Monday, December 3, 2007

random thoughts about the holiday season

For many years, December has been the most stressful month of the year for me. Even this year, when I lead a virtually stress-free life, I found myself filled with anxiety when I thought about all the things I "had" to do before December 25th. All the shopping, all the mailing of packages and Xmas cards, all the baking, all the decorating, all the gift-wrapping, all had to be done, by me, to the most exacting standards - mine. However, since I actually have time this year to just sit and think, that is exactly what I did: sit and think about it.

First of all, a little history might help. When we were kids, my mother always got "sick" on Christmas Day. To this day, I don't know what that was all about. I have a couple of guesses, but that's all they are, guesses, and I'll not share them here. In the event, what that meant for us was that she laid down on the couch in the living room, covered by a blanket, and told us all to be quiet so that she could rest. Now, the living room was where our Christmas tree was and where all our presents were, and was the only place we could play with them on Christmas Day. To say that she ruined the day for her children would simply be a statement of fact. Fortunately, from the time we could read, we always received books among our presents, so at least we could quietly read. Definitely not a model for how I wanted my own kids to spend their holidays.

When Tom and Julie were little, I was, by choice, a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to make their Christmases special in every way, and because I was the one at home with them, a great deal of the work that went into a big production fell on my shoulders. And that was fine. But, as things do, the celebrations got bigger and more elaborate as the years passed, and I began to feel that it was all just more than I could handle. I just kept feeling that way, year after year, even as Ben and the kids quietly took over more and more of the tasks that I found so overwhelming. I haven't baked a sugar cookie in years, for example, and yet, every year we have them with the thumbprints and the nutballs and the Constant Comment tea that make up our holiday desserts.

That's just one example. I'm sure if I thought about it, I could come up with a dozen more. My family has, in fact, taken over most of the tasks that threatened to paralyze me with anxiety over the years. I just never realized it before now. All I really have to do is acknowledge their help and sit back and enjoy the season. That's actually what they want me to do. Aren't I lucky?


Ben said...

Yes, there are many ways to enjoy the season! At first it seemed like we were "helping Mom with some chores". We already knew we enjoyed eating Christmas cookies, but we learned that we enjoyed making them too. It made a big difference that we didn't have to do the cookies - we didn't feel any pressure. Now we bake sugar cookies because we like to, not because anyone expects them.

It's not possible to get rid of all the expectations over the holidays. But getting rid of a few can make the difference between enjoying yourself and not. As long as we all get some "sitting back and enjoying", we'll have a great Christmas!

Julie said...

OH MAN, i LOVE christmas time!

yes, buying presents for people is stressful--i'm with you there. that's actually the most stressful part for me. but on those (relatively rare) occasions that i get stuff for pople that i'm really excited about, it's also the most rewarding.

but the main thing is, i can't WAIT to come home and start doing christmasy stuff! probably the christmases did get more and more elaborate over the years, but you made it all so wonderful for us that i absolutely love the season, and love all the "work" associated with it. and no, i don't mean to belittle it with quotation marks--it is truly a lot of work.

but for me it's truly fun work, also--i do love baking the cookies (although i make a horrible mess of the kitchen), even if i still need dad's help on the sugar cookies and your expertise on the others.

i love decorating the house--especially the tree, which is always the most beautiful tree i've ever seen (no one's trees look as nice decorated as ours). remember how awesome that was last year, to cut our own and drag it to the car, and drive it home? we were so proud of ourselves!!

and wrapping presents--much less stressful than trying to buy them. they always look pretty, and neat, and i get to blast christmas music while i do it! it's fun even though rufus is trying to walk off with the still full roll of wrapping paper in his mouth, and lucie tries to put her ball in with the present!

mostly i like christmas because it's a season where i can be gleefully happy, for no apparent reason, without anyone thinking i'm completely nuts! best to just give over to the "christmas spirit." is it cheesy? sure! but i think it's wonderful too.

anne mancine said...

Jules - I am absolutely delighted to know that my holiday-induced anxiety attacks were not passed on to you. Perhaps as your dad suggested to me, I hid them better than I thought I did.

I can't wait for you to get home and share your Christmas cheer with me!