I make no bones about not being the most Christmasy of gals. I like the holiday alright, but I can never escape the feeling of being oppressed by it. It kind of sucks that I have, as long as I can remember, thought of it as something to get through, to endure. The day itself is almost universally lovely. I spend it with family I adore and have shared with them since I was a young child and I have two of the sweetest boys a mother could ever imagine. Christmas Day is the bright shining light in the whole season. It’s all the bells and whistles I could do without.
The shopping, the wrapping, the decorating, the gingerbread house constructing, the baking, the card sending, the holiday music listening, the crowds, the elf, the ugly sweater parties, the forced cheer — the cumulative effect of all of it never fails to get me down. It’s a shame, really, as any one of those things independently would be lovely and enjoyable, but somehow the combination and concentration of HOLIDAY CHEER never fails to do me in fairly completely.
Every year I tell myself it will be different and every year it is the same. Sigh.
This year I have approached it with a bit more strategy and that seems to be really helping. I wrote a post about how Theodore Roosevelt has guided me this holiday season. Pfft. I am now relying on long dead presidents to help me cope with the holiday blues. Whatever helps, amirite? You can read that post HERE. Long story short, his quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” has helped me tremendously. It was a kick in the pants to not spend so much time on the Facebook this time of year, looking at all the happy, smiling families, which was only leading me to ask, “Why am I not so happy this time of year? How am I hurting my children by lacking the cheer that seems to easy for so many others? Why does my life always seem so complicated when other peoples’ lives look like a piece of cake?”
Just stepping back, focusing on myself and my family and creating joy for the four of us has created a center instead of a diffuse ball of ‘woe is me.’ Yesterday we went and bought a tree, made some sugar cookies, decorated with a little holiday flair here and there. The tree is about twelve inches from my writing table and I am smelling its lovely scent as I type this. The most amazing thing is that doing all of that didn’t feel a bit oppressive. Not even a teeny tiny little bit. It was fun. Fun. And easy. And a little bit uncomplicated. I feel grateful.
It struck me that what works for my family (I happen to be married to a man who believes Ebenezer Scrooge is the most misunderstood and misinterpreted and wrongfully maligned figure in literature — oy vey) is the idea of downsizing Christmas. For the past few years I have whittled away at our holiday decorations, donating those things I haven’t used in years or anything that doesn’t work with young children. We are down to three boxes. This pleases my husband immensely. Me, too, as I pulled them off the storage shelves yesterday. Better yet, I am using maybe half of the decorations we have hung on to. The rest are too precious to give away and too fragile for curious little fingers. We can enjoy those again in a few years.
The result is a home that whispers Christmas rather than shouts it. There is a small, fat tree in the living room, adorned with a cozy collection of wood and felt ornaments that each have some special meaning. The star that rests atop is a Donna original made from cardboard, aluminum foil, and a toilet paper roll. A simple tree that looks homemade. It suits us. Not flashy, but charming and lovely. There are two stockings that hang on our bookshelves and I will never stop thinking there should be three.
We made a batch of sugar cookies and I’ll do some chocolate chip bars today. The rest will be outsourced to accommodate all the sweet tooths in my family. There is no shame in that. The weather has cooperated this year, so we’ve actually been able to get outside and do some holiday visits to the Botanic Gardens train show and this week, dodging the weekend crowds, we’ll hit Zoo Lights some evening. We haven’t visited Santa yet and neither boy really has a special holiday outfit. We haven’t seen any of the display windows at the Chicago stores on State Street. We may or may not get there this year.
And all of that is okay. I’ve long thought that one of the greatest strengths a person can have is knowing their limitations. One of my limitations (and hoo-wee do I have a lot of those to choose from!) is this holiday stuff. Fits and spurts, people, is what I can handle. Picking and choosing what we do and letting go of the guilt and comparisons is what seems to be helping this year. Next year might be completely different. Who knows? Another thing I’ve learned is to worry about right now right now and worry about later later.
This season I will keep taking it one day at a time. I will work to eek out all the holiday joy we can based on how mood and health and weather cooperates. I vow to try not to compare our holiday joy to the holiday joy of others. I will keep my head down, keep sniffing that tree, keep it simple and special, working within our own family’s means and limitations.
Whew. Wish me luck. And best of luck to you, too. We got this.