There are only three rules on Christmas Eve—don’t knock over the tree, don’t insult the food, and don’t forget to smile. The tree is in the middle of the living room, dead center. It billows out, a full wingspan, short and squat, it almost touches the top of the twelve-foot ceiling and brushes up and into the bay window. Bing Crosby crones from the other room, loud enough for us to raise our voices. A small wooden nativity scene sets next to the fake fireplace and the tree. The love seat and a few TV trays are the only other items that still fit in the living room. Mom stands by the tree, the blue lights bounce a rhythmic conga line behind her. She hands my sister and me some puffy tart pastry from one of the glass party trays set out. The tart has blackened burnt ridges, and on first bite, my teeth clip a hard frozen center that was somewhat lemony. I say nothing. My sister whispers, “Oww.” I think Mom heard, “Wow,” because she smiles, and leans back, and nicks one of the many round silver bulbs drooping from a tired branch, at which point Dad leans in and pushes her behind, hollers, “Watch the tree!” We all look at it, tinsel flutters as the heat vents out and over it.
Dad is the only one allowed to retrieve presents from under the tree. He shouts out my name as he gives out a gift with one hand and steadies his gift up to an eye; the Nikon d3200 blinks a bright bluish white flash at the tree and me as I hold up a red and white candy cane-style wrapped gift. Dad lowers the camera, looks at Mom, then back at me, “Don’t smile or anything,” he says. I smile. My sister rabbit ears me. The Nikon lifts back up to his one open eye, I squint, snap. “Oh, come on,” he says, but winks and chuckles at me.
It’s not the camera that causes the squint. My eyes are itchy from the burnt tart in the air. I say nothing. My gift is in a perfect square box. Mom pours some eggnog into a little plastic cup, takes a sip, offers it to Dad who doesn’t look up from the buttons he pokes at on the Nikon, but waves her off; she then offers it to me, like it’s a communal cup, I busy my hands with the box on my lap. Mom takes the bow off the edge and presses it to my sister’s head, snap. Dad laughs and says, “Oh, that one’s gonna turn out good.” The rip and crinkle of the candy cane-style paper is a light sound for a minute, Mom slurps some eggnog, Crosby sings, and a slight hum seems to come from within my gift box. I’m into it, pulling out pink tissue paper, and stumped on the contents, even as it vibrates a slight hum, now louder. I touch a somewhat pointy edge, mutli-colors on a black multi-sided orb, louder music. Jay-Z now, too loud to ignore or not notice, a rainbow of colors pulse to him, and yes, oh yes, it’s the Black Diamond 3 Brilliant Wireless Speaker rumbling in my hands. Snap. “There’s that smile!”