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.