I’m not a Scrooge. I’m a Mom and I know what’s coming: the lists, the time-crunch, the “traditions”, the social obligations, the teacher’s gifts, the elf-on-the-shelf, the dread, the harmonizing, the shopping, the planning, the baking, the outdoor decorations, the gift wrapping, the indoor decorations, the party planning, the diplomacy, the party cleaning, the stress-eating, the Christmas card photo shoot, the Christmas card address labels, the sharp commands, the extra demands, the work party, the Christmas outfits, the false-cheer, the resentments, the in-laws, the guilt and the exhaustion.
Try as I may, I just haven’t figured out how to consistently capture the Christmas joy when there is so much Christmas to do. Ok, I’ll admit, most years there are certain moments that get to me. The knowing glance with a spouse as your child gushes over Santa’s dream gift or the magic of sparkling snow on Christmas Eve. I usually am a sucker for the flood of memory in the glow of the perfect Christmas tree, and on good years I experience the awe of a baby, named Jesus. All of this proves, by the way, that I am NOT a Scrooge. But yes, I’ve threatened my family and have fantasized about just blowing off Christmas. You know, go to Hawaii or something (the fantasy part). No gifts. No decorations. No bullshit. It hasn’t happened, and yet another December is upon us.
So what’s a Mom (aka “Santa”) to do?
If you happen to be one those folks who have finished shopping, keep it to yourself and feel free to stop reading. Or since you have nothing else to do smarty pants, keep reading. For the rest of us, consider this: preparing for Christmas requires behavior that is the opposite of what psychologists and Buddhist monks prescribe to obtain true happiness. We do not live in the present. Every task that we must complete anticipates some future perfection. We pass up the certainty of the current moment for a future that is out of our control. Yet, who among us hasn’t felt the sting of disappointment when our gift was underappreciated, or the party conversation was forced, or the Uncle got drunk, the holiday sweater itchy, the spouse moody, the Christmas card ordinary or the feast a flop? Somehow, amidst the rush, the Christmas joy never came.
With this in mind, listed below are my seasonal offerings for your consideration.
1. Forget about the “perfect” moment. Clinging to stale traditions is a sure way to experience times that pale in comparison to the ideal moment that was created in our memory. Checking off a must-do list because “It has always been this way” is not only tedious but can stir up plenty of resentment. Unless the key stakeholders (aka your family members) are really looking forward to the Christmas sing-along or the gingerbread house, skip it. Families change. As the kids get older give yourself the freedom to adjust. Ice skating on Christmas Eve was great for an 8-year-old, but perhaps your high schooler would rather sleep in and have a pancake brunch. A Starbucks Caramel Macchiato might replace traditional hot chocolate. Blackjack over Uno. You get the picture. Maybe the casualness of a buffet-style dinner is the key to energize the host (you) and soften the tone (set by you.) Sometimes “perfect” arrives when we alter our expectations.
2. Live now. When we stop and look around with a stance of curiosity, we certainly find the power of now. The cold can be refreshing. The child beautiful, the dog lazy, the line long, but look how lucky we are to live in such abundance. With awareness often comes gratitude. The one and only present moment is the essence of life. Wrapping a gift with awareness and appreciation can bring unexpected pleasure. Take what you can get when you can get it. There are no guarantees that Christmas morning will offer the perfect joy. (In fact, it probably won’t.)
3. Accept it all. The good, the bad and the ugly (sweater). It is all going to be there. Your boisterous 8-year-old is not going to be patient on Christmas morning and wait for his take turn to open a gift. Your ex-husband is not suddenly going to be the bigger person just because it’s Christmas. But your sister will make you laugh out loud, your 80-year-old Mom will still give you socks and underwear, and your new (or good old) husband will gladly pour you a glass of wine. When we prepare for Christmas, we plant the garden, and then we watch in curiosity what is produced. Some gifts sprout early, some perfectly and some never. It is not in our control, but its fine. Even the disappointments. Is the tree leaning to the right? Yes. After ten minutes of failed adjustments, are you okay with that? (Hint: say yes.)
4. Skip the Elf on the Shelf. As if parents need the daily stress of another thankless, kid-centric activity that complicates home life at the time of year when we are seeking peace! Whew, sorry, I had to get that off my chest. If this is your favorite thing, ignore me. If you have the chance to avoid this twisted marketing tool of torture, please save yourself! For all readers, look around. What can be eliminated? Not much, I know! But don’t throw up your hands too quickly. Christmas cards: consider alternate years? This may throw off the score-keepers but let’s face it; one can never win with score-keepers anyway. Neighbor gifts/teacher gifts: Be selective. Baking: If it’s your thing, go girl! If not, don’t succumb – especially cake balls (just speaking from experience here). Know yourself, accept what comes easily for you and capitalize on that. To thine own self be true! Maybe your kids will receive a little note from the elf on the shelf that he was suddenly called to the North Pole for emergency toy production. Maybe you let the kids wrap gifts; maybe your husband shops for your in-laws (refer back to the perfection message here). Maybe you skip a grab bag. Maybe you cater. Whatever….it’s okay. One way to help you decide: if it is draining your precious energy, it’s time for a change. If it’s got you keyed up, go for it!
5. Finally, find stillness each day. Pray, breathe, meditate. Find quiet. Perhaps just a few minutes, perhaps longer. Reflect, feel, and become grounded in your true self. From here, you can live with intention and dare I say, joy.
On January 8th, 2018, when the kids are back in school, sit down and ask these three questions.
- Was Christmas perfect this year?
- Was Christmas good this year?
- Was Christmas good enough this year?
I can guarantee the answers: a. nope b. sometimes c. definitely