christmas china.

Sometime in November, Josh asked me if I wanted a set of Christmas china. His dad and step-mom were splitting up, and neither one wanted their set. I did not even have to think about it, the answer was no. Do I want something that takes up a lot of space and that I can only use once a year? Nope. I don't want any kind of china, much less a set whose pattern limits its use. What marketing genius invented Christmas china? Bah humbug.

Christmas china, and really china in general, lives in that area of domesticity that I just don't get. It lives there with matching silverware and an immaculate house. I wasn't raised by a domestic goddess and I didn't grow up to be one. Sometimes I feel self-conscious about it, that and all the other ways in which I seem to fail at being a woman (see Shaving, Legs). I am mostly secure in the knowledge that Josh knows this about me, expects it to be that way forever, and still loves me. However, the prospect of being the hostess of a major family holiday gathering, with everyone's enjoyment of said holiday depending on my woman skills, was causing me some stress. This stress was made worse by the fact that Josh's ex-step-mom, Susan, totally rocks at hostessing. When we went to Christmas at her house, every detail was perfect and amazing. How was I supposed to live up to that kind of precedent?

If I had a low point during this holiday season, it was the tree skirt incident. See, last year I made our own personalized stockings. They turned out beautifully, if a little homemade. Emboldened by my success, my next idea was to make a tree skirt, so we wouldn't have to use an old bedsheet. But then Susan gave me a tree skirt, the most beautiful item of clothing that any evergreen could ever wear. It had appliqué and embroidery and little button embellishments, just a little bit classy and a little bit whimsical. It was made of white wool and blue felt and red cotton. I was honored to own such a lovely thing, yet also sort of depressed. I had been planning on making my own, but there was no way that I could ever make anything as nice as the tree skirt we had been given.

And then, in the process of trying to put up our ridiculous eight-foot tree, the skirt got dirty. I wasn't sure if it was washable, but I figured it was probably okay as long as I didn't put it in the dryer. Guess what? WRONG. Not only did the fabric get all misshapen, the red cotton bled all into the white wool to become that unmistakeable shade of incompetence pink. I had ruined Susan's tree skirt. I sat down in the floor and threw myself a pity party right there in front of my washing machine.

What was wrong with me? Isn't this stuff supposed to come naturally to me? This is why we can't have nice things. One more reason not to take the Christmas china; I would just ruin it.

A couple weeks after I gave an unequivocal no to the offer of free Christmas china, Josh asked again if I wanted it. See, if a member of my family had done that, I would have figured that they had forgotten that they asked in the first place. We're forgetful like that. Luckily for us and any future children we might want to have, Josh and I are not related. So the fact that he asked again indicated that maybe he wanted the china, but he was a man and not supposed to want things like fancy dishes. Perhaps he had been counting on the fact that I am a woman and would of course accept them immediately. Ha! I told him that if he wanted it, then I would be more than happy to make room for it. Okay, I might not have been that gracious about it, but the gist was the same. It was probably more like "If you are attached to those silly useless plates, then I will find some dark cabinet to stash them during the 364 days of the year that we don't use them, BUT ONLY BECAUSE I LOVE YOU. Also, you will have to wash them, not me."

He looked the plates up on the internet to show me. They had a traditional Christmas tree in the middle, and a green border. For Christmas china, they were pretty enough, so I made my peace with them. We met up with Josh's dad in Winston, and he loaded a giant Rubbermaid container full of breakables into the trunk of my car. The next morning, Josh found some space in a kitchen cabinet. He unpacked the first dish from its newspaper wrapping and said, "What is this?"

See, it wasn't the china with the tree and the green border after all. This one had a wreath trim, with rocking horses and trains. I looked at it and thought to myself that this china would be more difficult for me to make peace with. I had to save cabinet space for this?

This is the part of the blog entry where I interrupt my own story to try and make nice with the people that I am about to offend, in this case, people who like the rocking horse china. There are people that I like and care about who liked that Christmas china enough to buy a whole dang set of it. But can we agree as adults that part of the beauty in this world is in its variety? It's a big world, with room for lots of different kinds of Christmas china patterns. Not everyone can like the same thing, of course. Different plates for different mates...or something. So if you happen to really love some china that I myself do not care for, please don't take my opinion personally, even if I write about it at length and post it on the internet.

The point is, I didn't like the plates at all. Neither did Josh. The green border plates that he was thinking of are the ones that his mother has. Maybe we'll inherit those someday. I will still probably say "no" the first time.

I guess I should have been relieved, because now Josh didn't want to keep the dishes either. We decided that we would use them for this Christmas and then get rid of them. Take them to Replacements, Ltd. and exchange them for a pattern that we actually liked. Or just take the money and spend it on another sarcophagus, because we hate having useless objects like fancy dishes taking up space in the house.

Our guests were scheduled to arrive at 4:30 on Christmas Eve. At 4, we were pretty much ready. The house was cleaner than it had been since we moved in. The gifts were wrapped, the stockings were hung on the mantel with yarn, the hostess was dressed in an immaculate cocktail dress t-shirt and jeans. I asked Josh to set the table. As recently as the day before, the kitchen table had been piled high with laundry, but today it was clean and covered in a deep green tablecloth that I had randomly found among my fabric scraps.

"Hey, let's not use the Christmas china," Josh said suddenly.


"Let's not use it."

"What are we going to use?"

"Our regular dishes. The mismatched Corelle dishes."

"But I thought we were going to use the china once and then get rid of it."

"Nah. Unless you want to."

"I guess I don't care."

"The Christmas china is a symbol of a broken marriage, and we don't even like it. Why would we use it?"

When he's right, he's right. That china was both literal and figurative baggage, and we don't have to have it on our table.

I had been focussed on making Christmas awesome for everybody. Somehow I had come to believe that "awesome" meant "just like Susan did it." What I needed to realize (or what I needed to be told) was that there is no one way to do Christmas. The reason that I don't worry about my failures in domesticity most of the time is because I don't think that stuff matters. And the reason that Josh is okay with these limitations of mine is because he feels that way, too. Christmas is not about dishes or tree skirts.

So that's what we did. He set the table with my hodgepodge, dishwasher-safe, dishes. We have matching silverware, but he didn't use it. He was going out of his way to be weird, as a way of celebrating the way we actually are without even trying. He was saying "This is us and this is what Christmas is like at our house. Feel free to notice how happy and loving it is." In the midst of my hosting-induced stress, I kinda needed that. I needed to be told that throwing a wonderful Christmas was not in conflict with my haphazard domestic practices, so relax and be yourself, you silly woman. He's a very remarkable and lovable man. Kind of a weirdo, though.

We had dinner, it was yummy, no one said anything at all about the dishes. Frankly, I can't help but think that there were others who were perfectly okay with not being served crab legs on a piece of figurative baggage.

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