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!

It’s All Relatives

Dr. Öz at ServiceNation 2008

In a recent Facebook post, Dr. Oz cautioned readers to beware of the sodium in your holiday foods because they could raise your blood pressure and “negatively affect your health.”  Well, Dr. Oz, it ain’t just Aunt Edna’s Mac n Cheese that’s raising blood pressures at all these family gatherings.  Often times it’s Aunt Edna!  Or Uncle John or Mother-in-law or Sister-in-law . . . come to think of it most of the time it is “Someone-in-law”.

Have you ever heard that verse, “It’s the most, wonderful time of the year” and thought “yeah buddy, you don’t have to spend it with my family!”  If you haven’t then yea for you.  Probably time for you to leave this blog and go find one about how to turn the simple act of wrapping a present into a 4 hour ordeal which includes weaving your own ribbon.  This ain’t that blog.

When you Google “Families and Holidays” the first several results are along the lines of tips to reduce family “burdens” and “stress” around the holidays.  Doesn’t something about that seem off?  Aren’t these supposed to be the people you hold most dear?  Then why do they irritate the living fool out of us?  I remember reading an interesting article 20-25 years ago either in Seventeen or Cosmopolitan magazine.  It was geared more towards romantic relationships but the part that stuck with me the most was that the reason someone could exasperate you to the point of insanity was simply because they mattered so much to you.  You don’t spend as much time annoyed at someone you don’t care about.   This person is so important to you and you love them so very much that every little annoying thing they do can infuriate you.  That explains a lot, but doesn’t exactly warm the heart.

Back when “Home Improvement” with Tim Allen was on, I didn’t watch it regularly but I did see a Christmas episode when one of the kids wanted to go on a ski trip instead of spending the holiday with his family.  Tim Taylor, the Dad, comes home to find him sneaking out while the rest of the family was at church.  Tim says, “Christmas is not about being with people you like, it’s about being with your family!”  (So is Thanksgiving)

I love that line!  Because the truth is we don’t often like all the members of our family (or our spouse’s family), but they are important to us.  And truthfully, more important than a lot of people we call friends.  It’s hard because most of us spend much more of our time at work with co-workers and bosses and people who “need” us than we do our families these days.  But if I die tomorrow, while I’m sure several people at work will miss me, within a few weeks they will hire someone else to take my place.  My family isn’t going to hire another Mom, or daughter or niece or Aunt. 

So, whether you are headed home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, Google all those helpful hints about dealing with family stress and take deep breaths when Aunt Edna comments that your turkey is extra dry this year, or when Uncle John has a little too much holiday wine and starts snoring in front of the TV, or when your mother-in-law corrects your children’s table manners then makes a comment not completely under her breath about “blame it on their mother”.  Put on your rose-colored glasses and maybe invest in a good pair of ear-plugs.  Relax and enjoy the family drama – heck maybe even blog about it.  There are people throughout our country who are all alone this Thanksgiving and they would give anything to be where you are.  There are soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq who would love to experience the holiday with their irritating, overbearing family.  We have the distinct honor and privilege of being with ours.  And it’s not all bad, there’s Aunt Edna’s Mac n Cheese after all.

Recipe for Mac N Cheese

I’ll be away on Thanksgiving Day with family.  I’m sure I’ll have plenty to rant and rave about by Friday.  Take care and Happy Thanksgiving.