I struggle with Christmas.
I’ve gotten a variety of reactions when I’ve admitted this. Pity. Shock. Puzzlement. Relief, sometimes, that someone has said it out loud. (I’m not the only one.)
Look, I know that Christmas and Easter are the high points of the Christian calendar. I get that Christ is the ultimate gift and the Advent season should inspire thankfulness and joy. Good tidings, eh? And intellectually, I’m right there.
But as a practical matter, I have some trouble. I see people who love Christmas, who are incandescent with anticipation, who put up the tree mid-November because they just can’t wait anymore. (Hi, Jan. Love you!) And I am mystified.
I don’t know exactly what my issue is. I suspect it has roots in my childhood. It might be mostly training; my mom was never a fan of Christmas, and we learn what we see. It might be reflex; sometimes all that togetherness touched off ugly things, and I learned to anticipate tension as much as or more than presents. That doesn’t happen anymore, but old habits are hard to break, especially unconscious ones.
It doesn’t help that I married someone who is, at best, ambivalent about the holiday. Paul, usually so laid-back he makes stoners look uptight, has to work hard to suppress his irritation when I ask him to help me get the Christmas tree up from the basement. He does it, and he does not complain (out loud), but he’s not bringing a lot of merry to the table either.
It doesn’t help that there is Pinterest, and I can see exactly how inadequate are my holiday-making skills. There are moms out there who create huge messes and blame it on the Elf-on-a-Shelf … and then have to clean it up. We makes so many messes by accident in this house that the thought of making one on purpose leaves me feeling weak and confused. I will not be making my own Christmas wreath, either, not least because it would look like it was assembled by a preschooler.
It doesn’t help that the holidays are a minefield of obligations for those of us who aren’t all that good at that stuff anyway. I’m never entirely clear on who I’m expected to buy presents for, or to tip. Every time I get a Christmas card, I feel guilty because I haven’t done mine yet. Last year I decreed that I wasn’t doing them at all, and I got a little lightheaded from breathing in the rarified air of freedom.
And the bell ringers. Help. It’s really not that I refuse to contribute, but I hardly ever have actual cash. Every time, I decide I’m going to get some, and then I forget until the next time, when I slink past the tinkling, bent double under a crushing load of guilt.
AND you’re supposed to be Extra Merry while you’re doing all this. It’s a lot of pressure. I would rather take a pass.
But there are short people living in my house now, and I’m doing my best not to scar them too badly. So last year I took an idea I’d seen on Pinterest, and
stripped it down to its bare bones adjusted it to be manageable. We have an Advent calendar.
In each little box is not candy, but a promise. It’s a picture of the activity we will do that day, together. Believe me when I tell you that these activities are incredibly basic. Like the calendar. It’s a Starbucks thing from several years ago made of thick cardboard. I keep looking for something a little more sturdy, but I have yet to see one that a) I like at least as much as this one, and b) doesn’t have a price tag that makes me choke on my eggnog.
Anyway. I wasn’t sure how this would go over, and Elias was a little too young to care last year, but I was surprised at how excited Levi was to check the box every morning. And how much fun he had anticipating the new Advent activity all day long, even if it was as simple as making hot chocolate with marshmallows.
Most surprising of all, I had fun. I know. I couldn’t believe it either. But instead of directing all that energy into worrying about how everything looked and fussing over what I couldn’t get done, I stopped every single day and sat down with my babies. Cookies went unbaked and cards went unsent, but we all had fun. Together. It seemed like a good tradeoff, and it still does.
The Advent calendar went up on the mantel (I nearly typed “mental” – Freudian slip?) last night when the boys were in bed. I caught them standing on the ottoman in their church clothes discussing it today. Then they ran away and I had to make them come back and pose so I could get the picture. Which, unbelievably, they did.
We took out the first box together, and later we made a paper chain for the days to Christmas. (See? Totally manageable, even for me.)
They are already looking forward to tomorrow’s box, and to Christmas. I have spent too many years being grumpy about it to have completely turned it around already, so I can’t say I’m exactly looking forward to Christmas. But I’m looking forward to watching them look forward to it.