It's a weird time of the year.
Idealised memories of Christmas spent with cousins cluster like grapes around the realities of the non-season here. In one we are all at my grandmother's first house, the one with the patio above the garage (above some other room?) where one had a startling view of the sea. My aunt asked someone to play Santa Claus and to a pack of preschoolers the man in the red suit arriving at our doorstep was everything.
In another memory we are again at the beach, always at the beach, and my grandmother has tossed the traditional idea of a Christmas tree by using the long branch-bloom that extends from the middle of some type of succulent. She has made little packets for each grandchild containing a host of tiny 'onbenullighede', things she has picked up at farm stalls and convenience stores during the past year in her pursuit to be fair to us all. The families are all there, the aunts and uncles and my mother and sister.
A different year sees my grandmother, always my grandmother, with us in 2000, the first one without my father. I remember him gifting me a Celine Dion CD, a sign that he had not noticed I had moved away from 'My Heart Will Go On' to falling for my sister's Backstreet Boys collection.
Then there was the one year my sister and I spent Christmas alone. The sad year, the bad year, the one where we fought and ended up in our separate rooms.
But it is the Christmases of my 20s that I yearn for now. I miss planning how to get my grandmother to wherever the celebration will be; coordinating a menu with everyone doing different dishes; thinking up cool presents; bickering and fighting and the feeling of needing distance from the overdose of family; having everyone unpack each present individually, stretching the time spent with one another; hanging out with cousins that are so very different from me and still so relatable; sitting outside in the sun with whomever is there at the moment, sipping on a glass of wine and catching up; and lastly, more than the event that is Christmas I miss the sense that blood is thicker than water.
This Christmas will surely be its own shrewd kind of miracle, and I look forward to spending it with people close to my heart. And last year was experiencing Christmas as an observer more than as a participant, by no fault of the kind family that hosted me. It was still a lot of fun and I enjoyed getting to know the little rituals of a family quite different from mine.
Nevertheless, none of this is Christmas. Forget about the religious aspect of the season, dismiss the name and the particular date all together, and center on what it is that makes the time spent together on those few days so memorable: the people. Sometimes, it is as simple as this - I long for my people.