So, lots of languages have both polite and familiar words for you. Because you’re special, cold, or unfamiliar, and I’m just being polite, playing it safe, I don’t presume. But at work, myself has gone viral as the polite way of saying me. As in, “Give the form to myself when it’s complete.” Because myself puts everyone on notice that it’s special? More special than those who fumble their way through the form? It’s impossible to explain to the myselvers that me would suffice. They get this special, cold, and unfamiliar look on theirselves faces. Like something’s wrong with me.
At some point near the end of her marriage, my mother again started going to church, our Christmases became a little less secular, and it fell upon me—at a mere nine years old—to assemble our family’s first nativity scene. The crèche I built out of Lego, of course; Joseph was the Olympic judo figurine I’d got from a box of Cheerios; and Mary was swiped from my sister’s set of Russian nesting dolls. The greatest abomination, however, was saved for the baby Jesus, where I pulled the hair off a tiny troll and wrapped him in swaddling clothes.
Our parents were in a mixed marriage: our father an atheist and our mother agnostic. Fortunately, both believed in stories and neither could forgo German Christmas cookie traditions. These joint enthusiasms meant that Christmas got the go-ahead. We’d be shooed out of the house while Mama put the finishing touches on the tree (real), lighting candles (real), and hanging strands of German angelhair (limp and silvery). Our presents were being delivered by German Engeln, entities of secular fantasy unrelated to Canadians’ Jesus. Meanwhile, we’d hunker in the Volkwagen with Papa, turning on the emergency blinkers to scare away the Grinch.
French Canadians will tell you that while you can put up your Christmas nativity scene any time during Advent you never include the L’Enfant Jesu until Christmas Eve. My mémé had a plaster Baby Jesus that was chubby and white with blonde hair and a diaper. The thing was the size of a large toddler and so old that it probably was suckled by the Roman she-wolf. But after midnight mass and until Epiphany this Colossus dominated my grandmother’s fibreboard mantle, dwarfing the tiny manger and imposing its Godzilla-like reign of terror among the cowering wise men and frightened donkeys.