The Night Before Christmas? I Think Not!

If I heard one more person say, “What’s with all this Christmas stuff?  It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!” I was going to start decking more than halls.  A few short weeks ago, every person I came in contact with uttered that phrase.  The only people who think that there’s this mysterious endless supply of time to prepare for Christmas are the people who don’t have to.

It was barely 2 days after Halloween before I was planning ‘The Set Up’.  “You’ll bring the boxes down from the attic,” I told my husband.  “I’ll put the tree together and,” I turned to my daughter, “you’ll decorate it!”  “Why don’t we get a real tree this year?” my daughter asked.  When my wicked laughter stopped, I replied, “I’m barely keeping you, your Dad and the cat alive you think I”m going to tackle a tree??”

There’s a pressure on Moms to put on The Perfect Christmas.  This pressure is mostly thrust upon us by our own selves.  (Warning:  Do NOT, I repeat do NOT, say this to a Mom.  If you do, I am not responsible for what happens to you afterwards!)  We want to experience that perfect moment on Christmas Day when everyone in our family opens that gift they’ve been wanting most for all time.  Or at least the gift they’ve been wanting most for a month and a half.  Everyone will get along that day and the turkey on the table will look like the ones they always have on TV.  Miracles will happen in our own homes like they do in cheesy Christmas specials and we will actually hear the Angels singing.  It will be perfect and glorious.  Instead, no matter how hard I work, my Christmas’es always seem to turn out more like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Anyway, this pressure that I put on myself seems to begin with getting the house decorated for the holiday.  My mom followed a pretty strict timeline which included putting the tree up on December 15th and I always thought that was good, but I don’t follow that one.  Don’t mistake my rush to decorate for Christmas as enthusiasm.  It’s actually a defense mechanism because the longer I take to decorate, the more I have to listen to my daughter and the neighbors and my co-workers ask me when I’m going to decorate.  So if I get this out of the way by the day after Thanksgiving, well, that’s something I can check off the list.

Decorating the house is the first outward appearance of preparing for the holiday, but by Thanksgiving Day if I’m not 3/4 complete with my Christmas shopping I’m seriously behind.  By the time the turkey’s coming out of the oven, I’ve been writing down notes of what gifts my daughter and husband have mentioned they would like to have or want for months.  I’ve also spent hours on eBay, Amazon and Google tracking it down.  I have been asking them for weeks for a Christmas list.  I don’t go out on Black Friday.  I may get crazy and delusional during the Holidays but not that crazy!  I’m too old to get trampled by 500 antsy, caffeine crazed loonies over a $5 Barbie, a $9 coffee maker or a $99 Plasma TV – especially since there’s only 3 of each hidden throughout the store.

Then there’s the endless discussions with my family and my husband’s family to determine dates for the family parties.  There was probably less tension during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  This negotiation is followed by the search for perfect gifts for extended family members, neighbors, teachers, my husband’s boss, my employees, gymnastics coaches and my own boss.  Cooking falls in there somewhere.  My daughter and I bake Monster Cookies which is a recipe I stole from my 7th grade home economics teacher – that takes up a whole day.  There’s also the annual Christmas Eve gathering of the neighbors which is a lot of fun because it includes wine.  I wish my in-laws gathering included wine.  Well, now that I think about it I guess it’s better that there isn’t any alcohol near those family gatherings.

Each year, my husband and daughter take off a day or two before Christmas and go out in search of my gifts.  I don’t venture out during the “End of Days” as I call it.  I’m so stressed by a day or two before Christmas that if someone wrenched the last faux cashmere scarf out of my hands I might attempt to strangle them with it.  Last year was a strange one for our family.  I was gone for a week on a business trip in early December (just like this year) and my husband was working several hundred miles away and home only every other weekend.  So, I bought my own gifts last year – but I made my husband wrap them.  Because last year was extra stressful, it culminated with me loudly declaring on December 26th that if my family wanted to have Christmas in 2011 they would do it themselves!  I quote, “I’m done with Christmas.  I.  AM.  NOT.  DOING IT!”  And I meant it! 

I’m not the only one who reacted this way.  My friend Michelle told me that last year when she open the boxes of Christmas decorations, more than half of them were smushed and broken.  Then she remembered that she was having a complete meltdown as she ripped down the decorations and shoved them into boxes.  For some strange reason that made me feel better.

I was firm in this resolution of “not doing Christmas” into the shiny new year . . . until Halloween came.  As families around the country were getting dressed up as vampires and mummies, I said to my daughter, “It’s Halloween so you know what that means . . . It’s time for your Christmas list!”  I distinctly heard my husband say, “Oh no, not again” even though he denies it.

Yes, it will be the same thing all over again.  Because despite the stress, headaches, family drama, exhaustion and lack of appreciation for all the behind the scenes work, it is worth it.  Christmas Day is perfect because by then I’ve found the true holiday spirit.  I am thankful that I have my daughter and husband, extended family and friends to fuss over so much.  It really does feel like a Christmas miracle.

But by golly on December 26th, everyone better help me pack all this red and green junk back into the attic because I’ll be over it for another 10 months!

Holiday Memories, Old and New

When I was a child, the biggest fight of the year between my parents was during the lighting of the Christmas tree.  Usually it was an artificial tree, but in those days it didn’t really matter.  Before any decorating could commence, the lights must be untangled and tested and strung on the tree.  Those were also the days when if one light went out the whole string went out so it was quite a frustrating process that culminated with neither parent speaking to each other and barely to me.  So there I would be, all alone, humming Jingle Bells to myself decorating the tree.  Ahh, holiday memories . . .

Flash forward to the year 2011, the day after Thanksgiving.  My husband decides he needs to tackle the leaves in our yard.  You actually couldn’t see any yard, only leaves.  While hubby was outside clearing leaves, my daughter and I decided to decorate.  Together we carefully opened the attic.  The scariest part for me is straightening out the stairs.  I’m just a little too short for the job so there is always a precarious moment as everything falls into place.  Then I was certain the boxes of decorations would be too heavy, but together, my daughter and I successfully brought everything down, including the tree, although we both laughed about the fact that we’d love to see a video of our efforts because they were quite creative. 

christmas decorations at virtusa

My daughter was in charge of the decorating and I of the cleaning.  I would dust, vacuum or clean the area and she would then decorate it.  She saved the tree for last but by then we were both getting a little tired.  I really wanted the job to be complete, return the empty boxes to the attic and collapse on the couch.  Tink (my daughter’s nickname short for Tinkerbell) began to do what I call “lolly-gag” around, ultimately accomplishing more television watching than tree decorating.  As I was putting up cleaning supplies after scrubbing toilets (note: I wasn’t cleaning them to be decorated, this was just part of a weekly routine) I noticed that she was holding the exact same decorations that she had in her hands several moments ago.  My exhaustion began to get to me and I called out, “Finish up already, that shouldn’t take all day!”  I must have been channeling my mother.

Speaking of my mother, a few months ago I was lamenting to her about Tink’s increasingly smart-alec mouth.  She’s 13 – if you’ve ever been the parent of teenagers you already understand.  My mother said, “Wait until she smarts off and you realize she’s right.  Then you have to figure out how to respond.”  I admit that my first thought was, “You mean there were times when I was a teenager that I was actually right and you knew it?” but even at my age I know better than to say that to my mother.  She might still ground me.

christmas decorations

Back to my story, I scolded Tink about her “lolly-gagging” and she replied, “I am, I am!” short pause, “If you want to help me you can.”  It wasn’t the words she spoke, it was the tone.  An unmistakable challenge to my authority as a mother oozing through them.  Although I realized the truth of what she said, I spouted back, “That’s just the kind of Smart-Alec attitude I won’t tolerate in my house!  No ma’am!”  I hurried into the next room thinking that even if she was right she should know better than to taunt me that way!  I almost starting to tear up.  This really was exactly like my childhood Christmases.

Our mutual moment of irritation soon passed, I finished cleaning the house and she finalized the decorating.  Tink did a beautiful job and I told her as much, complimenting her on some of the details.  Finally we were ready to return the boxes to the attic.

Now we were both feeling a little cocky at this point.  We’d already accomplished the hard part – getting the heavy boxes down from the attic.  At this point we were only returning empty boxes to the attic.  I opened the attic door and then reached up to pull down the stairs.  What happened next is a little fuzzy.  I arrived at that precarious moment and it quickly went from precarious to horrifying.  All I remember is a lot of wooden steps coming at me and Tink hollering repeatedly “Are you ok?  Are you ok??”  I would have thought that the sound of me yelling “Aaaahhhhhh!!!!” would have been the indication that I was not ok.  When the chaotic moment passed I was still standing, I knew I was probably hurt but not entirely sure where.  Tink’s eyes were as wide as saucers and again she asked, “ARE YOU OK?”  This time I shakily replied, “Give me just a moment.”  She hugged me tightly and then . . . we both burst out laughing.  She laughed so hard she collapsed to the floor.

There’s nothing like a near-death experience for producing riotous laughter.  It’s been the sustenance of America’s Funniest Videos for years.  As a matter of fact if we had that “attic attack” on video I’m sure we’d have a chance at the $10,000 prize.  After resting for a few minutes and inspecting my arms and legs for signs of broken bones I came to the conclusion that I was fine.  Together Tink and I loaded the empty boxes into the attic passing back and forth a lot of “be carefuls” and “you got its?”  But the dangerous part was over.  

My arms are black and blue and my right wrist is still swollen, but not a scratch on my face or any nasty bumps on my head.  Nothing that a little time won’t cure.  And together my daughter and I created some new memories.  Years from now as she’s decorating her own tree in her own home with her own children she’ll probably double over with laughter remembering the time I nearly died in a tragic attack of the attic stairs incident.  Ahh, Holiday Memories . . .