Are you sitting by the fireside right now? At this very moment, is the soft, harlequin glow of the Christmas tree throwing willowy shadows on the ceiling? Are chestnuts roasting? Are the halls decked? Wonderful.
Ah, Christmas. The time for familial harmony, culinary extravagance, and peace on earth. Awaited with equal parts eagerness and anxiety, laden with expectation, and necessitating an obscene amount of preparation, Christmas is the “race day” of holidays. And like any good race day, Christmas rarely unfolds without a hitch.
Like the time my mom added salt to the apple pie instead of sugar, and five members of our family—myself included—lost a layer of skin on the roofs of our mouths.
Or the time when I was twelve, and I accidentally unwrapped a present intended for my Uncle Steve. It was a St. Louis Rams sweatshirt—sky blue and canary yellow—size XXL. “I… love… it!” I exclaimed, plastering a smile on my face as I held up what could have been a suitable tent for me and three of my closest friends. I weighed eighty-five pounds at the time.
Or even last year, when I decided to start a new tradition of a hard track workout on Christmas day. That tradition lasted approximately two miles, when the McDonald’s and Gentlemen Jack I had the night before relaunched itself after one lap around the track. New tradition: a gut-grabbing lurch back to my car.
But one of my favorite Christmas day mishaps occurred during the blizzardy winter of 2000.
I was seventeen. My little brother, Joe, was seven. All morning our family had unwrapped and unpackaged and assembled gifts while Andy Williams and Bing Crosby wished us happy holidays and confessed that they, too, fancied a white Christmas (or at least had experienced them in the past)—on vinyl, no less. My dad, the holiday DJ, was in charge of flipping the records. But once the gifts were exchanged, we bundled up to engage in the most Christmas-y of activities: building a snowman.
The yard was still fondant as we traipsed out the back door, puncturing the veneer with every step. Our cocker spaniel, Tucker, exploded from the basement, ahead of us, galloping back and forth in splendid detonations of snow.
“I’ll start the body,” I yelled to Joe, “and you start making the head!”
It was perfect snowman snow—sticky and wet—and with every roll, our snowman’s three-tiered anatomy advanced its evolution.
“Frosty the Snowman was a jolly, happy soul!” I sang. “With a corncob pipe and a button nose…”
“And two eyes made out of coal!” my brother chirped.
We struggled to stack Frosty’s parts atop one another (we may have been a bit overzealous in the construction of his midsection), but finally he was vertical. I journeyed into the woods in search of arms. Joe was in charge of facial assembly. He gathered a contingent of acorns for the mouth, a real carrot (thanks, Mom!) for the nose, and two rocks he scavenged from the bushes for eyes. An old scarf (Gap, I believe) completed Frosty’s sparse but classic ensemble. We admired our creation for several minutes before summoning Tucker and heading back inside for hot chocolate. We were the best Christmas-ers ever!
Over the next few days, we lavished accolades on our snowman. Passing by a window: What a fine arctic specimen! Traversing down the driveway to retrieve the mail: Really, have you ever seen such a festive character? And all the while, the warm sun slowly, methodically, erased our Christmas opus by sublimation. He began to shrink. His arms, so slightly as hardly to be noticed, began to droop. And his eyes, his eyes made out of rock, which was the closest thing to coal my brother could find, began to… melt.
“What’s, uh, what’s wrong with his eyes?” my mom asked, staring out the living room window.
Two distinct brown lines streaked down Frosty’s face, emanating from his pupils and curving around his chin.
“That’s weird,” I said. “Hey, Joe! Why are Frosty’s eyes melting?”
My mom and I watched from the window as my brother conducted a rather macabre investigation, first peering intently at Frosty’s baby browns, then smelling them, then reaching in with a gloved hand and gouging one from its socket, and then smelling it once more. (Most investigations, I believe, are olfactory.) Then, in a sudden fit of recognition and disgust, he threw Frosty’s eyeball halfway across the yard.
“Well…?” we asked when he returned.
“It’s poop. I made his eyes out of poop!”
“Yeah. They aren’t rocks. It’s Tucker’s frozen poop. And it’s melting.”
That was the last time we ever made a snowman on Christmas day, but we have forever revised the lyrics to Frosty’s eponymous song: With a corncob pipe and a button nose and two eyes made out of…
Well, you get the idea.
So this Christmas day, as on race day, may you take everything in stride and simply enjoy the moment. Even if your snowman melts. After all, Frosty did say he'd be back next year. Or as David Hasselhoff put it, “I don't care why they love me, as long as they love me. I think people respect me because they feel like—I’m kind of like Christmas. I come back every year. You can't get rid of me. I just keep coming back.”
If that doesn’t put you in the holiday spirit, nothing will.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.