive until then, it would be strictly downhill.
“Yes, Darius?”
“Melika wants a cat for Christmas.”
“A cat?”
“Yeah, a cat. Is she going to get one?”
“A cat is a big responsibility. Where would we put it when we went on vacation? Who would feed it? How could we get it back into the States when we move? Don’t you think a cat is an unrealistic request?”
“Maybe. But she
really wants a cat. Do you think she’ll get one?”
“A cat is not a good idea, Darius.”
“She’s really going to be disappointed. This is going to be a terrible Christmas. Mommy hasn’t even made any sugar cookies.”
“That’s because when we went shopping, we forgot to get all of the ingredients.”
“What did we forget?”
“Sugar. We forgot
“Oh. Could I borrow some guilders? I need to pick up a cat toy for Melika. Do you think that would be a useful gift?”
The mid-December relief date came and the family was almost too exhausted to notice. Mitra provided a predictably brilliant performance in her play. Her French teacher wanted to know if “there was anything Mitra couldn’t do.” We suggested housework. Nazy and I agreed that Mitra’s talent was a simple indication of the importance of genes.

The family tree, a Norwegian blue spruce, was finally acquired and installed. The German Christbaumständer, acquired for the giant sequoia of the previous year, met the new need perfectly. Nazy located a not-to-be-missed Dutch event—lighting the city tree in Gouda. The Martin Family headed for Centraal Station for the (newly) traditional trek to Gouda.

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