Bow People are the people who place coordinating bows atop their Christmas presents. The parents make sure that presents from Santa and presents from family are never wrapped in the same packages, lest inquiring young minds put two and two together and innocence is forever ruined. Bow People beget offspring who don coordinating velvet hairbows and thick white tights, then sing carols to neighbors in high piping voices, knowing full well that their sweetness will get them invited in for some Christmas cookies.
Bow People never scream at the hapless, lying sacks of incompetence that cancel their connecting flight from Chicago to Traverse City for the second major holiday in one month and then lose their luggage. Bow People would certainly never demand to speak with a manager and upon being told that a manager was not available, a Bow Person would never say "Then I just hope you have a shitty Christmas, too."
We are not Bow People, we Hornes. But I did feel badly about the "shitty Christmas" remark later. Much later, after I finally received my suitcase at 7:00 on Christmas Eve.
When my sister and I were growing up, the Hornes were Bow People. We began making cookies around the first week of December, generally the same period when we would select and decorate our Christmas tree. Boxes upon boxes of red and green decorations would emerge from the basement, and knitted dollies and our mother's collection of Santas would parade across every unsuspecting surface in the family room. Mom would make pepper cookies, a raisin-stuffed concoction that no one else in our immediate family would even taste, and ship them to her siblings across the country. On Christmas Eve we attended services at our church, raising our candles on the third verse of Silent Night when you sing in German. Stille Nacht, hilege Nacht... I still know the alto part to pretty much every Christmas carol. I don't remember the last time I sang melody in church. Mother wouldn't stand for it.
The energy that other families conserve for Halloween, Easter, Veterans Day, whatever, was for the Hornes concentrated in December, as if we were trying to cash in our Martha Stewart points before years end. It is no coincidence that I grew up in a house that did not give a hoot for New Year's Eve. By December 31st, our parents were so spent from all the comfort and joy that they were left with the ability to do little more than pass out on the sofa whilst watching Law and Order reruns.
We all knew this year would be different. Dad's surgery was successful but the spectre of it has cast a pall over our holiday preparation, or lack thereof. It is difficult to coordinate presents for a litany of relatives from a hotel room in Rochester and the nurses in the ICU frown upon baking in hospital facilities. Jen managed to do a lot of our decorating after she finished her finals, but we outsourced our Christmas tree to the neighbors.
On Christmas morning my aunt (and nemesis) called to say hello and Merry Christmas, but really to brag about her family. To her, holidays are a competitive sport that is meant to be surmounted and conquered, not enjoyed. It was about 11:30 when she called, and I could imagine the horror in her voice when Mom informed her that 1) we were just now cooking Christmas breakfast and that 2) Christmas breakfast consisted in part of French toast soaked in Bailey's. We are Bailey's people, we Hornes.
I've been wearing the same pajamas since that breakfast. For the first time in my life, we didn't go to church on Christmas Eve. It didn't make sense to, since Dad needs to constantly both stretch and nap and also since we ate our Christmas dinner of mustard crusted tenderloin around, oh, 10:30. We've spent the last two days opening obscene amounts of presents while saying "you guys, we were going to take it easy this year," eating lefse and cornbread dressing and entire cloves of roasted garlic. We've slept in and watched Christmas classics like Scrooged and Elf and the entire second season of The Office. We've consumed an embarassingly large amount of wine, made even more embarassing that two of our family are technically not allowed to drink, one on the orders of the head of cardiology at the Mayo Clinic and one because she's nineteen. Granted, the cabin is gorgeously decorated tea candles and garlands and stuffed mooses wearing sweaters with fir trees on them. But we have not gone a-wassaling all week. In fact, except for a hideous trip to the Traverse City Mall I haven't left the cabin since I've been here, except to walk outside on Christmas Eve and marvel at the stars. Jen somehow knew every half the constellations and pointed out Cassiopeia, Orion's Belt, the North Star, the Big Dipper. Okay, the Big Dipper I could find myself. If it had been any clearer, I could have plucked it out of the sky and used it to scoop a snowball off the ground.
When that judgmental tone crept into my aunt's voice when she heard how we'd spent out Christmas-- being lazy, materialistic gluttons stewing in each other's company-- our mother silenced her with a quick "Well, we're doing Christmas with four adults. Four adults who all live in different states and never see each other and just went through a fairly major crisis. And we can do whatever we want for the holiday."
I can't believe how happy not being a Bow Family is making us.