Christmas stresses me out like you can imagine.
I hate to even see that in print. I don’t want to let on to my friends that I am not Peaceful Joyce. In my carefully managed web presence, I do not willingly let on that every year on December 1, I morph into Stressball Joyce. And if I don’t stop and reign myself in, contemplate what I’m doing and why, the holidays will, without fail, go by me in a blur without my ever thinking to enjoy them.
I’ve confronted the sources of this anxiety before. I’ve even made a list of those factors. And still I recognize that more than anything, my quest for perfection creates unmanageable expectations that I can never fulfill. Fueled by catalogs and commercials depicting idyllic Christmas scenes, my list grows and grows: I’m going to make candy. I want to bake cookies. I want to crochet a scarf. We should go to a Christmas concert. Perhaps my mantle needs a garland.
I know that with each addition to my list, I make myself crazier and less satisfied. Joy becomes elusive. I have to get my list under control or it will sink me.
So, I whittle the list. What do I really want out of this holiday? What brings joy to me and those around me? What things will we cherish? These are things that deserve my focus.
1. I want to watch Christmas cartoons with my children. When I started having children and envisioned holiday time, this is one of the first activities that sprang to mind: me, curled up on the couch with my pups, drinking hot chocolate and watching Rudolph. My plan was nearly derailed by my indignant 7-year-old, who was highly annoyed that I was making him watch this “stupid baby puppet cartoon” but we resolved that conflict by shifting gears to The Grinch.
2. I want to bake cookies on Christmas Eve for Santa. Not that I am holding grudges against my mother by any means, but I recall a disappointing Christmas Eve when my mother had spent the day shopping and had to break the news to me that there simply was no time to bake cookies for Santa. She hated to tell me and I hated to hear it. Fortunately, it is 2013 and we have premade tubes of cookie dough, and we have colored sprinkles, and that will be good enough for now. I want my children to remember the thrill of baking for Santa, of smelling the cookies baking, and of waking up to find that he had eaten something they had made.
3. I want to make this really awesome red velvet cake. My friend’s mother made this phenomenal cake for years. Moist, rich red velvet layers, cream cheese frosting with ground walnuts – it was a stunner. I finally worked up the nerve to ask for the recipe bless her heart for all eternity, she gave it to me. I can tell this is a vintage recipe because it calls for Oleo. I will give you bonus points and a hunk of my cake if you can tell me what Oleo is.
4. I do want to make some candy. I’ve actually already started, and my approach to keeping things sane was to choose one easy recipe, which I believe I have done. This year teacher and colleague gifts will be peppermint patties, and if you decide you want to make this, let’s talk, because I can give you a few tips.
5. I want to send Christmas cards. This activity fell off the map when the kids came. Some things just had to go, and this was one of the first. But people don’t send cards like they used to, and I want to do my part to keep the tradition going, because it is such a sweet, simple gesture to put a pretty card in the mail to a loved one.
6. I want to remember the reason for the season. Here’s a hint: it’s not presents, it’s not garland, it’s not the Elf on the Shelf, it’s not the hundreds of details and obligations we pile upon ourselves at this time of year. It’s not even red velvet cake. It’s Jesus. And when somehow we have taken many unrelated details which threaten to crowd Him out our minds, we must refocus.
I’ve missed you, my friends. I’m sorry it’s been so long. I hope that after this holiday is over and my break begins, I can resume my blogging shenanigans with renewed vigor. I hope that my Jewish friends had a Happy Hanukah, and I wish the rest of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Peace be with you all.
And I leave you with the loveliest Christmas song you have never heard. Oh, how I love this!