I always dread Christmas, not because I’m a bona fide grinch, but because it involves having to spend time with six older sisters. I often wonder why my parents bothered to pop out a seventh baby when they already had six strong-willed girls. Maybe they were hoping I’d be a boy. Who knows. Although many of my sisters are now married, it’s a tradition to spend Christmas together at our parents’ large home in Eastern Connecticut, just us girls. People find it unusual that my sisters ditch their spouses and children on Christmas. I find it odd, too, and would love for them to be anywhere but home. Seeing as I’m in grad school and have nowhere else to go on Christmas, I’m stuck baking and cleaning with my mom either way. What fun!
Being the youngest sibling does come with a few perks, one of them being that no one grills me about my job prospects or romantic partners (or, ahem, lack of them). With six successful older siblings with kids of their own, the expectations of me are low. Don’t take this to mean that I’m a slouch. I’m certainly not. I’m an excellent student and a frequent volunteer at the hospital. I’ve run multiple marathons and have had a few steady relationships. It’s just nice not to have everyone poking around the details of my life all the time.
The downside is that my siblings have always considered me to be a little wayward; a little spoiled. They like to be, uhm, hands on with disciplining me. They all consider themselves my backup parents or something. Growing up, my prim and proper mother never so much as raised her voice. She wouldn’t dream of laying a hand on me. Her idea of punishment was no shopping for one weekend. My sisters stepped right in with their scolding and, yes, even spanking. Their firmness knows no bounds. I’m not necessarily afraid of them, but being around them as adults makes me feel humiliated. It doesn’t matter how old I get—they will always turn me over their knee if they think I deserve it. Spending time with one or even two of them can be a headache. Spending time with all six is bound to be a butt-ache, if you know what I mean.
On the 24th of December, I take the train from NYC to Connecticut and then take an Uber to my parents’ house. I always show up on Christmas Eve to minimize the amount of time that my sisters have to torture me. Less can be more with family. By the time I roll up, all of my siblings have already arrived. There is a gentle dusting of snow on the ground. I pull my faux-Burberry scarf tightly around my neck and take a deep, cleansing breath before I head inside with my yellow suitcase in tow.
“Ana!!!!” my favorite sister Joy chirps enthusiastically. She dashes to the front door and wraps me in a hug. I love Joy. Her name is appropriate. She is always happy. She is always beautiful. She has wavy blonde hair, big green eyes, and wide hips. Joy always treats me with warmth and kindness, but when you cross her, she’s frightening. Joy gives the best hugs, though. I hug her back and brush some of the rogue snowflakes out of my short brown hair.
“Hey, did you have a good trip?” my sister Lauren asks, appearing in the foyer to meet me. Lauren is quiet and sweet. She is my second-favorite sibling. That doesn’t mean that she can’t take me to task, but she does it in a sad “I’m very disappointed” kind of what that cuts right to the core. I tell her that my trip was quick and painless and make to enter the house.
There are more hugs and greetings exchanged. My mom makes a show of kissing me and telling me I’m too thin. My dad gives me a shoulder clap.
Besides Joy and Lauren, who are married but don’t have kids of their own, there are my sisters Abigail and Charity. They’re twins with curly hair and wicked laughs. They can be extremely strict and delightfully sarcastic. They both love me, and I love them back, but they do not mess around. They both have kids, which explains why they take no shit. Then there’s Raya. She can either be calm and sweet or stern and intimidating. You never know what you’re going to get. She’s proudly single and very independent. Finally, there’s Gwen. She’s just a couple years older than me, but is often distant and seems wholly unimpressed with me. She’s my least favorite by a mile. It’s a full house. Full of angst, anyway.
After the greetings are done, I head to my childhood bedroom to drop off my things. My bed has a fluffy pink comforter and is against the wall the way it was when I was growing up. I have a rickety old dresser, and my own bathroom where I used to hide by taking a scorching shower when my siblings were irritating me. Kicking off my tall boots and unwinding my scarf, I drop my suitcase and head back into the kitchen where my sisters are chatting and sipping martinis.
“What are you having?” I ask.
“Cranberry orange martinis,” Joy responds with a smirk, “You want one?”
“Maybe she should eat first,” Charity suggest evenly.
“I’m not hungry,” I smile back passive aggressively, “But I’m very thirsty. I’d love one, Joy.”
“Why don’t you have a glass of water?” asks Abigail.
“Girls! Your sister is an adult,” my mom chastises them before I can say anything. I nod in approval and take the martini glass from Joy. I lied when I said I wasn’t hungry, though, so I take a piece of Swiss cheese from my mom’s holiday platter and munch on it while we all catch up.
“We should watch a movie this afternoon,” Joy suggests.
“Home Alone,” Gwen says immediately.
“I don’t want to watch that nasally little kid again,” I groan. “Can we watch an actual comedy?”
“Watching the same thing every year is called a tradition,” Raya snaps.
“You’re a nasally little kid,” Abigail chimes in.
“The only tradition around here is you all being annoying as hell,” I retort.
“Excuse me?” Abigail asks.
“GIRLS!” my mom exclaims. I relent and we watch Home Alone for what feels like the thousandth time. Blissfully, the rest of the afternoon passes without incident. I volunteer to help my mom make our big Christmas Eve dinner so that I can have some peace in the kitchen. I help her whip up deviled eggs, her famous wine-soaked brisket, green bean casserole, and twice baked potatoes. I even do the dishes while my mom and I talk about my grad school program. I’m not the spoiled brat that my sisters seem to think I am, I think to myself with an internal eye roll.
After dinner, we sip on my mom’s famous dark drinking chocolate and make conversation around the fireplace. It almost feels fun, like we’re all normal adult siblings enjoying a conflict-free holiday. When everyone retires to bed, I pretend to head to my room and then loop back around to the living room. I make my way over to the tree and poke around a bit at the pile of gifts beneath it. I’m not snooping, exactly, but I want to see what I’m up against. I often make my siblings gifts because of the financial constraints imposed by grad school, or I buy them something lame like local honey from a Brooklyn farmer’s market. (Honey isn’t lame, it’s just a lame gift). I start looking at labels on the gifts and shaking them to assess who bought what for who.
“What are you doing?” a voice asks from the darkness behind me. I jump in surprise.
“What the hell! Don’t sneak up on me like that!”
“I asked what you were doing.” It was Abigail. Fuck. She’s not one to show mercy. “Shaking gifts like you’re a child?” she continued, “What is wrong with you? Mom works so hard to host a beautiful Christmas for all of us and you’re acting like an entitled brat.”
“It’s not like that,” I try to explain.
“Then what’s it like? Tell me,” she crosses her arms and fixes me with a stony stare.
“I… just… I wanted to see… ok, actually it’s sort of what it looks like, but I don’t care about my gifts, I just care about what everyone is getting in comparison to each other.”
Abigail’s face looks even angrier. Oops. That explanation sounded worse. I open my mouth to backtrack but it’s too late.
“Come here,” Abigail commands, beckoning me with a finger. I rise and shuffle over to her, holding my hands up lamely in an act of self-protection. Ignoring that, she grabs my upper arm and spins me around, landing several sharp smacks to my behind.
“Please don’t,” I whine, “Please stop treating me like a baby,” I beg.
“Are you acting like a baby?” she asks incredulously.
“Well…” I trail off. She sort of has a point.
“Go to bed,” Abigail commands.
“Yes… ma’am,” I say softly. At that, she relaxes her grip on my arm and kisses me on the side of the forehead.
“You don’t have to call me ma’am,” she says with an eye roll. She smiles, though, so I know she kind of liked it. I nod and head off for my room.
Idiot, I think, what a dumb idea to shake up the gifts.
I’m still not tired, so I turn on the small tv in my room and watch a movie that is actually good: Christmas With the Kranks. I rest my slipper-sock clad feet on my dresser and try to relax. I am granted five minutes of reprieve before I hear a knock on my door. I sigh and get up from my comfortable position to see who it is. Ugh. Gwen.
“What?” I ask.
“Is that any way to answer your door?” Gwen asks.
“The f*** do you want?” I ask in exasperation.
“I can’t sleep with you listening to that movie on full volume,” she says with a raised eyebrow, indicating her displeasure with my curse word. “Turn it down.”
“K,” I say, swinging the door shut in her face. She immediately pushes it back open.
“Do you need an attitude adjustment?” she growls threateningly.
“No, go to bed, please,” I say, my voice softer this time.
“Ok,” she says, her voice softer, too, “Good night.”
Gwen retreats down the hall and I go back to watching my movie. After another thirty or so minutes, I decide to go grab myself another drink to enjoy while I watch. It’s the holidays, after all. I head to the kitchen and take out my mom’s cocktail shaker, then I poke around the liquor cabinet to see what I can mix up.
“Are you making a drink?” The voice makes me jump… again.
“CHARITY! What is up with all of you sneaking up on me. GO AWAY.”
“I wanted a glass of water,” she explains defensively, “I don’t think you need to be drinking by yourself at 10:30 pm.”
“Sorry the rest of you go to bed at grandma hours,” I say. “Some of us aren’t ancient and have lives.”
Charity doesn’t take the bait. She simply walks over to me and stands directly in front of me, her face inches from mine.
“Want to try that again?” she asks menacingly.
“I’m going to bed,” I sigh, abandoning the cocktail shaker and trying to walk around her. She grabs my arm and stops me.
“If you need a spanking to remind you how to behave in this house, I’m happy to oblige.”
“I don’t need a spanking and none of you need a power trip,” I tell her. She gives me five sharp smacks to my rear end.
“Don’t test me,” she says evenly, “You won’t like the result. Go.”
Seething, I head for my room. I haven’t even been here twenty-four hours and I’m ready to blow a gasket. I think about slamming my door but stop myself at the last minute. Not worth the trouble.
In the morning, I wake up with a new strategy. It’s Christmas. I’m going to cling to my mother, or my father, in the hopes that my siblings won’t try to dominate me in front of them. They never do. They know better. Emerging from my room in a puffy vest, I make a beeline for the coffee pot. My granny sisters are already up. I look around for my mother as I grab a ceramic mug.
“Where’s mom?!” I ask.
“They want to church,” Joy replies, “We’re going to open gifts when they get home.” I seethe at not having been invited to church. I don’t like to go, but I do like to get away from my sisters, who typically don’t go. I don’t show my annoyance. I take my coffee cup calmly to the table and sit down to drink.
“Are you going to eat breakfast?” Abigail asks.
“Are you the calorie police these days?” I ask back.
“It’s not good to drink coffee on an empty stomach,” Lauren smiles, always one to be kind.
“I’ll eat breakfast in a few minutes, officer. Let me wake up.” I give Abigail a mock solute and she sets her jaw with a deadly stare.
“Someone’s brave,” Gwen chimes in.
“Let me guess—is it me? Because six-on-one makes all of you useless cowards.”
There are some raised eyebrows, but luckily they don’t respond.
“I’m going to make another pot of coffee,” suggests Joy to break the tension.
“No, no, I’ve got it,” I said, suddenly getting a devious idea. “I’m sorry I was so rude.” I offer a fake smile and retreat to the kitchen. Giggling to myself, I brew a pot of coffee and add copious amounts of salt. I grab my mother’s serving tray and pile it up with cups. I fill my own mug with water to avoid arousing suspicion. I then return to the dining room, thinking that they’re lucky it wasn’t full of laxatives. The thought almost makes me burst out laughing again, but I contain myself.
“Here you go, princesses,” I say, setting down one mug in front of each person. “Let’s do a toast!” We don’t normally do coffee toasts, but it’s the only way I can get them to sip at the same time.
“Someone’s trying to make up for her bad behavior this morning,” Gwen jabs.
“Anyway,” I say, raising my own mug of water up, “To my lovely older sisters, who are always here to guide me. Merry Christmas.” With that, everyone raises their mugs and then takes a swig of coffee. As I watch their faces contort in horror, I can’t stop the laughter exploding from within.
Joy and Charity spit the coffee out immediately. Lauren gags and retches. I hope she doesn’t vomit on mom’s table. Everyone starts panicking, scrubbing their tongues and running to the kitchen for water. I roll off of my chair and laugh until I’m aching.
“ANA WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” Abigail screams.
“I almost threw up,” says Lauren, looking almost angry.
Charity doesn’t say anything. She marches over to me and grabs me by the ear.
“OWWWW,” I protest, “Charity stoooop.”
“You pushed too far,” she tells me sternly, “I think you need that reminder we talked about last night. Good thing your mom isn’t home. We need a little sister time, if you know what I mean.” I try to get away from her, but her evil twin Abigail has jumped in to help. Between the two of them, they wrestle me down onto the couch and start pulling my leggings off. I kick and trash, but Joy jumps in and helps them, too.
“E tu, Brutus?” I ask.
“Funny girl,” says Joy, her usual friendly demeanor turned stern. I’m screwed.
After my pants are removed, Charity wrestles me onto her lap. Abigail grabs a fist full of my hair to pull me into place. Joy sits down next to Charity and holds my legs so that I can’t move. I’m completely immobilized. Wasting no time, Charity starts to spank me over my underwear. I try to wiggle, but I can’t get away. She is spanking hard and fast with no warm up.
“Please, it was a joke,” I try begging, “Please I’m too old for this.”
“But apparently not too old for stupid pranks,” Abigail hisses into my ear. “Hold still.” I suddenly feel a bit afraid. There are six of them and I’m all alone. This is not going to go well. Charity is still spanking my bottom, and starts adding in smacks to the tops of my thighs. My breathing quickens and I feel myself starting to sweat under my vest. Charity takes a pause, but not to give me any relief. She’s only paused so that she can pull off my underwear. I grunt in humiliation and feel myself start to cry. She doesn’t respond.
My bottom is on fire but Charity resumes her spanking vigorously on the bare. Abigail mercifully loosens her grip on my hair. She leaves her hand on the back of my head, but it’s almost gentle now, reassuring. I reach out and rest my left hand on Abigail’s knee. I’m distressed now and desperate for connection. She places one of her hands over mine. In this moment, I love this evil twin.
“Can you go get the hairbrush?” she asks Lauren. Her voice is soft, though, less angry than before.
I hear Lauren’s footsteps recede and then return. I tense in anticipating as Charity thanks her and takes the brush. There is no lecture. Charity simple pulls me closer and brings the brush down on my already-tender sit spots. I yowl in pain.
“Please, I get your point, please stop,” I beg.
“You’re getting 100 with the brush,” she says, still sounding annoyed with me. My face burns with embarrassment. Three of my sisters are holding me down and the other three are watching like it’s some sort of sick show. As the brush falls again and again, I forget my embarrassment and focus on the pain. I’m openly sobbing now, limp over Charity’s lap. When she finishes with the brush, the entire room is silent other than my ragged breathing and sobbing.
“You’re going to stand up and go to the corner,” Charity explains very calmly, her voice finally losing its edge. “Can you do that?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I sob back instantly.
“Good girl,” she says affectionately, helping me to stand up on wobbly legs. She takes my hands and looks at me. “We’re not quite done,” she says, wiping up my tears, “But it’s going to be okay.” I nod submissively and head over to the dreaded corner, opposite my mom’s large Christmas tree.
In the corner with my bottom on display, my breathing slows down. My rear is on fire, but I feel oddly calm. It feels almost like balance has been restored to our family unit. I feel childlike in a welcoming way now. The bitterness and tension has abated. I can hear my sisters talking quietly behind me, milling about, probably enjoying the view victoriously.
I’m still crying a bit when Gwen and Joy come to collect me from the corner.
“You’re lucky that we’re not going to pour salt down your throat,” says Joy with a pointed look, “But you are going to get a mouth soaping.”
“I suggested hot sauce,” Gwen points out with a dirty look, “But luckily for you, mom has none in the kitchen.”
“I’m sure I can pick it up if we have any more problems,” Charity promises.
Joy gives my hand a squeeze and pulls me toward the nearest bathroom. She sits me down on the toilet seat and I wince when my sore bottom touches it. Gwen lathers up a bar of soap and then grabs my chin and commands me to open. I oblige. The bitterness of the soap is always a shock. I gag immediately as a rogue drop of soapy water slides down my throat. In fact, I can’t stop gagging. It’s awful. Gwen sets an iphone timer for 4 minutes. I try to breath. Tears start anew. I don’t move a muscle in the hopes that I can zone out and survive until the timer chimes.
“Spit but don’t rinse,” Joy commands when the timer goes off. I spit as hard as I can but I can’t get enough of the soap out of my mouth to make a difference. I keep gagging.
“Please,” I beg pathetically, “Please… water.” I start sobbing again. My cheeks are raw from all of the tears falling. Joy wraps me into a hug but doesn’t change her mind.
“After we chat, sweetie,” she promises. I nod into her chest to let her know that I accept. She leads me back out to the living room and sits me down on the couch. She sits on my left side, and Lauren takes the spot to my right. They both stroke my hair and rub my arms, whispering into my ear to calm me down. Charity crouches down in front of me and places her hand gently on my right knee.
“I know you didn’t like that,” she says softly. She offers me her first smile of the day. “Just breathe,” she instructs patiently. She takes a few deep breaths and I match my breathing to hers. She rubs my knees and waits until I’m calm.
“We don’t do this to torture you,” Abigail says as the three sisters closest to me try to calm me down. “Mom never gave you the slightest bit of discipline growing up. We know you’re an amazing woman. Smart, spunky, nice, hard working. It’s not about that. We think that you can use some structure and physical discipline in spite of how amazing you already are. We can see how much it centers you, even when you pretend to hate it.” I nod, agreeing with her in spite of how sore I am and the icky taste in my mouth.
“Do you agree?” asks Lauren softly, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.
“Yes—yes, ma’am,” I reply quietly.
“Good girl,” says Gwen.
“The salt thing is going to be funny in like three years,” Raya points out good-naturedly. “But we’re not going to let you subvert the power dynamic here. You need us to keep you in your place. And we love you, so we’re going to give you what you need.” I keep nodding, suddenly too tired to talk even though we just got up.
“You know we love you?” Charity asks.
“Of course,” I assure her, “I love you, too.”
“Let’s get you some water,” says Joy, guiding me to the kitchen and allowing me to rinse at last. I shudder in relief. Joy hands me my leggings and I pull them up. The fabric hurts my bottom a little bit, but I’m glad to have some semblance of modesty back.
“Mom should be home in twenty minutes,” Charity points out, glancing at the clock. “Why don’t you take a quick nap and then we can celebrate Christmas.” She opens her arms and lets me come in for a hug. I do so gladly.
Lauren comes to my room with me and snuggles me while I rest my eyes. I remember suddenly how much my sisters really do love me, much more than they want to dominate me.
I wake up when my parents are home and we huddle around the tree to open gifts. My sisters love my artisanal honey, after all. I love their gifts, too. It was a Merry Christmas after all.
One thought on “Xmas Exchange Story — A Red Christmas”
Hi Shae, I come from a large family, but the thought of SIX sisters, yikes! 😝 However I could appreciate the idea of a big family gathering, especially in this sad age of COVID. The description of that dinner had me salivating and nostalgic for our pre-pandemic celebrations. 🍲 Thanks for participating in this year’s holiday exchange, and wishing you a wonderful Xmas and Happy New Year! 🎄