My mother is what I would call a sport shopper. Reading the paper on Saturday mornings, she circles garage sales with a black marker and plans her route. She clips coupons and files them by subject. She can shop for hours, for nothing in particular.
In my repressed memory is stored hours of following her through aisle after aisle. And deep, deep in my subconscious is the root of my fear of Christmas -- make that Christmas shopping.
I remember myself no taller than the top of a shopping cart following my mother through the madness of the day after Thanksgiving. She was on a mission, and so were thousands of other women who all seemed to be in the same aisle fighting to reach the same half-priced Christmas lights.
Remember that scene in Star Wars when Princess Leia, Han Solo and C-3PO fall into the garbage disposal of some enemy space ship? That was me -- my arms extended, keeping the shopping-cart walls from closing in on me.
I wake up in a cold sweat. Oh no. It's happening again. The holidays are upon us.
I hear the turkeys screaming. It must be Thanksgiving. I see the advertisements for all the gifts I should be buying. It must be Christmas.
Some years, that's how you tell it's the stinking holiday season.
You are told. Like the moving parts in a cuckoo clock, the people come out of their shops and put up the appropriate decorations. Some years it seems festive, other years it feels more like a marching drill.
I was reading the article I wrote last year about the Festival of Trees and noticed that something is different this time around. Last year, between the tree talk, I wove a few mentions of the snow outside. It was falling. It was flurrying. It was, in general, collecting.
There's something about the white stuff that keeps the Christmas lights from looking ridiculous.
According to the calendar, Thanksgiving is next week, and Christmas isn't that far off. But "Brown Christmas" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
(At the time of writing, the ground was as dry as a day-old chapati.)
My dad always tried to create holiday traditions. Every year, he had a new one. There was the year when he had us all gather around the piano to sing Christmas carols.
"Wasn't that fun kids? We'll have to do this every year." But we didn't.
The next year, our new tradition was to gather around while he read the story of Jesus and the three wise men from the Bible.
It was his once-a-year attempt to make us seem like a typical family -- a sit-com family, a decent family, the kind of family that you wanted to be seen with in public.
But we weren't.
We were wild boars of children -- foaming at the mouth over our presents, which probably were broken from all the covert, late-night shaking.
When we had unwrapped the presents, and my mom had made her annual futile attempt to save all the bows, we ran to the basement to destroy the gifts we had just been given.
That's when the real Phillips Christmas began. The true tradition at our house generally was lounging around, eating too much and watching whatever movie was scheduled on cable for people like us who were trapped at home.
Years later, my dad is still trying to create traditions. Two years ago, everyone came to Steamboat Springs. Last year, we met in New York.
"This is fun kids. We should plan a Christmas trip every year," he said. But we didn't. This year, we're on our own, and I've always had the "holidays happen" philosophy of celebrating when left to my own devices.
Partly, it's an avoidance thing. But mostly, I know that my best holiday memories came from days that were unplanned. One of my favorite Christmas dinners was a bowl of chili with friends at a place called Geno's, and there was something romantic about the Valentine's Day dinner at Azteca.
So if you don't see me wearing a reindeer sweater, or if you did see me tearing the Christmas lights off my house this weekend, fret not.