bellies of jelly

Laser tag centers are interesting places to think.

The music is loud, the kids are hyped on adrenaline and flat soda, and the employees look drained of enthusiasm. One too many screaming middle-schoolers asking for dollars in change to play air hockey, I imagine.

This place is more chaotic than my aunt and uncle’s house I left a few hours ago. Mom dressed up as ‘Santa Claus’ to satisfy a tradition that’s been around of jolly old Saint Nick visiting the Dougherty family Christmas party and handing out presents. The little cousins know by now the jolly old man doesn’t exist, but enjoy receiving gifts and so play along.

I’m still having trouble accepting that my baby cousins are actually becoming people with real lives and interests and opinions. Christopher hugged me of his own will, Kate was my shadow, Mason told me how to spell his middle name, and Kylie confessed she had asked for a horse from Santa. My uncles teased each other about old girlfriends in front of their wives (something only allowed to happen once a year), and Pop recalled the very first Dougherty Christmas party. I laughed well tonight, and I think in ten more years the stories will be even funnier.

Family by blood is like that, I suppose. As years go by the stories become a bond, for busy personal lives make for very few new family memories. Ham, noodles, and corn are passed down and enjoyed because many years ago Mom-mom had five kids to feed and only her income supporting them all. The gift exchange among cousins is still called Pollyanna because that is what Mom-mom called it, though it makes no sense to the rest of the family.

Christmas was Mom-mom’s favorite time of the year, and that love and cheer was passed down to my generation. We sang Jingle Bells badly and wore cheesy Santa hats and thanked God for the gift of Jesus Christ.

It may not feel like Christmas outside, but a spark of yuletide cheer has finally been ignited in my heart.


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