It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

 In Weekly Forum Discussion

Who doesn’t enjoy the build up!  The frustrations of the Christmas ‘look’ … digging through boxes upon boxes to find decorations, tangled string lights that would drive even the most patient to snap, Christmas tree lights that have burned out, and realizing that what could only have been a moment of insanity, you or someone else threw out the tacky but immensely sentimental pieces for more elegant decor that would make Martha Stewart proud.

There are other holiday tasks worthy of full-on paragraphs but I’ll spare you the details: the maniacs on the road, the parking spot thieves, the rude people in the line ups, overpriced toys and the ‘last one left’ wars.  There is working our way through overcrowded malls that leave us more exhausted than if we had run the Boston Marathon.  The stress of meeting the Christmas dinner expectations of everyone and their uncle is obnoxious!  There’s always some jackass ready to point out that the ambrosia salad wasn’t made.  He or she usually just shows up. Yah, and the uninvited guests!  Thanks for the consideration.  That’s the spirit!  Ah, the joys of Christmas!

Why do we do it if we end up having to drink spiced rum with store-bought ‘nog at a 4:1 ratio?

In the midst of the insanity there is this ‘thing’ in the air.  For me, Christmas is part of my upbringing and is fundamentally important because of my faith, but you don’t have to be religious to celebrate the one time of the year that a holiday has a tremendous impact on our lives.  More than any other holiday, Christmas is the one that makes us the most frantic.   Heck, stores start putting out their Christmas displays even before Halloween!  Christmas may be indefinable for some and clearer for others, but there is this sense that it’s time to let your people know you love them and they matter – and this is the real commonality for everyone that celebrates Christmas.  Even though we communicate with our loved ones throughout the year, there is something special about knowing someone is thinking about you during the holidays … we all know this is the time when family and friends come to the forefront of our thoughts.  Sometimes it is an opportunity to tell the people that have improved our quality of life that they’re appreciated and that we notice how great they are at what they do (i.e. my doctors and pharmacist are always acknowledged in some way.)  It is the time of year, that everyone who celebrates Christmas wants to hear “Merry Christmas” – whether they’re Christian or tradition-loving atheists!  My Hindu friend’s eyes twinkle like Santa’s when she describes her Christmas tree.  Christmas is celebrated by at least two billion people all over the world and no one can deny that on some level, it is a powerful force disguised as a jolly, chunky bearded man dressed in red.

The truth is that, for all the chaos it causes in our lives, all the headaches it can induce and all the complaining echoed between us when we share what’s left to get done, a good percentage of the population would miss the magic!  My brother may complain about the list of things he has to complete before the 24th,  but he is always the first one to decorate the house, invite the people he loves over and be disappointed if someone he cares about can’t make it out.  He always has After Eights in a cigar box, ornaments he made when he was a little boy on his own family tree, and he can’t put up the outdoor Christmas lights without knowing that when he gets inside there will be eggnog and shortbread cookies readily available.  He prefers to do this work with some of his siblings keeping him company because he knows that cursing and groaning and sharing laughs over how darn cold it is, is part of the fun.  He appreciates tradition, loves family and lives for Christmas!

So, I’ve come to see that despite the two weeks we need after the holidays just to replenish the energy we’ve exerted, Christmas is more than worth it – it’s the filling in the crust of a long winter.  Christmas is, if nothing else, a time for peace, it is hopeful and it is a massive ‘I love your guts out’ to those that you worry about throughout the year, the same people that worry about you, the ones that make you the happiest and keep you together and, sometimes, even an opportunity for those that are exceptional at letting family down to step up and redeem themselves.  Yes, it is that magical!

I think what we struggle with the most is how we tap into that good stuff and stop ourselves from falling into the hype of what we’re told Christmas should be.  This year I just told myself that I’m not going to have expectations, in order to prevent myself from any disappointment.  I also told myself I was going to tell the meaningful people in my life that I love them and this may be done in the form of a call, a text, an email, a mailed card or a small gift, but it won’t be something I feel obligated to do.  This year, there was no real list with merchandise I felt I ‘must’ purchase for so and so.  Was I stressed out at some points when I realized I still felt I wanted to buy some presents and I waited way too long?  Yes, but I also didn’t go crazy and equate my expression of love to the value of a gift.  I also didn’t feel obligated to give everyone the exact amount … as if Christmas were nothing more than a monetary figure.  I made plans to see those I wanted to see, and I understood that others had to do the same.  I didn’t allow myself to get sucked into the vortex of the Christmas script.

This year I bought only for my family.  I did not have time for more.  Adults got small symbolic gifts, older nephews and nieces got a token gift card and the youngest three children received gifts that were a little bit more thought out in advance.  Everyone in my family received Christmas cards – I wanted to take the time to write personal messages to each family member and so I did.  Some friends living further away received more formal messages of Christmas communication and local friends received texts.  I made a house out of orange peels for my mom so she could remember one of the few pleasant memories she has from childhood.  I did not make the gingerbread houses with my young nephews or cookies with my young niece – or send presents in advance of Christmas out to my older nephews and nieces located further away.  It would have been nice if I had the time this year, but it did not work out that way and I am seeing everyone on the 27th.

I spent Christmas Eve with the family members that live nearby.  We ate Christmas Eve dinner together, sang karaoke Christmas songs and broke out into laughter when we destroyed the Twelve Days of Christmas.  I went to midnight mass by myself, where I sang to Christmas songs along with the choir.  I enjoyed hearing drums explode through the church, took in the beauty of lit candles in the darkness, and then drove home in peace.

I slept at my parents so I could have breakfast with the family.  As I write this, I am waiting for everyone to get together for Christmas Day dinner and it is more low key than usual and I love it.  I considered going home but I realized that in order to live by my values, I wanted to stay because it would make my mother and father happy.   This is important to me this year since they are getting much older.

What is the secret to having a Christmas experience that is more loving and less loathing?

I think Christmas should never be about obligation after obligation and that, in and of itself, is the greatest recipe for making Christmas great.  I think it is about the balance of doing good things for loved ones and, yes, strangers, but doing so in a way that makes sense to us in any given moment.  I think Christmas is about hugs, laughter, kind words and acceptance more than it is about ‘holiday perfection’.  We tend to forget this.  Christmas is about being with the ones we love in this imperfect world where sometimes everything goes wrong.  Christmas exists even if the whole meal burns, gifts are few or non-existent, money is tight, and there are hardships in the family … IF we truly take time to appreciate what is going right and are grateful for who we do have around us.  We just need to make a solid attempt to be like the Whos and quiet our little Grinch hearts.  These are the Christmases that lead me to feel compassion for the relative or other unexpected guest that shows up out of the blue.  It isn’t easy to take in a family of four out of nowhere but they’re likely at your door for a reason.  Maybe there is enough to show some goodwill!  Suddenly, there is plenty of room and the idea of spreading the love makes all the sense in the world.  Just don’t utter a word about a missing dish, surprise visitor, and we’re good!

I have today and the 27th as Christmas time, the latter of which will be held at my youngest brother’s house and includes absolutely everyone in my larger family.  I plan to do what I’ve been doing this season up to this point: making sure whatever I do in the next few days, is coming from the heart, instead of what’s expected.  I will also try to remember that this is the time to be a little more giving and forgiving and a lot less irritated!

Merry Christmas!

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