Stamping out the humbug

 

My grandmother hated Christmas.

I didn’t realize this until several years after she passed away.  My aunt and I were talking about Christmas, and she told me that the holidays were stressful for my Nanny.  She took on the nasally twang of Nanny’s Alabama accent…  “It’s just never enough.  No matter what you do, or how much you spend, it’s never enough.

Because I don’t recall my family ever behaving as if her efforts were insufficient, I think that her feelings of inadequacy must have resulted from the fact that, in comparison to her Christmases spent on the farm in the 1920’s and ’30’s, listening to hymns on the radio and enjoying a quiet dinner with family (sans tree and gifts), the hoop-de-la surrounding the holidays had to have become quite overwhelming for her.

My grandparents made a meager living when they were raising their three children.  My grandmother’s days as a lunchroom worker in the middle school began at the crack of dawn.  When her work day was over, she loaded up the children and the laundry and dashed to the laundromat to commence the daily chore of washing the family’s clothes, then back home to fix dinner.

One would have hoped that the week or two around the holidays that the school was closed would have afforded Nanny a much-deserved break, but that was not to be.  She took on seasonal work at a local drugstore so that she could buy a few Christmas presents for her children and a discounted tree on Christmas Eve.

Every year I think of my grandmother around this time, and relate to her feelings of inadequacy more and more.

A decade ago or more, I started to notice subtle feelings of anxiety that would creep in to my psyche every fall when I noticed those first wisps of cool air.  If took some years before I was able to connect those feelings with the approach of the Christmas season.

In an attempt to sort this out, I think I have identified the factors that have added to my anxiety over what is supposed to be a magical season:

1.  It’s supposed to be a magical season.  As an adult with my own children, I am now responsible for creating that magic.  That is a lot of pressure.

2.   I never have time.  Creating magic is a time-consuming affair.  I work.  Two nights a week I come home and take my son to karate.  My husband doesn’t get off work till the kids are almost in bed.  I barely get time to floss my teeth.  And the closer we get to Christmas, the more pressed for time I become.

3.  Parting with money makes me very uneasy.  I love giving gifts, but I cannot begin to describe the fear that grips me when I spend hundreds to thousands on gifts, decor, and food.  Something in the back of my mind tells me that if I spend the money this month, my hot water heater will go next month, or maybe my car’s engine will blow.

The source of my anxiety can be summed up in those three simple facts.  Last year, I worked on a plan of attack.  I started thinking about the things that I enjoy about Christmas, and what steps I can take to make Christmas manageable and enjoyable.

1.  I took today off and sent my 2-year-old to her grandmother’s house to spend the day and stay overnight.  Today, I will clean the house at warp speed, decorate my mantle, organize the toy closets, pack my trunk with Goodwill boxes, wrap the few presents that I have already purchased, and work on my master list of gifts and recipes.

2.  I will make things, but change my expectations.  There was a time that I crocheted someone an afghan every year.  I baked an assortment of three to four different batches of festive cookies and prepared a little plate of them for each of my co-workers.  I hosted the holiday meal for my family and prepared most of the food for that, including a large pot of gumbo.  Once I admitted to myself that I simply could not do all of those things at this time in my life, I was able to change the expectations that I have for myself.  Last year I bought a set of mini-loaf pans and made loaves for everyone instead.  I still have the satisfaction of making something special, without the hassle of making and rolling out dough night after night.  The holiday meals will be at other people’s homes, so I will find a few special recipes and make those, making them ahead to freeze, if possible.  These tactics save time and money.

3.  I will do things that are Christmas-ey.   With the jump-start I will be getting today and the time I will be saving with my simpler approach to the holidays, I will sit with my children, enjoying hot chocolate while we watch Charlie Brown ponder the meaning of Christmas.  I will take my mother to see A Christmas Carol performed at the university.  I will sit with the family and admire the Christmas tree.

4.  I will pare down our comings and goings on Christmas day.  Until last year, my Christmas Eve was spent at my husband’s aunt’s house, Christmas morning breakfast and presents began promptly at 8 a.m. and his mother’s house, and then Christmas afternoon and evening were spent with my father, either at his house or ours.  Last year I had to kindly but firmly explain to my mother-in-law, whom I love dearly, that I can no longer maintain that schedule.  She bucked, but I insisted, and we showed up to her house at 10:30 a.m. instead.  My sisters-in-law whispered their thanks to me for breaking tradition.  I have also taken a sabbatical from hosting.  I hope to pick that back up in a year or two.

5.  I will love Christmas because my children love Christmas.  And this is why I am doing all of the above.  I want to be in the moment with my children.  It’s really all about them now.  I don’t want to look back and realize that I was so busy wringing my hands and stressing over this holiday that I never really enjoyed this special day with them.

And there we have it, my plan.  I hope this helps those who read it.  And if you have suggestions of your own, I’m all ears.

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About Joyce

40-year-old university advisor, 10-years married with two small children, trying to do it all and have it all and still manage the occasional social interaction through the wonderful world of blogging.
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15 Responses to Stamping out the humbug

  1. Traci says:

    It’s important to have Christmas traditions that can evolve with your life. I’ve had to rethink the whole issue of getting a live tree because that used to be something I did with my father before he became ill. Instead of giving up on a tree, I may have to expand that tradition to include others.

    • Joyce says:

      Ah, sorry to hear about your father! Yes, we have to adapt. I think one thing that makes Christmas a challenge, especially when coping with a loss, are the images that we get from commercials and catalogs and such…I mean, you start to think that if your Christmas is not like a Kay Jeweler’s commercial, then you’re doing something wrong.

  2. Lu says:

    Christmas, for our family, is downright weird.
    My husband, brother, father and I are all into the chilling, relaxing, eating, drinking – having smart conversations, quality time etc. etc. My mother and sister are into buying a ridiculous number of gifts for everyone – because it’s the thought that counts (apparently, only when you can hand something over physically. The irony…) “My Gang” have tried for years to get everyone to take it down a notch or two on the pressies, ‘cos, let’s face it – we’re all big and ugly enough to buy what we need, and it really ought not to be a competition of who bought/got the best presents this year.
    My husband and I usually host the food side of the get-togethers for as many of the family that can make it, because having my mother prepare Christmas dinner usually ends in tears and tantrums. That being said, last year – despite hosting everyone for Christmas Eve’s dinner AND we had grand plans laid out for the main day, my mother still managed to over-stress and promptly had a heart attack! (She’s absolutely fine now, by the way!)
    So yeah, I’d still prefer to take it down a notch or two. I’m almost dreading this year, but I’m actually trying not to think about it, at all!

    • Joyce says:

      Lu, that was my husband’s family too! When I first started spending holidays with them, I was embarassed by the size and number of the gifts that were exchanged. Once we started having children, I was able to convince my siblings-in-law to draw names, and that was well-received. Except that I will have to have a talk with a certain sister-in-law…she drew my name last year and spent $100 on me (more than the agreed-upon $40) and I happen to know that she drew my name again this year.

      I’m glad that your mother is doing fine! I would hope that the timing of her heart attack would be a signal to her…I hope that your Christmas this year is more relaxed and episode-free.

      • Lu says:

        Good luck convincing her! My mother and sister’s arguments for gift giving are along the lines of “they LOVE to give gifts”…more like “they LOVE to go shopping” – no matter the reason!
        Despite all of that, and I know it is a tad early, but – may you have a wonderful Christmas this year 🙂

      • Joyce says:

        And to you too, Lu!

  3. Joyce, I love your “Christmas Plan.” Is sounds like a good compromise that will allow you to maintain traditions while still enjoying the holiday. To address anxiety issue #3 (spending money), I’ve come to find DIY gifts to be helpful in this area. Instead of purchasing expensive presents, I’ll give someone a homemade and beautifully decorated batch of cookies, or a gorgeous bouquet of flowers that I arranged myself.

    – K.

    • Joyce says:

      I LOVE DIY gifting! Except that it bumps into anxiety issue #2 – time! However, I might crochet some spiral design scarves this year if I find a few free evenings. I used to love doing baskets of cookies, but that is on hiatus for now.

      And I love your idea of arranging some flowers. I used to go to Goodwill and buy inexpensive vases so that I could do my own arrangements, but it never occurred to me to do those for Christmas. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Your nanny sounds like she was a good woman. It’s a shame the holiday causes you such stress. I hope the plan helps and makes the holiday even better.

  5. Valerie says:

    I love your plan! I am definitely one to write out my problem(s) and then list ways to fix it step-by-step. 😀 What would I do without my lists?!

    • Joyce says:

      Thanks! Thinking about it rationally makes it easier to recognize that I am holding on to things that need to be let go – at least for now – in order to make room for new activities.

  6. Oh gosh, I know exactly how you feel. This time of year I just tend to shut down. I get so overwhelmed. I hope I can someday implement something like you did or else find a way to hibernate until the whole season is over! I seriously have been this way since a pretty small child..stressing over what to make for my parents and such…it has of course only got worse as I have started my own family…

  7. Pingback: The Best Past Posts (Says Me) « Atlantamomofthree

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