Thursday, December 24, 2009

An Off-Key Tradition

Since 1996, my family’s holiday tradition has been to sing a song that my sisters and I carefully wrote – and harmonized for our parents, in front of the video camera – when we were in grade school. On December 23, 1996, Christmas Eve Eve, my two sisters and I sat in my room for hours, crafting the lyrics to this ballad that would follow us through adulthood. We didn’t know then that it’d become a family tradition, a beautiful carol to be passed down through generations, written in ink in the songbook of life.

Mom and Dad knew we had a special performance planned for that evening, so I asked them to come dressed in their holiday best, ready to watch and listen.

"And don’t forget the video camera!" I shouted to them, turning on my heels and running back into my room, where I’d close the door and continue preparing my costume and hand-writing two programs for the show.

My sisters and I had a weird obsession with watching ourselves on TV. We weren’t vain or spoiled, but my mother video-taped everything – from potty training to family vacations – including an entire day of my one-year-old life, which she appropriately entitled A Day in the Life of Meghan. ("Here’s Meghan eating her baby food… ymmm, pears… and here she is now, playing with her stuffed animal in the backyard.") (For the first two years of my existence, before Christyn was born? I was a princess.)

As we grew older, we expected the camera to be at the beach, in the bathroom, at ballet classes, everywhere. Back then, Mom wasn’t herself without a bulky machine with a red blinking light on her shoulder, obstructing our view of her stunning features and scarlet hair. She was Mom with a mask. Most of the time, she’d set the thing down for a moment to scold us or help tie a hair ribbon that had come loose during our reenactment of the Olympic games. She’d set it down, walk in front of the camera to help us or scold us, and then forget to pick it back up. She always thought she’d turned it off, and so we’d continue prancing about the living room, balancing on stacks of couch pillows (for balance beam routines) and cartwheeling across plastic mats (for floor routines) and giving each other perfect tens. The camera would be pointed at a white wall. Viewers would never see our back flips or somersaults.

After the bows and applause, we’d jump up and down at Mom’s feet like hungry baby birds, asking, "Can we watch The Movie What We Did? Can we? Can we please watch The Movie What We Did?" Most of the time, we’d start this whining before she’d even put the camera down. So our family videos usually end with this squawking, and then my mother, finally, "Oh, okay." And then black.

So on Christmas Eve Eve in 1996, Mom prepared the camera and I spent the afternoon taping cotton balls to Christyn’s smooth, eight-year-old face and stuffing her red sweatshirt with pillows from my bed. She would play Santa, and I would be Mrs. Claus. Caitlin would be an elf.

"Why am I always the boy?" Christyn whined. She was getting older, irritated with playing only male roles in our productions. But what could I say? Someone had to be the male. And I’m the oldest, the director – the boss, let’s face it – and I got to be the girl. Or else I would cancel the play.

"Next time? You can be the girl." I promised. (There was no next time. This was the last production ever, the grand finale. To this day, Christyn's still mad at me.)

"Okay!" Christyn said, cheery.

Dad snuggled into his seat while Mom stood with the ten-pound camera on her shoulder, waiting for us to enter stage left. (Oh, the pain we put her through!) We marched down the hallway – left, right, left, right – from my room to the living room, belting out the song that would become infamous in our family:

To-morrow’s Christmas Ee-eve
To-morrow’s Christmas E-eeve
To-morrow’s Christmas Eeee-EEEEEVVE!
To-morrow’s Christmas Eve.

Okay, so it's not a beautiful ballad. In fact, if you’ve heard me sing this golden oldie, you’ve probably already shut your computer and walked away in irritation, because the intolerable tune is undoubtedly stuck in your head. But this is the one that fastened itself to our family; we sing it (off-key, the way it’s supposed to be sung) every year on Christmas Eve Eve.

Perhaps if my sisters and I had performed another play the next year – if I hadn’t promised Christyn that she’d get to be the girl – we’d have another tune in our heads. But we don’t. And here we are.

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  1. Is that song roughly to the tune of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow?"

  2. YES! Imagine that song, just completely off key at the high parts.