There is a recurring debate among friends and family as to when is an appropriate time to pull out the Christmas decorations and start celebrating the season whole-hog. I am notorious for being one of the earliest pro-Christmas folks. I guess I come by it naturally; my mother is the same way, and some of my favorite childhood memories involve dancing around the living room with all the “normal” lights off, giddy in the glow of twinkling Christmas lights. It seems that every year, I can’t wait for an excuse to pull out gallons of green and red stuff, sparkling garland, and absurd knick-knacks, crank up the Bing Crosby, and bake until my oven dies of exhaustion.
But what used to be such a joyous time of year in my childhood has never really been the same as an adult. Perhaps the reason I’m so anxious to start this time of year is because I feel absolutely overwhelmed at the thought of cramming it into just under 4 weeks. If we really wait until December 1st like so many people would prefer, that gives us 23 days to decorate, shop, wrap, party, bake, and execute every tradition that remains important to us. (In my case, 22 days, since my youngest’s birthday falls on the oh-so-inconvenient day before Christmas Eve. I firmly refuse to be one of those Scrooge Moms who does a holiday/birthday combo celebration.) Where’s the time to relax? To just chill and enjoy? To dance around the living room beneath the twinkling lights?
I know, I know. I should throw out a few of those “must-dos”, forget some of the less important traditions, take more time to relax and enjoy. But that’s easier said than done. Especially since every year, I end up feeling like I failed at doing the Christmas thing to my own satisfaction.
See, there’s this thing called burnout.
Most people probably experience it right about when they should – as soon as the presents are opened, the wrapping paper disposed of, and the bellies full of Christmas dinner. But I experience burnout much earlier – somewhere around, you guessed it, mid-December. By the time holiday preparations and celebrations are in full swing for everyone else, I feel deflated and overwhelmed. I realize how little I’ve accomplished; my house is still half-decorated, I’ve barely picked up a few filler presents and wrapped absolutely nothing; I’ve managed to watch exactly 2 Christmas movies of the eighty million I own.
I spend so much time forcing myself to wait, to hold off for a couple more weeks, that by the time I should be in the ultimate Christmas spirit, I’ve lost my mojo. I’ve never figured out the solution to this problem, and I’m not sure if I ever will.
But I’ve come to realize that my kids are never going to enjoy the magic of the Christmas season if their only memories of it are frazzled Mommy complaining that half the decorations never made it out of the box. My whining about it feels like a disclaimer – as if by letting everyone know that half the decorations never got put up, I’ve taken responsibility for being a holiday failure, so we can all move on and enjoy a mediocre Christmas. Yet, as a child, I never could have told you if my mom left half the Christmas decorations in the box; all it took was one glorious string of lights to turn our living room into a magical wonderland.
I’m coming to terms with the fact that this is true for my kids, too. Each time I pull out a new string of lights, it’s a chorus of amazed gasps all over again. To them, the Christmas season was in full swing from the moment I let them have a candy cane. What they take with them into adulthood as their favorite part(s) of the Christmas season isn’t for me to decide, anyway. It’s not going to be the fact that Mom baked every type of Christmas cookie, watched Miracle on 34th Street four hundred times, and hung decorations until the house looked like the North Pole threw up. It will probably be the little things, the things that are beyond my control.
So I’m letting go.
To the best of my ability, I’m accepting the fact that there will probably never be a holiday season when I achieve my insane Martha-Stewart-meets-It’s-A-Wonderful-Life goals. I’m not sure why I have them, anyway. If I delve into the psychology of it all, I could say it’s because Christmastime was the only time growing up when I felt my family really come together – the one time when my dad could manage to shut his mouth on a hurtful comment, a time when my mom’s smile was more genuine than forced. And even if things became less than pleasant, I could always escape to the living room and lose myself under the Christmas lights. So the holidays, for me, represent a chance to right all the wrongs of the year, to Band-Aid all the times when I lost my temper with my kids (or my husband), to make sure positive memories far outweigh the negative before the calendar starts anew.
Perhaps there’s a similar realization for all of us at this time of year – a way in which we need to either let go or step it up. We owe it to our loved ones. We owe it to ourselves. It doesn’t have to be something big or life-changing; it can be as simple as forgiving someone (perhaps even yourself), moving on, or resolving to change an attitude that needs some work. There is no better time of year to appreciate the little things, yet I know perhaps better than anyone just how easy it is to get wrapped up – pun intended – in the big things.
Forget starting over in January. Let’s start in December.
…or, in my case, November.