By Julie Keysor and Lisa Paglierani
Christmas is easily my favorite holiday, and the fact that it surrounds us for an entire month is part of its allure. It also makes for a crazy, harried few weeks. It’s all too easy to become overwhelmed in December. When I envision my to-do list (you know, the one I ought to actually write down, instead of having it chatter constantly through my head), I picture an elf unfurling a sheath of paper as long as Santa’s “nice” list. There’s so much to do, to make perfect. There are presents to buy (and hide, and wrap on the sly), elves to relocate (every day!), events galore, and increasing pressure to decorate like Martha. Creating magical memories for the next generation is a pretty big responsibility.
A few years ago, I caught myself breathing a sigh of relief on December 26 and saying, “I’m glad it’s over. ” What? Shame on me. I never want to be glad Christmas is over! Though to be fair, I know I’m not the only parent to have ever felt that way. To feel relief at the end of the holiday season means that we haven’t thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and that’s no fair to us, we who work so hard to make everything so special for our families.
I vowed to avoid that post-holiday feeling in the future. While this primarily entails being mindful of the encompassing joy, as opposed to the hassle (by no means an easy task), I have developed a couple other strategies to make the holidays a bit merrier for me, and as a result, my family.
First, I rely heavily on tradition. Over the course of our years together, my family has developed its own little rituals. We know where we will celebrate Christmas Day, what foods we will prepare, even our favorite way to wind the lights around the tree. When things feel familiar, when they don’t require ingenuity, life is simpler. If I serve my family the same Christmas Eve lasagna I’ve been making for a decade, it’s not because I lack creativity, or because I can mindlessly assemble the layers, it’s because it’s tradition. If I’m feeling particularly motivated or inspired, I can change things up. If not, no one is going to complain.
Next, I have learned that it’s okay to bow out of opportunities for holiday fun, and to cut back. A couple of Decembers ago my husband and his sister took the kids on an overnight trip to Newport. They had a blast and I was sorry to miss it…kind of. I stayed home with the baby, put her to bed early, and wrapped every last present while watching movies on TV. It was wonderful, and I plan to skip a similar family trip this year. Another sanity-saver has been my husband’s and my recent mutual decision to not exchange gifts. Neither of us is wanting for anything, and now we will have one less thing to fret over during this frantic time.
Armed with these strategies, I will fight the feeling of rising panic as the days before Christmas dwindle away. I will glue another cotton ball on the paper Santa’s growing beard, and crack open another day on the chocolate advent calendar. I will enjoy myself this month, confident that any tasks not completed to perfection by December 25 could not have been that important in the first place.
I love Christmas. It’s one of my favorite holidays. I love the “warmth” the holiday spirit brings—connections with family and friends and the burst of humanity that often shines a little brighter. In years past I’ve welcomed the ‘get into the holiday spirit’ with early decorations, lots of holiday baking, and typically a craft of some sort. In my 20’s and 30’s I was big-time into Christmas. Often creating a craft that took several months to prepare, baking special creations for family and friend parties, and decorating my home weeks before Christmas.
But things are very different now. I still love Christmas. I love the holiday spirit; I love to shop for gifts for the kids; I love to cook. But things are different. I like to put lights in the windows (always makes me think of old New England homes). I like to look at the lights lining the town streets, homes, and churches. But I have little time to really get in the holiday spirit. I have so little time! Getting the decorations out means that I have to put them back—a task I hate after Christmas.
The past few years we’ve held off on getting our house decorated so the kids didn’t get overly excited too early—perhaps giving me an excuse to take my excitement down a notch. But the kids are excited. Now. So as I write this, I’m finding myself thinking…can I/should I do more? I have so many wonderful memories of Christmas as a child. My brother and I rearranged presents every night as soon as they began to accumulate under the tree. I remember making marzipan cookies with my mother (and I remember eating every other one on the cookie sheet!). I remember playing Christmas songs with my brother and dancing around the room singing carols. I remember singing Christmas Carols to our neighbors and in nursing homes.
As I write this I find myself wondering what kind of memories are my kids developing. Do they have the warm, fuzzy Christmas holiday memories I had as a kid? I’m not so sure. They are big on presents and they are excited about having an Elf on the shelf. When did that come about? It’s new to me—am I that out of it? We’ve made homemade Christmas ornaments. But we don’t have a particular cookie or treat that we make at Christmas. We don’t have memorable family times filled with singing. And we don’t laugh enough and enjoy this time of the year.
So check in with me next year. My early New Year’s resolution is to do a better job fostering the holiday spirit in my kids. I might need to start with this Elf on the Shelf thing. Many wishes to all of you for a pleasant, warm and memorable holiday season.