All I Want for Christmas Is... (to not be crabby)

A handful of years ago, on December 23rd, somewhere around midnight, I stood at our kitchen island, crying.  I had decided that year that I would make homemade gifts, because “everyone enjoys something made with love”.  Honestly, I think that’s sort of loaded crap.  It really depends on what it is, obviously, but I had practically killed myself over crafted gifts that I now believe no one really thought was like the best homemade whatever, ever.  But there I was, the day before we would enter into gift opening chaos, sobbing, as I tied on the last of the twined gift tags on tile coasters, and jarred the final batch of sugared cranberries (I know… I’m also still asking myself WHY).  The kitchen island was dimly lit by one expired light bulb and covered from end to end with cookies, ready to be bagged and tagged.  I counted obsessively.  I had run short.  “Who was getting eliminated?” I thought as I scrambled to figure out who was less important.  No, not really.  I would just need to determine what other homemade gift I could whip up in my manic state.  *turns to the iPad and opens Pinterest…. It’s 1am* 

Scott rubbed my back gently and mumbled something along the lines of “you know, you sort of did this to yourself…. No one was expecting this of you.”  I know he was coming from a caring place.  I seriously had laser beams shooting from my eyes.  Frickin’ laser beams.  But he was right.  

That was the last year I made homemade gifts.  

Why does Christmas always turn into this giant event of events and expectations?  Can we all just get the standard tree, string the twinkling lights, and throw some tinsel at it and call it a day?  Can we just agree to only buy the kids like 3 gifts each instead of the 25 that serve zero purpose other than to make your house look like Toys R Us relocated to your living room?  I don’t mean to sound bitter or that Christmas has lost all meaning to me, but in all reality, it has become exhausting.  

I used to love it.  But then I got a job at 21 at the corporate level for a retailer and learned quickly how awful humans can be during the holidays.  Sucked the joy RIGHT out.   

After we started our family, I saw joy again.  In the faces of my beautiful children as they would beam with glee at each gift and every glistening tree.  Then they decided to share their disappointment in gift choices…. after they’ve already raided the house and knew exactly what they would be receiving.  

The expectations of the holidays are draining.  Every year I tell myself I’m going to take a step back, slow down, enjoy the meaning of Christmas and…. START SHOPPING EARLIER...right.  Who am I kidding.   

Here’s where I go drastically wrong….

We have had every tree incident, minus a fire.  The oversized tree that didn’t fit on the car, so the farm owner had to drive it home for us.  The fat tree that didn’t fit through the front door.  But once we shoved it through, it shot pine needles in every corner of our house.  The leaning tree that had to be fish lined and tacked to the corner of a wall.  The tree that the kitten climbed and knocked down and broke a dozen ornaments…..twice.  The tree that had crawlies, the tree that died in week one, the tree that was too tall (and people, we have a vaulted ceiling so you do the math).  I immediately have tree-envy (yes, that’s a thing) when I open Instagram.  Our tree always looks like it has tried too hard.  I spend a couple days moving ornaments around or buying ribbon and pretending I know what I’m doing with it.  It’s just a tree.  This year, I think I’ll just let the kids have at it.  All those perfect Rockefeller trees can suck it.   

I seriously have the willpower of a dog left alone in front of a fully plated dinner table.  Why others choose to diet or opt for a juice cleanse over indulging in the crap food gift baskets at work is beyond me.  Those baskets are gold.  But, the choice to fill my pie hole with...well, pie, and double up on the wine and fudge during the holidays just leaves me with a fluffy midsection, parched skin and a fat ass.  So when my holiday party outfits don’t fit, I wallow in my pie-sweat sorrows on the floor of my closet and make a mad dash to Target to find a billowy top that is kind.  NOBODY is ready for this jelly.  Maybe I’ll opt for the juice cleanse this year and avoid the misery come January when the party’s over and the fat lady is singing. 

There are 25 days in December that really matter.  December 1-Christmas Day.  That leaves 25 days for the holiday festivities - that is, if you’re not the crazy person who put their lights up and started Christmas shopping in July.  “Christmas in July” doesn’t mean you actually begin Christmas, people.  It’s like the minute the clock hits midnight on December 1st, the checkered flag drops and the crazy takes off.  Between December 1 to 25, there’s quite possibly a gazillion events, parties, light festivals, school or music performances, church events, nutcrackers, santa visits, craft fairs, bazaars, and cookie decorating gatherings.  Who has time for all of this.  Where do we fit in the shopping for presents and being a normal human being?  I’m lucky if I can fit in a pee.  December 26 is probably my favorite day of the year. 

Typically, come September, I deflect all requests for new things that the kids want to a standardized response.  “Great!  Put it on your Christmas wish list!  It’s just around the corner, you know?”  This is always followed by an eye roll and a “But, Moooooooooooooom!!”  By December, I have probably repeated this response 9,241 times.  At this point, they’re asking for a Kit-Kat at the grocery store check-out and I’m giving the same response.  Because I am tired, I am overwhelmed and I haven’t even begun shopping yet.  I created monsters.  I unintentionally gave them 3 months to keep track of all the things their little greedy hearts desire and they cannot cull this list to save their lives. 

I am never fully prepared for this event.  I force a grin and “congrats!” to any of my friends who openly admit that they’ve had their Christmas cards printed already by early November.  One year I made a PSA on Facebook to my family and friends, stating that they all knew what we looked like and what we were up to, thanks to the wonderfully made social media and internet of things.  The responses to that post?  You would have thought I was announcing that we were no longer celebrating Christmas.  I guess I hadn’t stopped to think about how precious and cherished those Tiny Print (not-so-tiny cost, whatsoever) 4X6 picture cards really were.  Message was delivered loud and clear.  But that doesn’t stop me from 100% procrastinating on having them printed.  Hello! December 23rd!

All humor and angst about the stress of Christmas aside, it is truly the most special holiday.  I have memories that are as strong now as they were when they were originally made.  

The nativity scenes my mother painted on our front room windows.  The wreath that hung on their door each year, brought to them by their friend and real estate agent.  The Muppet puppet show I was gifted one year that was quickly my most prized possession.  The cabbage patch doll that dad brought back from Japan, my first curling iron, a Barbie, the game Mouse Trap and a Skip-it.  Celebrating with our extended family, late in to the evenings, kids on sugar highs, the boys with their GI Joes and us girls with holes in our tights, carting around baby dolls.  The church program where I was a sheep in the nativity, and the piano concerts where poinsettias lined the top of the upright piano and cascaded across the floor.  The handmade heavy clay ornaments that my mother made one year.  I can still sense how they felt in my hands when we would unbox them and find a sturdy tree branch to place them.  I still remember seeing my mother fill my stocking one really late night before she poured herself into bed, tired albet, from prepping for family the next day.  My dad in a suit jacket and red tie for Christmas morning service.  He has always made an effort to dress up in his best for God’s house.  Then, and every Sunday since.  Oh!  And the bowl of mixed shelled nuts and silver plated nut crackers that would sit next to his favorite chair.  I would pinch my hands now and then, but his hands were always strong and well seasoned at getting the perfect crack.  My mother would help decorate the church for Christmas every year.  It donned handmade wreaths, banners, and ornaments of gold and white dressed the trees that looked like they were 100 feet tall.  And advent candles would be lit each Sunday before Christmas.  

I’m most positive my parents felt the pinch of the holidays now and again.  With three kids and no online shopping?  Oh, the horror.  They never over did the holidays, but made them just perfect in my eyes.  Small traditions made big impacts on my memories that I still hold dear today.   

Small impacts, Small efforts, big impacts.  Ok, noted.  

Back to the truth.  The truth in the Christmas season.  Gifts, trees, baking, and all the festivities aside.  We spend so much time looking at the calendar watching the days in December pass by and stress about what’s next, what we haven’t done yet, or haven’t bought, that we don’t sit and enjoy the season of beauty in front of us.  

How do you make space in your December to breath in the reason of the season and leave the hustle behind?