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!