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Friday, September 28, 2012

'Tis The Season of Excess & Stress - STOP!

I love Christmas. Everything about it - the Holy meaning of it, as well as the tree, lights, food, traditions, songs, baking, and smell of it.  My daughter's middle name is Noelle.  I got engaged on Christmas Eve.  Seriously... I love Christmas.

My mom was a single parent, and I longed for those traditional Christmases with both my parents, a real tree, a big house, sleigh rides (yes, in my 1970's childhood - sleigh rides were in all perfect families' Christmas memories) and everything absolutely Perfect.  So, I wanted to arrange perfect Christmases for my girls as they were growing up. BUT...

We didn't live in the perfect house for Christmas. The perfect Christmas house was featured on a Folgers commercial years and years ago when the college aged son came home for Christmas just in time – in the still dark hours of Christmas morning. There was a gorgeous staircase, a garland covered railing, and a huge window in the living room so the entire neighborhood could see they were having a perfect Christmas, now complete with their perfectly smart son.

We didn't have the perfect kitchen for Christmas. Ours was small and L shaped. The perfect Christmas kitchen was in the Walton's house. They also had the perfect Christmas horses to pull the perfect Christmas sleigh. They did NOT have the perfect Christmas grandmother, though. Wasn't she a cranky one?

We also didn't have the perfect Christmas budget. I can remember one especially tough Christmas. I had $20 to spend on each girl. It was the year of my divorce. They went to their dad's on Christmas eve and received a ton of gifts. I waited for them at home and cried.  After they were in bed I blew up a bunch of little balloons left over from birthday parties and summer water balloon battles, and scattered them across the floor to bring a festive illusion to our tiny Christmas.

So, those were my limitations... but we still had plenty of wonderful Christmas memories.  Collecting blankets for the homeless and distributing them on Christmas Eve morning.  Baking cookies and decorating them. Rooms full of gifts, even if they weren't very expensive ones. Candlelight church services. Opening gifts when the first child woke up and I was able to drag my husband out of bed, whispering, "It's Christmas... Be nice, be happy or be quiet." (Apparently his family got a decent night's sleep after wrapping gifts until 3 a.m. Then they ate breakfast before touching presents.  Weird weird family. And he's not a morning person anyway.)

My husband doesn't “do” Christmas. He typically watches me “DO” Christmas and occasionally assists with an extra pair of hands. We pick out our tree together, he gets it ready for the house and carries it in for me, and helps with the garland over the kitchen cabinets. 

Since we've moved, we now host a huge family Christmas party. We spend more money than we say we will... Every. Year. I always find some small early purchase a few months after Christmas because I forgot where I put it by the time Christmas gets here. It's a season of trying to fit our festivities around the festivities of every other person in the family – which is sort of like trying to pick a wedding date available for every single person on your guest list. With a growing family of in-laws and kids, people with work parties, friends that throw holiday parties, as well as everyone's Christmas To Do list, it's a complicated land mine of expectation and disillusionment. The space between that and the Perfect Christmas is vast and a place of sadness for this Christmas Girl.

So, to simplify and reclaim Christmas as something meaningful, not just months of build up, followed by an exhausted collapse onto the couch after we'd “done” Christmas – I started to look around at what other people did. Well, everyone in my circle was doing what I was doing, or it was such a nonevent that I couldn't possibly “go there.” I found a book. “Unplug the Christmas Machine” by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli. 

As we drove to Florida to visit my in-laws last December, I pulled the book from my tote and began to read portions to my husband. (Living with me must be similar to carrying your Kindergarten teacher around in your pocket. I'm always reading my husband a good book. No, he doesn't get to pick the story – did your kindergarten teacher let you pick the story? No! And it doesn't matter if she did, that isn't how we operate here.) I read to him this chapter “Men: The Christmas Stagehands.” For the first time we reminisced about his childhood Christmases and what a meaningful Christmas looked like to him. For years, he'd been doing Christmas in response to the one imagined in my head. He'd been living with a woman who wanted to make Christmas magical, but in reality she was exhausted, cranky, disappointed in the absence of “magic,” and irritated that no one was helping enough. (There are only 2 of us living in my house. My husband is an intelligent man, so when I roam the rooms ranting about “no one” helping me, he knows who “no one” is.) I don't understand why he never seems to have the Christmas spirit...

Last year, my husband put out the Christmas Village, which I'd given up on because I was too tired.  He also set up his Christmas Pyramid (Google these, they are darling.)  In fact, he participated in all sorts of things last year.  Turns out he wasn't a Scrooge, he was just married to the Ghost of Christmas Nightmares.

A couple weeks ago, I purchased my first gift. It's a farm set for my youngest grandson, Conner. A week later, I realized I was on Christmas autopilot again. It's early enough to chart a different course. 

What are your Christmases like? What are your most treasured memories and traditions? I'd love to hear about them. Do you have any pictures I could link to? I love to look at Christmas pictures!


  1. Holidays are my least favorite time of the year, starting before Thanksgiving and not ending until the sigh of relief on December 26th. I'm always glad to have them over with. Survival with no drama, is always a welcome surprise. I'm already starting to feel the stress and it's still September. I'm known as Ms. Grinch.

  2. My neighbor is a UPS driver. She feels similarly. I saw decorations up at Sams Club this week, and I felt overwhelmed with giddy excitement... this is how it always STARTS. It builds to a frenzied crescendo of "What the... what just happened?" on Christmas Day.

  3. I laughed when I read your comment about the Folgers commercial-I remember that one. "Peter...?" That was the mother in the commercial, in case you didn't get the reference. :) This will be my first Christmas season in years that I won't have to work on the weekends, so I'm kind of excited about the possibilities with my little ones. Of course, I need copious amounts of down time so hopefully I won't overschedule.

    1. Oh yes, I do remember! :-) I'll just let you know, I'm recommending "Unplugging The Christmas Machine" this month! Any book that helps my husband get back into the Christmas spirit is a fantastic book!