I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
— Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Every year there seem to be some lingering decorations to put away long after the holidays have passed. Maybe that’s why it feels like Christmas is either coming or going. After all, there are only 293 shopping days left.
Today is Christmas Day, the day most of you are observing the coming of little baby Jesus, born of an immaculate conception in a lowly manger in the middle of nowhere. I, conversely, am celebrating the triumph of another holiday conquered, the likes of which I have never experienced nor care to again.
What follows is a tactical guide — a collection of intellect, wisdom, instinct and sheer luck for the ill-prepared.
These holiday things come every year, based on traditions your ancestors established decades ago. How hard can it be?
Very hard. Your ancestors were not trying to update their Facebook status, remember the password to their health provider network, or search Jell-O recipes on Pinterest. Their kids weren’t juggling three jobs, and they weren’t considering radiation therapy for their dog. Their traditions evolved while dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh was still a thing.
Unless your job is lawn-mowing, your career does not shut down in December. Plan for the worst. I shouldn’t have expected to accept a new position, work nine to ten hours a day, attend two holiday potlucks, one all-staff meeting, a congratulatory lunch, and a two-day regional meeting all while training in my replacement, but that’s what happened.
The whole year sort of went like that. Time off has been hard to work in. Rather than lose it with the close of 2014, I practically accepted my new position and asked for three days off all in the same breath. I don’t recommend that.
We all react to holidays differently. Most of us want to feel some sort of control over it. Unfortunately, the minute you join your life with someone else’s, you have to relinquish some of that control through compromise.
Overheard at my house:
“Do you use scissors to cut this wrapping paper, or just chew it with your bare teeth?”
Expectations run rampant at Christmas, and it is important to talk about what each person expects. I suggest alcohol, or at the very least, chocolate. No one is right or wrong. Unmet expectations lead to disappointment and resentment. What is each person’s deal-breaker for the holiday? Where can you go with the flow? If there are contradicting deal-breakers, work that out first.
The best advice has already been given by those much smarter than I. Don’t go into debt over Christmas gifts. Anyone who would wish you to do so, isn’t worth the price of wrapping paper.
So the second-best advice I can give is to remember to pay your bills. I have every excuse in the book. I was working extra-long hours, they got lost under the clutter, I thought I had paid them . . . by the way, none of these will get you out of paying that pesky little late fee. Grrr….
December is not a good time to begin a remodeling project. Especially one that leaves your bathroom completely out-of-order. Instead of hanging up lights and tinsel, I was wiping up dust and chunks of sheet rock. I finally gave in and bought a faux tree, just because I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to keep one more thing alive .
My holiday shopping has been equal parts gifts and food, and shower fixtures and tile. My head hurt, and my wallet was smoking.
Luckily, I have another bathroom. The guests were not confined to peeing outside with the dog. But more than once I asked myself,
“What was I thinking?”
The more people you have in your life, the more complicated this all becomes. Not only do you each bring a variety of expectations, but everyone has their own set of day-to-day obstacles like work, school, significant others and finances to worry about. And the more these people mean to you, the more their worries affect you, too.
The day my daughter texted that someone stole her wallet, I had a full-on hot flash even before I read the next text that said,
“Oh wow I just found it.”
Stress leaves us open to the heartbreak of those we love, rather than a foundation they can lean on.
Bubba’s family lives in northwest Minnesota. No. Really. When I say northwest I mean THE northwest corner of the northwest county.
If you are traveling before the holidays, make sure you budget that into your preparation time. Especially if you will be in the middle of nowhere with no access to malls, grocery stores or even the internet. Lacking these resources when you are painfully low on days-til-Christmas and locked in a car with a significant other, his son, and a dog is a dangerous experiment.
Remember that your pets can feel your anxiety. Poor little Sabbath was lacking her regular walks, listening to the demolition of the bathroom while she was otherwise alone in the house, watching me run around like a crazed woman, and confused about the decorations and gifts.
She opened a gift of olive oil from under the tree, chewed off the lid, and spilled it on the carpet. Up until then, I was very patient with her. But at that point, it was T minus 3 hours till guests arrived . . . and me running the steam cleaner, of all things.
To top it off, the weather has been so warm that the back yard melted. One hour after the oil incident, she came in full of mud. The kitchen now needed mopping and the dog needed a bath.
Make sure you are holding on to traditions because they suit your family, and not simply performing them because that is how they have always been done. If someone has passed, or a family has split, it may be the right time to change a ritual, or it may be the perfect time to hold it dear.
I make Butter Currant Tarts every year because the recipe was brought to the United States by my Canadian grandmother. I make them in remembrance of her, although my youngest daughter says it’s because I’m doing weird stuff that old people do like making things that nobody likes. (For the record, my older son downed about half the batch in one sitting.)
I put lights on the shrubs and leave them lit as long as Bubba can stand it, Valentine’s Day if possible. They cheer me up in the middle of the dark, bitterly cold Minnesota winter.
Exchanging gifts is one of my favorite traditions of the holiday. I see the joy of giving in the eyes of my adult children, and it pleases me greatly.
In the aftermath, my feet and back ache. The house is a mess. Muffin tins and fondue pots wait to be put away. I ask myself if it was all worth it. A light snow has started to drift down from the grey sky. The furnace breathes and the dog shifts.
Christmas is a season when our family spends time thinking of each other. We contemplate what each person enjoys, what they need, or what growth we want to inspire. We support them, feed them, pour them a drink, and we delight in their happiness. I can’t think of anything else as worthy in the world.