Al DeLuise had to learn the hard way how to make Christmas special for his children (and himself!) after his divorce. Now their holidays are special and unique.
When I first was separated from my ex-wife, Arlene, my three kids were all under ten years old. When Christmas came around that year I knew it was going to be hard – maybe not so much for the kids, but for me (selfish).
Christmas with the kids had always been Arlene and I wrapped their presents after they had all gone to bed. We drank red wine and watched A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sims (all others truly pale in comparison). By six a.m. (what kid sleeps late on Christmas?) we would be down to tear open the presents that we painstakingly wrapped just a few hours before. Once the batteries were put in, and any assembly required completed, favorite toys were selected and joined us at the table for Christmas breakfast. After that, all wrapping paper and ribbons disposed of, we headed off to church (I put that in here for my brother’s reassurance that I may just make it to heaven when I die).
Of course, after the separation, all that changed.
On that first Christmas I woke up about five-thirty in the morning, got into my car with my presents for the kids, and started the twenty-five minute ride to their house (my old house). Out of my townhouse complex I turned left onto the main road and in less than a minute I was stopped at a red light. I looked left, right, and then in my rear-view mirror – there wasn’t a headlight or taillight to be seen. It was cold and it was dark and ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ was playing on the radio (no, not really, but how ironic would that have been?). Either way, I felt like I was in my own country western Christmas song – all I needed was a dog that would, on cue, jump out the window and runaway into the darkness.
When I finally got to their house I went in and put my presents under the tree. A few minutes later the kids came down, opened their presents and, for a few moments, all was right with the world.
That didn’t last long.
A short time later Arlene gave me two bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwiches (to go) and soon I was back on the road and headed home. Later that day I had planned to go to my brother’s for Christmas day, but decided to just stay home. He told me to stop feeling sorry for myself. I assured him I wasn’t (I was) and just spent the day alone. I had bought a Christmas wreath and drove over to the cemetery where my parents were. I planned to put it on their graves but, sadly, I could not find them. I walked around the cemetery in the bitter cold and tried to remember their plot (I did not visit often –I did mention earlier that I was selfish) but had no luck. At that moment I thought the bitter cold and being alone on Christmas was my penance for not visiting my parents more often (Italian-Catholic guilt is a wonderful thing). On my way back to the car I spotted a tombstone with a name that was familiar – the same last name as a bar I had gone to often. I laid the wreath on the grave and gave specific instructions to its inhabitant to tell my parents that I had stopped by.
It was late on my way home from the cemetery and with no food in the house I was frantic to find someplace that would be open. Then, like a star in the east, at the back of a strip mall, the lighted sign of a Chinese restaurant caught my eye. It was wonton soup and egg rolls for Christmas dinner that year.
A few years later I was dating a woman who gave me an idea that would change Christmas forever.
“Why not celebrate the day before Christmas Eve as Christmas Eve,” she said, “and then celebrate Christmas Eve as Christmas Day?”
It was brilliant in its simplicity, so that’s what the kids and I have been doing. Although she also had the idea that we all wear matching outfits so there are now those awkward photographs of everyone wearing identical Old Navy black shirts and red-and-black sweatpants. That idea only lasted the one year. In fact, she only lasted the one year as well. But her Christmas idea had the legs to go the distance.
The very next Christmas-Eve-Eve the kids and I went to The Buck’s County Playhouse and watched a musical version of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. The theatre was crowded and hot and for some reason a twenty something-year-old actor played Clarence in a white tuxedo and top hat. It was odd, but the kid was really good. The next morning (Christmas Eve) we woke up, wished each other Merry Christmas, opened presents, and then I made pancakes. The year after that we went into New York City, saw the tree at Rockefeller Center and walked around while trying not to lose each other in the crowds. The next morning, we opened presents, and I made pancakes (If you haven’t figured it out – I can only make pancakes).
It went on like with only slight modification over the years. My kids are older now so they have their own schedules and it gets a little tougher to have the full two days. Last year we headed to church, went to dinner, then opened presents and watched Elf on pay-per-view before the kids headed home to have Christmas with their mom.
Divorce changes everything, especially holidays, and you have to find a way to reclaim them. I’m sure as my children get older and have lives of their own, Christmas will continue to change. Even with that change I am happy with the fact that we will always find a way to celebrate the holidays together.
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Photo: Flickr/Clyde Robinson