Here’s how it all started: We kicked off our 2012 holiday season with a week-long trip to Portland and Seaside for Thanksgiving (it was fab.) We came home and then left again for a weekend in Wenatchee (a swim meet; also fab.) After returning home, I scrambled like a madwoman for the next week to get the Big Fat Church Christmas Party together (which was quite fab as well, thanks to the people who did all the work while I bossed them around.) With that finally behind me, it was time to start thinking about our own family Christmas. I took a deep breath and looked up at the calendar. Oopsie–already mid-December. And in a week and a half we’d be leaving for a family wedding in Boise and my sister’s family would arrive right afterward, thus officially commencing the Christensen Christmas festivities (i.e., a weeklong glut of eating, playing Trivial Pursuit, and saying “I’m so fat.”) So, I knew I needed to have everything done before the wedding. Hence, the Christmas countdown in my house started on December 10th and ended on December 20th. A different blogger would tell you she had everything listed, bought and wrapped by mid-November, due to common sense and careful planning. I, however, took a less structured approach (big shocker, I know.) I decided that rather than fight the holiday stress, I would simply eliminate it. So instead of telling you what I did for Christmas this year, I’ll tell you what I didn’t do.
This year, I did not:
1. Overdecorate my house. Pulling out homemade ornaments and the red and gold bulbs from our first years of marriage I thought, yet again, about going out and buying some stylish, quality Christmas decorations. After all, I’d been married for seventeen years and had hardly ever spent anything on holiday decor–didn’t my poor family deserve better? But then I reconsidered–out of laziness more than frugality–and I’m so glad that I did. The kids had a marvelous time hanging everything up and when they finished our house was warm and sparkly with a hodpodge tree, an accidental snowman collection, and old mismatched stockings hung on the fireplace. That was pretty much it, and it was enough. (I asked the kids if we should get new, matching stockings this year so they looked nicer hanging together, and they practically started crying. “No! These are our stockings! You can’t change them!” I felt like a cross between a stage mom and the Grinch, and quickly dropped the subject.)
2. Bake. I usually make cookies and candies in November and freeze them until Christmastime, thus providing my family an abundance of sweets during the Month of Merry. I didn’t do that this year, or even bake at all in the weeks leading up to Christmas. And guess what? Between generous neighbors and visits to Grandma’s house and leftovers from parties, we had plenty of treats–and I wasn’t stuck in the kitchen, throwing one of my adult mini-tantrums because the kids had lost interest halfway through the cookies and left me to finish baking and cleaning up, rather than sticking around to create the lifelong memories this project was supposed to inspire. Another perk was that we didn’t feel sick to our stomachs the whole month of December, which was nice. I saved my baking for when my my sisters and I were together the few days before Christmas. We helped the kids make a huge gingerbread village (read: graham cracker ghetto), and then made a few simple treats we finished in a couple of hours. Between that and the pies and the dishes of candy, it was more than enough. (And yes, we have managed to feel sick to our stomachs since then. In fact, I feel sick to my stomach as I’m writing this post. Ah, tradition.)
3. Drop off neighbor gifts. I am sorry, neighbors! I love you and I love dropping off treats to you every year–I think those kinds of visits are what Christmas is all about. Which is why I’ll enjoy doing it even more next year. I realized, for maybe the first time this year, that just because I skip a tradition once doesn’t mean I have to give it up forever. So December was too hairy to do everything you wanted to do? Give yourself a break and pick it back up next year. I also realized that I can do many things over the course of the calendar year to express my love and gratitude to the people in my life. Doing it between December 1st and 24th doesn’t necessarily make it mean more. (But it’s still nice.)
(And I still want you to drop off a neighbor gift to me.)
(I know that’s not fair.)
(But my lack of ambition doesn’t get you off the hook.)
(I had to skip neighbor gifts this year so I could wax eloquently about skipping neighbor gifts in this self-aggrandizing, slightly condescending post.)
(You have no such obligations, so I expect a neighbor gift from you each and every year.)
(And it better be good.)
4. Send out Christmas Cards. If you want to know how I feel about Christmas Cards, read my post from last year. If you don’t want to read my post from last year (what??), let me just say this: I value this tradition more than any other at Christmas, aside from the whole kids/magic/holiday glory thing. I love the thoughtfulness of it, I love the sentiment of it, I love the nostalgia of it. And what I love most is opening and reading the beautiful cards that you send me. I appreciate it, truly. Which is why I’ll enjoy sending them out even more next year, when I pick that tradition back up. And, as with my neighbors, I can do many things over the course of the calendar year to stay in touch with dear friends and family. (For a full treatise on this topic, see pp. 3. The same thought process applies. In other words, don’t even think about not sending me a Christmas Cards. Ever.)
5. Stress over gifts. I didn’t start my shopping until December 10th, and guess what I found out? I like it that way! By minimizing the allotted shopping window, I spend less–and spend less time–finding the perfect gift for every single person on a list of people that grows longer and longer the earlier I start making it. Planning Christmas is like planning a wedding: it will take up as much time as you allow it. Example: if I start my shopping in October so I can “get ahead,” I simply keep adding people and items to the list because, really, it feels unnatural to finish your Christmas shopping in October. I’m telling you, there’s something in a woman’s DNA that insists she must show up at Target at least three times (a week) during the month of December. You cannot fight this, ladies. No matter how early you start, no matter how Amazon-dedicated you are, you will be pulled into the December crowds at the mall. And you’ll spend money once you’re there. So why not compartmentalize the whole thing and do it in a week? You can buy five gifts at Target in one week as easily as you can buy five gifts at Target over three months. You’d be back this week for stocking stuffers anyway. And you’ll enjoy your shopping more because, I don’t care what any ultra-organized, start-planning-in-August Christmas expert tells you, there’s something fun and even a little magical about Christmas shopping at gee, I don’t know…Christmastime. And finally, the slight rush will force you to pull back and find a nice–not perfect–gift for everyone. And a nice gift is enough. Enough, enough, enough. (Except for the Santa gift. You gotta deliver there. But would you believe it if I told you we didn’t even order our Santa gifts online until December 15th? They miraculously arrived before the big day. What if they hadn’t? We had no Plan B. Derrick and I have always been big risk-takers.)
6. Blog. These last few weeks, I just couldn’t make the time. My days were spent flying from here to there, and at night I was up late wrapping, enjoying another holiday get-together, or walking the dog with my husband (who I never see in December unless we’re walking the dog). I am not blogging for money or ratings (darnit), so I decided to just skip it for a little while. I would have liked to have documented all the fun little holiday moments I enjoyed with my family this year, but instead I decided to just enjoy those moments, and write a big fat journal entry about the whole thing later on. Will it be as fun and whimsical as a series of humorous, photo-filled posts leading up to the Big Day would have been? No. But a private journal entry will be enough. Enough, enough, enough.
Funny, but all of the things I didn’t do this year are things that I really enjoy doing. (Except stressing over gifts.) I love to bake and decorate and and I lovelovelove visiting my neighbors and saying “hi” to you all through good ‘ole fashioned Christmas cards. These are the traditions that make Christmas Christmas, and they truly bring me cheer. But here is something else I realized: whether it’s joyful or painful, I can only do so many things in so much time. I do not have a Personal Christmas Assistant, and I think some of the things we expect ourselves to accomplish in December–when the rest of life does not slow down to Norman Rockwell time–exceed what a professional would expect to accomplish without a good assistant herself. Just because I enjoy something, and just because it’s sentimental and well-meaning and will surely fill my children’s tender hearts with the Light-‘o-the-Season, doesn’t mean that I can–or even should–do it every year. I should choose a few of those things to do, and swap them out for a few others next year.
And so among all of these magnificent yuletide revelations, here is my favorite: I learned that when you skip out on some of the good things, it opens up time for other good things. Like simple service projects with your kids, and visiting people who need your time more than your gifts, and listening to a beautiful Christmas concert at your church, and reading to your second-grader under the tree every night, and taking one whole evening to just sit with your kids and share what each of you loves most about Christmas (no program/planning/wrapping required), and taking another evening to play a long board game together, which you always mean to take more time to do. And instead of all that baking, you might have time to turn on some Bing Crosby at home and just make a good pot of soup with your kids–one that’s not red and green and sprinkled–and bundle up for a long walk with your husband afterward, talking over your day and enjoying the beautiful lights on the beautiful homes in your neighborhood. In the absence of the frenzied giving, you might actually have time to receive, and thereby make someone else’s giving worthwhile. You might have to time to really notice and appreciate how other people’s efforts–their lights, their treats, their cards–blessed your own Christmas this year. And you might even have time to write about it on your blog and thank them. And tell them how you love them. And how you can’t wait to be the giver next year. We can take turns, you and I, dazzling each other with beautiful food and lights and cards. It’s all such fun, but it’s too much for each of us to do on our own, every time. So we can give when we can and receive when we should. We can share. I think that’s a pretty good way to wish each other a merry Christmas. And so I wish it you now, as the grateful recipient of so much good giving. Merry , Merry Christmas.