(Warning: If you enjoy the traditions of Christmas, then this blog story isn’t for you. I am expressing my stress and frustrations here.) Christmas in our present-day society is messed up. Seriously. We are doing it wrong. Maybe it isn’t “we,” but it sure is me. I get tense and stressed out about Christmas before Thanksgiving. I worry about finding the right gifts, spending too much or not enough, people getting along, being kind enough, whatever “enough” is, and, worst of all, I am relieved, deeply relieved when it is over—when the presents have been opened, the parties are done, and the stuff of Christmas is put back into storage.
This year I cried out “I hate Christmas” several times in my husband’s arms after a brief argument several days before Christmas. I don’t hate God or Jesus. I am deeply and profoundly grateful and changed by my faith. It is the commercialism and trappings of Christmas that I hate. Hate is a strong word. I don’t use it very often.
The traditions of Christmas—Are they good or bad, too many, too big, or just too much? Holiday parties, decorating, baking, buying presents, shopping for clothing and food for the holiday events, and entertaining friends and family.
Even if we know better than to “keep up with the Jones’, whoever they are,” we still get caught up by family and social expectations about what Christmas “should” be. We eat too much, drink too much, and spend too much during this holiday (holy day) season. We substitute technology and commercialism for true human connectedness and caring. Worse still, that is exactly what every television commercial and magazine article supports. Our family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors support it too.
We are being Scrooges if we don’t participate the way everyone expects us. “Have you decorated yet? Is your tree up? Is your shopping done? Have you baked yet? Did you get everything wrapped? Are you ready for Christmas?” These are the questions we ask each other for a month. What does any of that have to do with the birth of Jesus? What does any of that have to do with loving God and loving each other?
I go through the season feeling harried and stressed and unhappy. I want to find and focus on the spirituality of the season, but instead I get caught up in all the other things that “need” to get done. I teach a class called “Simplify Your Holidays.” I share dozens of ways to reduce and cut back on the consuming expectations. I still fall short of the holiday that I think I want even where my own immediate family is concerned.
Part of the problem with Christmas and other “big” holidays is that it involves more than one person, more than just me and my expectations. Friends and family members have expectations of themselves and of each other too. This makes it more complicated than, say, weeding to unclutter your own sock drawer in the privacy of your own room.
Even saying that, I am disappointed in myself. I feel like a failure each holiday season. I try to capture a feeling, a sense of grace, a moment of spirituality, and each year, probably more so lately, I feel like I miss the mark. I feel like I have failed God, my family and friends, and myself.
Worst of all, I believe, especially as a two-time cancer survivor, that I should somehow know better. As someone who lives with the fear of cancer recurrence and who understands on a very emotional and personal level, that mortality is a reality, I feel as though my priorities for the holiday season could better reflect my beliefs. Am I just feeling shame and engaging in self-beating, or am I feeling guilt as well as desires that could motivate me to change my holidays?
At this point, I have to ask myself “What would I like Christmas to be for me and my family?” For decorating, I would skip the tree. Yes, I said skip the Christmas tree. The tree takes a lot of time, effort, and maintenance. I would also forego the shrub lights, outdoor Santa, and a lot of our traditional knick-knacks, but I would get out my manger scene, fireplace wreath, door wreath, and candles.
As for baking, I would skip it except for any baking my immediate family wanted to get together to do as a family. Why? Baking alone or in a hurry is sad and stressful, and I am baking things that aren’t healthful for any of us to eat.
For shopping… for presents…, here is where it gets difficult because it involves other people, but I would honestly like to limit it to one small, thoughtful or funny service gift per person—a manicure, a backrub, or a foot massage, something along those lines. I wonder what it would feel like to have Christmas without gifts. If I were to hedge my bets on gift giving beyond the immediate family, I could carry around some local coffee shop gift cards to be reciprocal with friends and neighbors.
For the extended family get-together, I would still be happy to host the meal, but I would simplify the menu. To be honest, we have more side dishes and food than we need every year. We get on a sugar roller coaster ride and overburden our digestive systems. The result is that it is hard on our bodies and it hinders our socializing.
What could Christmas be? It could my LED candles by the manger. It could be family reading of the bible for twelve days, and a planned charitable event—like packing food for Feed My Starving Children or volunteering as a family in a soup kitchen, or adopting a family in need to shop for their Christmas. Period. End of story. Less complicated, less overbooking, over drinking, over eating, over spending, and over stressing. These choices would allow time and, more importantly, clarity of thought and calmness of my emotions, for more spirituality and better holiday time decisions.
What would I want to remember about Christmas this year, the unsimplified one? I would want to remember my mom buying t-shirts with funny sayings on them for each person of our extended family. She didn’t wrap them—just rolled each one up and tied it with a bit of red curling ribbon. I would want to remember that at the last minute on Christmas Eve, I sent two Amazon gift cards to two people in my life who weren’t on my Christmas list who deserved a little thanks and happiness.
I would want to remember the cousins on Christmas Eve who were trying to stump each other by playing old television theme songs on their high-tech phones and having everyone try to guess the names of the songs. I would want to remember lighting the candles in church at the late song service that night. On Christmas Day, I would want to remember the extended family sitting down for a meal together and later playing games at the kitchen table. After the family left, I would want to remember our friends who came over and sat at our kitchen table for a little decompression time together As for all the rest of it? Not so much.
Thanks for listening. I feel calmer now. "Writing is easy, you just open a vein and bleed."
~ Ernest Hemingway