Slow down season

I am not crazy about the holiday season.

There, I’ve said it. Go ahead with your heckling and bah-humbug jokes.

It’s not that anything traumatic has ever happened at Christmas to make me dread it. It’s mostly that there’s this weird thing that happens: if you do something once that turns out to not suck, you try it again the next year. If you do something two years in a row, it’s tradition, and suddenly, God forbid you buy your tree from any other lot, or miss the Real Santa, with the Real Beard and the Big Laugh who hangs out only at this event on this particular day.

When you’re a parent, there’re a whole lot of those traditions to pass down to your own kids, and then all kinds of new traditions that somehow take root. It’s like OCD, holiday edition. Don’t forget to set up the holiday model train that never works, or use those tree-shaped hangers that always seem on the verge of falling off the mantle and stabbing someone who’s grabbing at a stocking.

I am so grateful the Elf on the Shelf thing was never a phenomenon in our home. I bristle a little bit when I’m told what to do, and figuring out what to do with the dang Elf on a daily basis would have probably driven me to drink.

You know what I mean. Drink more.

I think my biggest issue with the holiday season is the fact that there is just so much going on, that we don’t have the ability to really enjoy little things. Put that together with the fact that this is a crazy time of year for me professionally, and I feel like I’m perpetually behind.

Decorations shouldn’t feel like a chore. Going to holiday parties shouldn’t elicit a sigh. I love each of these things by themselves.

(This is one of our holiday traditions: heading up the hill to gawk at our crazy neighbor’s house)

One year, we shucked all the tradition and went to Hawaii in December. The kids were young and we took my mom and my sister. That trip was supposed to be a celebration of my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary, but turned out to be the year we had to learn to celebrate the season without Dad.

The trip was wonderful and it was terrible at the same time, missing that person who was supposed to be there. And it was a blessing to be able to skip over all those traditions he loved, just until the pinch of grief relaxed just a little.

Last week, on Thanksgiving morning, my mom called at 4 am. She’d fallen and her neck hurt. A lot. Later that day, I brought her home from the hospital, with a big collar and a prescription for pills that made her woozy. There were a dozen or so people at my house who were missing us, but Mike had managed the dishes we were contributing to the meal, and putting the tablecloth out and making sure the house looked presentable.

I started thinking about our to-do list for the coming weeks: the holiday letter, the presents that needed to be in the mail yesterday if they were to get to their international addresses sometime before spring.

And then it was Sunday, and I was yelling at everyone to get in the car so we could get to church close to when the service actually started. We couldn’t miss the first Sunday in Advent, after all, with all the music and the decorations and our friends.

And the sermon, of all things, was about being mindful of Christ’s return.

Now this isn’t a religious blog, nor am I willing or even remotely prepared to debate anything spiritual with anyone. I just wanted to point out the moment of panic I had right then with the fact that, on top of everything else, Jesus is expected to just pop in sometime, and we’re supposed to be ready.

"If your Christmas cookies don't have armpit hair, I'm leaving" - Jesus
“If your Christmas cookies don’t have armpit hair, I’m leaving.” – Jesus

I personally think that’s kind of thoughtless. I mean, this is a crazy time of year and all, getting ready for your dang birthday, anyway, Jesus. Could you cut us some slack with the “I may just drop by for a bit if I’m in the neighborhood” shtick?

So, after the service, we’re talking with some friends about mom and her collar and how she’s going to be walking like a robot for the next two months. Our friends are physical therapists, and like medical professionals everywhere, they like to scare the crap out of people by pointing out all the instances where something like what happened to your mom has happened to someone else with vastly different and tragic results. Like the man who hit his neck on the coffee table and is now a quadriplegic, or the teenage girl who slipped in the shower and died.

So the upshot is this: Jesus could arrive any day, and catch us without our lights up or the Christmas letter done, and he’ll just have to cope. I’m going to take my time and enjoy the fact that we still have mom – albeit with a ginormous neck brace – as well as all of our rowdy family who welcomed us home from the hospital with heaping plates of everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving recipes.

The lights will go up when they go up.

And, they’ll probably stay up until Easter. Because that’s kind of our thing.


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  1. I really hate the obligations of Christmas. If I\’m going to do something, it\’s because I super puffy heart it! Not because I have to do it. When the boys were little, we homeschooled and it was easy to downplay. Not once we put them in public school, though. It\’s way too much and it is miserable.

    1. The super puffy heart designation is a requirement around here, too! And you\’re right, the school thing exacerbates all the holiday \”requirements.\” It\’s maddening!

  2. I am rolling on the floor and trying to catch my breath after reading your cookie quote from Jesus.

    I asked myself a few years ago while dreading the chore, \”What would happen if I DIDN\’T write and send Christmas letters (or cards)?\”
    And I didn\’t send them that year. I was free, and I enjoyed the freedom and lightness of mood and heart. The following year, I wanted the freedom from card duty again. It was exhilarating. I was a rebel. I will never burden myself with that chore ever again. Come over to the free side, Manicmom! Ditch the letter-writing at Christmastime! You could send letters in the summer when life is less chaotic.

  3. Your letters are one of my favorite things about Christmas. I love the humor and love that permiate that little letter. Skip the lights, skip the cards and just do the letter. I might be so grateful to get one that I might mail you a box of cookies (without armpit hair).

    1. Thanks Sally! I\’m glad someone reads it. I kind of enjoy that little letter. Just last year I found a stash of old ones and read back through them. I can\’t believe the stupid stuff I tell people about our year. And, oh my gosh, Sally\’s cookies-without-armpit-hair? That would be a treat! <3

  4. Oh, I\’ve had plenty of years that I\’ve tolerated, or even dreaded Christmas instead of enjoyed it! This year, I\’m trying extra hard to calm it down a bit and really enjoy it! It\’s still crazy, but so far I\’ve been loving it! I hope you survive this Christmas season!

  5. Nice post, Beth. It is funny how you just sort of acquire traditions. Here\’s one of my family\’s that started a few years ago: Christmas Eve candlelight service (has to be the one at 5:00/5:30 because the one at 7:00/7:30 is PACKED!), local Mexican restaurant for dinner, home, and then grab the dog to join us for driving around the neighborhood to look at all the lights. It\’s simple and stress free, the only stress actually coming from the crowds getting in and out of the church. 🙂

    1. Thank you. That actually sounds lovely, especially the part about going out to eat (you know, where someone else cooks and cleans up and worries about the menu). I could get into that. Our Christmas Eve tradition involves a large holiday party and the first of two rounds of presents opened.

  6. Typically I really do love the holidays. I love being with my family (sort of? lol) and exchanging gifts, etc…. But this year, I am just not really into it. I sort of wish I never went home last week for Thanksgiving and this XMAS is going to be weird because my whole family isn\’t going to be together. And then I am off to NZ and AUS! woo woo! ha ah!