It’s the one time of year I don’t mind shopping, even though I’m elbow to elbow with grouchy strangers, sweating in my winter coat and warm boots, watching my bank account dwindle like a dying fire. I don’t mind Christmas music, even though it’s often simple and repetitive and sometimes piped really, really loudly through every available speaker (recently, my son and I counted four different Christmas tunes playing simultaneously out of four different speakers in one single store). I don’t mind the overeating and the sugar and butter and the everything dipped in chocolate (well, really, who does?).
I love Christmas despite its flaws.
Christmas, we tell ourselves, is supposed to be perfect. It’s supposed to be joyous and peaceful and we’re supposed to link arms with our neighbors and friends and family and sing carols and sip eggnog and fa-la-la-la-la our little hearts out. We work so hard for that perfection. We hunt for the perfect gifts and dig out the perfect recipes and bake perfect cookies, and it is all going to be so perfect!
Problem is, nothing is perfect. More often than not, the poinsettia is wilted and the ham is burned and the sweater we gave Susie doesn’t fit. There’s an ice storm blowing in and Grandma can’t get here and the dog ate half the presents under the tree and the baby has the stomach flu. There’s an argument over a long-ago insult, hurt feelings from a remark taken wrong, and somebody is always in a bad mood. And who, for the love of Pete, drank all the wine?
In my novel, The Sister Season, all Elise wants is one more shot at a perfect Christmas. One like she remembers from time gone by. Or, no, maybe one that only ever existed in her imagination. One with mulled wine and apple dumplings and warm fires and rivers of shimmering tinsel. And, of course, her three daughters home again, enjoying the holidays together.
The problem is, Elise’s daughters haven’t enjoyed anything together in years. They haven’t even spoken. And they’re not coming home for a Christmas reunion. They’re coming to bury their father—hardly the subject of heartwarming carols. All the mulled wine in the world isn’t going to help.
There are old hurts and arguments, heartbreak and tears, and it seems that maybe The Sister Season is the season of imperfection. But isn’t it so often the season of imperfection for us all, despite our best efforts?
And I think this is what I love about Christmas the most. The imperfection. The flaws. The sweat-soaked winter coat as I hunt fruitlessly for the gift that is to be found nowhere. The cookies that fell flat. The carols that get stuck in my head as I’m trying to—finally!—get some sleep. The blizzards and the bad moods and the not-spiked-nearly-enough-for-this eggnog. I love it all.
Because I think it’s when we’re at our worst that we can get a real glimpse of how good things can be when we’re at our best, even if our best happens to be in June or April or the last day of September. Because the bad memories of today sometimes become the funny, heartwarming memories of tomorrow. Because, just like Julia, Maya, and Claire—the sisters struggling through a broken and crumbling Christmas in The Sister Season—we just might find cracks in the rubble where our fingertips can meet.