*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
Christmas is a season of love and joy when families get together to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, or at least that's what it's supposed to be.
When my mother was newly married, her mother-in-law convinced her that Christmas was a time to clean your house from top to bottom in a panic so visitors wouldn't see a speck of dust or a thing out of place.
My paternal grandmother insisted on my mother changing all the curtains and rugs in every room, making the beds with fresh linens and bedspreads even though we weren't expecting overnight guests, and washing all the clean glasses in the cupboard, especially the shot glasses just in case someone wanted a drink.
It all began when my mother got married at the tender age of nineteen. She thought she knew everything she needed to know about cleaning the house, but no, my grandmother had other ideas.
"You have to move all the furniture so you can clean behind it and underneath it," my grandmother instructed. "Wash your windows inside and out. If you can't reach the outside of the windows with a ladder, you'll have to rinse them with a pressure hose from the outside. Clean your oven. Scrub the bathtub. And make sure the toilet is so spotless you could eat out of it."
"Why would anyone want to eat out of my toilet?" my mother asked.
My grandmother just scowled at her.
It wasn't just her mother-in-law, either. My mother's sisters-in-law had all inherited their mother's Christmas cleaning bug. Every day, my mother's in-laws would call or stop by the house to see how she was doing. It was like a race. Everyone wanted to know who was ahead, except my mother.
She really didn't want any part of the annual cleaning madness. Unfortunately, she had married into it. There was nothing she could do but clean her heart out and power through it. That was on top of taking care of a demanding husband, raising two high-maintenance children, and working a full-time job.
Meanwhile, her in-laws would inspect her handiwork without being asked and give her unwanted cleaning tips. One of her sisters-in-law had a secret advantage being the only family member whose husband helped her clean, and her mother-in-law had an advantage because she didn't have a job outside the house or small children to raise.
"How could I keep up with them?" my mother asked. "I couldn't."
One year, my mother took two consecutive days off from work and stayed up through the night scrubbing and cleaning. "I decided I'd show then," she told me. "I was the first one to have my house ready for Christmas. I won the cleaning game that year."
According to my mother, it's all a waste of time. "Baby Jesus doesn't care. He wouldn't want you to clean your house until you nearly pass out from exhaustion," she insists, "and I bet you Santa Claus cares even less."
How important is it for you to clean the house for Christmas? Comments are welcome.