Thursday, January 1, 2015

Christmas, quite frankly

I was grumpy about Christmas this year. I’m not exactly sure why. It just felt too much, I guess.

Too much work.
Too much energy.
Too much time.
Too much money.
Too much sugar.
Too much,
Too much,
Too much.


I resent being coerced into feeling and doing, and this Christmas Thing is a big bossy beast. All the hoopla feels contrived. There’s the tree and the colored sugar, the stockings, the special meats and cheeses, the candles and lights, the gifts, the ceremonies, blah, blah, blah, BLAH. Everything is expected. We are expected to prepare. We are expected to wait. We are expected to gather. We are expected to be joyful.

Quite frankly, expectation isn’t much fun. Expectation is just a bunch of intense hopefulness for a whole lot of days, one euphoric moment (if we’re lucky), and then, inevitably, a lot of disappointment, otherwise known as “coming back down to earth.” And then there’s the recuperation. Actually, the recuperation—a book, a sofa, and a fire for hours on end—is pretty sweet. The crashing, irritable children, not so much.

Yet what other option do we have but to prepare, hope, and expect? No one wants to be a scrooge. And if we want things to be special, we surely have to work for it. This year, though, it felt more like the demand to make Christmas special came from the outside and not from in me. And quite frankly (again), at this point, if it weren't for the childers, I'd be ditching a whole lot of traditions in favor of Taking It Easy.

Back to the "preparing for the special" part. Compare Sundays to Christmas for a sec. Both require preparation, expectation, and then a few hours of smooth sailing (hopefully). But while Sundays are ordinary and consistent enough to recharge my batteries (and to make it through to the next week if one goes awry), Christmas in all its once-a-year glory feels pressurized and daunting. Sure, there are moments of sweet fun scattered about, but in comparison to all the preparation, expectation, waiting, and sugar sugar sugar, the few moments of ho-ho-ho thrills do not measure up.

At least not this year. This year all the work felt like a drudge. And the special moments were too sticky sweet. They made me feel sickish.

***

Sometimes I am all puffy-chested proud that we have succeeded in minimizing the holidays as much as we have. No gifts, no big day-of gatherings, no parties to host, etc. Just a tree, a muted Christmas eve service, a supper of cheese and crackers, stockings in the morning, a new game to play together, a ham.


But other times—this year, for example—these few traditions feel totally over-the-top. Twenty-nine freaking dollars for a tree. All that money and time spent on finding junk, literal junk, for the stockings. The smallest ham I can find for only—ONLY—twenty-five dollars. The crick in my neck from icing pieces of baked dough. The money spent shopping for fancy chocolates and then melting them down and turning them into other candy when it’d actually be a whole heck of a lot simpler (and quite possibly even tastier) if I’d just buy the candy already made. You know what? Our annual donut party that feeds dozens is easier and cheaper than our down-home, “simple” Christmas.


One thing I didn't do this year: hand out tins of candy to our neighbors. I bought the tins and I made the candy, but then I didn't hand anything out. After three batches of chocolate peanut butter fudge, I couldn't stand another bite of the stuff or inflict it on anyone else. The empty tins are on the fridge, and the buckets of candy are sitting up there, too. But now that I've decided to scratch that gift-giving event (and most likely chuck the candy), I'm awash in glorious relief. One less thing to do, yessss.

***

Since we’d be having ham at the extended family gathering on the 26th, we forewent our traditional ham (I returned the twenty-five dollar hunk of pig) in favor of pizza.




Except then my husband and older daughter got sick so we didn’t have pizza either. We mostly just ate candy and cookies and pistachios and popcorn. It was kinda gross.




We did have lots of green smoothies, thanks to my Brilliant Mama Move: stocking up on fresh spinach and bananas.

cheers!

***

The best part of Christmas was the family gathering in Pennsylvania. We didn’t know if we’d all make it, what with being sick and all. But we did (except we skipped the visit to the great grandparents—we didn’t want to risk passing our delightful germ to them) and it was loads of fun.


It wasn't fun because it was Christmas, mind you, but because we got to hang out together. It’s just as much fun when we gather in the summer.

***

This year we gave our kids their first Christmas gifts ever. (Well, our older son got gifts his first two Christmases, but those don’t count.) Each kid got one present. They didn't know about this ahead of time and were pleasantly surprised. One kid was thrilled. The gifts were nice but not necessary. Next year it will probably feel necessary. Expectations, you know.

But guess what: Christmas is what I make it.

I am NOT some hapless victim, beaten and bullied by our capitalist, consummeristic culture.

I am in charge. ROAR.

Probably, my disgruntlement is simply a healthy indicator that it's time to reevaluate our Christmas traditions. In other words, I will henceforth cherish my grumpy streak. It is, perhaps, my best attribute, my very own personal Voice Of Reason.

Ho, ho, ho.

***

P.S. My sincere apologies for extending my Christmas funk into the new year. I didn't really have an option, though, since my husband backed it up, reinstalled everything, and nearly murdered the poor thing. My brother, bless his heart, rescued us and now I can write again. Happy New Year.

This same time, years previous: cranberry crumble bars.

13 comments:

  1. As I read this post I ate peanut butter chocolate fudge, foisted on me by you. (Thanks)

    Here is today's 100-word essay: For Christmas 2014 the only gift I received was a box of fruit shipped from Texas, courtesy of my friend, H---- C------. He began this tradition years ago.

    I bought and gave no gifts. This complacency is due to two complimentary attitudes: I find it anxiety causing to look for gifts, and what’s the point? To celebrate the beginning of Christianity we bestow lavish gifts on ourselves? It’s easier to not celebrate others with gifts if I don’t participate at all.

    Having vacation and eating with family and friends, that’s celebration! Oh, the food, the food! I wash the dishes.

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    1. Your essays read like poetry. So, so good.

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  2. I hear you Jennifer, loud and clear.Stick to your guns. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

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  3. We reduced gift giving this year by about 75% and it felt great. I think my husband is finally getting it {that our kids don't need ANYTHING}. We gave my parents a wine and cheese basket and my brother's family a breakfast basket with a ham in it. Useful, delicious and the likelihood of it being stuffed into a closet and thrown away 5 years later nil. Ho Ho Ho Ba Hum Bug and everything in between.

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  4. Kudos to you for having the guts to be honest. I was shaking my head while completely agreeing with you. Here's an indication of how much we participate in the holidays... My grown son confided that he thought trimming a Christmas tree meant taking pruning shears to an evergreen.

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  5. such a grinch

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  6. I do think it pays to re-evaluate Christmas traditions every few years and adjust them to suit your energy level, the kids' ages, etc. Changing things up a bit keeps things fresh. But I know what you mean by spending money on junk, we used to do that too. Now that the kids are older, we just do candy and maybe one little gift (a movie ticket, a tiny Lego set, some Lego earrings) in the stockings. We tend to give the kids a gift from us, plus they get (inexpensive) gifts from their siblings (candy, small gift card to ChikFilA, a fleece throw or pretty scarf from 5Below, that sort of thing). They do enjoy thinking of something that will make their siblings happy. With 6 kids, it adds up to A LOT of stuff, but I don't see much of a way around it. I'm hoping, as they get older, we'll do a sort of Secret Santa thing instead.

    I also prefer waiting until the 18th or so to prepare for Christmas - that way I am not sick of the whole thing by the time the 25th rolls around. Less preparation time also minimizes the tendency to try to get things "perfect." Less stress all around...but it is still tricky trying to get the right balance. 3 cheers for cold, stay-at-home-and-knit-and-read-books January!

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  7. It's interesting that you were able to return the ham. Returning a food item wouldn't be an option here unless there was something wrong with it.

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  8. I'm right there with you! My problem is that my business is so busy in the weeks before Christmas that I don't have time to do the things I want to do for myself and for our family. Plus I have to decorate for Advent at our church...so by the time I am done with everything, I don't feel like decorating my own house...but I hold an open house for my business in my home so I feel like I have to decorate! UGH. I do this all to myself. And I hate it! I don't admit this to to many people, but it seems I am safe to do so here...I dread Christmas, there I said it! AND I feel a tremendous sense of relief when it's all over.

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  9. Totally agree with you! We have been skipping Christmas for the past several years with a trip out of town. It seemed funny the first year, then just delicious every year since. This year we stayed home and "did Christmas". Ugh!!! Couldn't wait for the entire stressful holiday affair to be over. Now that New Years is gone, I'm looking forward to moving on with the rest of the year :) By the mood of the rest of the family, I think we all agree skipping Christmas is best! I'm sure God did not intend for any of us to feel like this over the birth of Christ. Just another way for the world to get us out of focus about what really matters :/ Don't get me started on the complete waste of hard earned money....grrrr

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  10. I personally love the magic of ordinary days to all holidays, so I totally agree. We do very little for the holidays, and what we do often feels like too much. You're so right, all that expectation weighs heavily on natural cheer.

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  11. "So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him." Matthew 7:11

    I am ALWAYS relieved during that first week of January, when I can go to the grocery store without fighting traffic and long lines at the checkout. I also agree that all the "forced joy" can be a little hard to take or to exhibit.

    However, I do want to share the beauty of Christmas with our children and an understanding of our extravagantly generous God. What a gift He gave us in His Son! We talk about this often during the Christmas season. Of course, this needs to be a reality for us all year long, and it is in our home.

    Our children receive gifts that we have considered carefully, that we have saved for during the year, and that they delight in, just as we delight in them and just like God delights in us.

    It is for these reasons that we will always celebrate and rejoice in Christmas, even when/if it tires us out.

    Blessings to you as you discern the Christmas traditions that will bring life to you, and to your family.

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  12. I love and applaud your honesty. I'm betting a majority of us feel the same way. Especially mothers who in 99% of the cases are the ones who are responsible for "making" Christmas for everyone else. Bah-humbug. (I do love the color and cheerfulness of the decorations . . . in towns, in homes, in churches . . . though.)

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