Note: I write one of these every year, usually in my art journal or my scrapbook, so that when the following year rolls around, I can look back on the previous holidays and make small adjustments and edit my expectations and ideas a bit. This year I’m doing more of my documenting here on my website, so I decided to write the stuff down in WordPress. Then I decided to go ahead and publish it, so it’s completely unedited but I know myself well enough to know that if I edit it, I’ll wind up never publishing it. So here it is.
Happy holidays, whatever you celebrate. If there’s no specific holiday happening for you right now, I hope you are feeling peaceful, joyful, and well-rested.
Part of the reason I haven’t written in so long is because it’s been crazy around here. If you have a kid in school, you probably know what I mean- December is particularly jammed with stuff. The second quarter is wrapping up so it’s a little crazy academically with lots of papers and projects being due, plus there are a bunch of holiday related activities like school concerts, holiday parties, etc. And then there is the wrap up of the most recent season of sports. Plus, Grace is making up days that were lost when Hurricane Irma shut down school for three weeks. It’s just a crazy time.
Add in all the prep and madness for the actual holidays and it’s downright chaotic.
It’s funny because I LOOOOOOOOVE winter (remember, I’m in Southwest Florida- pretty much the tropics, so winter here is like summer for everyone else- the rest of the year is like summer-squared) but the month of December is just a little too hectic for me. The holidays are also a rough spot- I’ve talked about this endlessly, so I apologize if you have to sludge through it again.
I’ve come to have a genuine respect for how sacred this time of year is for many people- both religiously *and* culturally. There are lots and lots of people who are super excited abut the holidays, and I used to be one of them. I’ve gone through this weird “falling completely out-of-love with Christmas” thing in the last two decades that I’m slowly making sense of. But I’m trying not to be a jerk about it because I remember back when I used to be psyched about the holidays, anyone who bitched about December seemed like the ultimate asshole.
Now I realize that some people who annoyed me had a good point- no matter how you choose to celebrate the holidays, or what your family, emotional, or financial reality might be, the media/retail/business world does a marketing blitz where they imply that with only the right materials (food, decorations, cards, crafting projects, etc.) you can literally create a “magic” holiday. You can take the mundane, slap something Christmas-themed on it, and it transforms into something beyond the ordinary and worth celebrating. You can gather all your family, serve them the right meal, and everyone will laugh and love.
Like I said, a lot of people love this, and who can blame them? I mean, there’s something lovely about the idea of it- encouraging people to create more magic in their lives. I’m all for that.
It’s just that magic comes in all shapes and sizes. The media (and social media) would like you to think it really only comes in one size: this year it seems to be a house full of decorations and well-dressed people who all pile up in the vintage Woody Station Wagon to go see the incredibly decorated restored farmhouses in their area, and return back to the gracious and beautiful boho-cool young hostess’s house to gather in the restored barn for a giant home cooked farm-to-table Christmas dinner. And even if you know deep down that the “ideal” version of Christmas that is presented every year has nothing to do with who you are, or who your family is, or what is even possible, there’s a little pressure going on to just *try* and get there.
I bought into that for a while. I LOVED Christmas as a kid, and as a teenager, and even as a young adult. I really assumed, very very seriously, when I had a little family of my own Christmas would pretty much be the most epic thing ever- we’d finally have a great reason to get out there and take part in even more traditions- to embrace EVERYTHING the holidays had to offer, like town tree lightings, touring local sites at night to see their light displays, going to have lunch with Santa, parades, etc. When Grace first arrived, and I had this little one-year-old to make magic for, and I took it seriously. Same with our in-house Christmas celebrations- we did Elf on the Shelf, Advent calendars, put up a giant tree and tons of decorations, and hyped the holidays up as much as we could.
The problem is that I never realized that that the version of the “ideal” holiday I bought into was not the “ideal” holiday for our little family. I always assumed Grace loved all of it, and she did when she was very little and it was all just a blur of light and music and candy canes and brightly wrapped presents, but as soon as she could start figuring out what was important to her, she started asking us to edit things down.
First she asked if she could just open her Lego advent calendar in one shot so she didn’t have to fuss with it every night. I was kind of shocked, but I realized what she really wanted to do every evening after school and sports and homework was just crash out and read or work on her own projects. That meant more to her than getting a little surprise every day. Then when school break came, she started asking us every night if we had anything scheduled for the next day. She started asking for days off so she could hang around in her pajamas and just read and draw and write stories and watch movies. So we kind of pulled back on the activities.
Then a few years ago she asked us if we *had* to put up the big tree. Decorating had become sort of a big production over the years- when we moved into this house we bought a huge pre-lit tree, and getting it out of storage, unboxed, put up, fluffed out, and working was an entire day of work. Then we’d decorate it- the ornaments took forever to unwrap and get hooks on and place on the tree. In the middle of it, Tom’s back would start aching, I’d start feeling “gritty” from all the glitter and little faux-snow embellishments, and Grace would disappear and we’d find her up in her room, reading. We all secretly started to dread it, and the tree went up later and later every year. Plus- without fail- every year we’d spend an entire day doing the ornaments, and every year one of the cats would come by and clear half of the tree in one fell swoop (or knock it down entirely, no matter how well it was tied to the wall), so by the end of the holidays season half the ornaments would be back in the box, and the other half would be in one giant cluster at the very top of the tree.
At first, it was kinda worth it- the tree was beautiful, and I have this thing about colors and twinkle lights, so it was like a dream come true for the eight year old in me. But over the years I started not enjoying it as much. It became something that we felt obligated to do, and not really all that interested in. But you HAVE to put up a big tree, right?
Well, no. You don’t. You can actually have lots of Christmas magic without a big tree.
When Grace was pretty young, I bought myself a 4′ green pre-lit tree, along with some beautiful quartz crystals that were strung on ribbon, some miniature Tibetan temple bells, and some strings of old-school twinkle lights- not LED, but the old kind that have those tiny bulbs you have to replace (one goes out- the whole strand does) and get hot. Not earth-friendly, but something about those lights is so much warmer to me. I unpacked the tree, put it up and decorated it fairly quickly, and tucked it near the doorway to the master bedroom.
It was my little “peace” tree. I didn’t realize it, but it was my own way of honoring the season I really wished we could celebrate- one of peace and simplicity and beauty. The tree was simple and beautiful and glowed and made me feel happy inside. Heartfelt. Warm. Not overly fussy. And every year I dutifully put up that little tree and refused any offer of additional ornaments. It reminded me a little bit of the tree at the end of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Even after we’d get the big tree down after the holidays were over, I’d keep the little tree up for several weeks. Then one day I’d decide it was time to take it down, and half an hour later Tom would have it all boxed up and in the garage, tucked away until the following December.
The original little tree was green, and then one year I decided I wanted a mid-century-modern style, so I got a white tree with multicolor lights and bought some colorful butterfly decorations that I had been coveting for years. I cycled through those two trees every holiday season- one year the white one with the color lights, the next back to the original green one with the mostly-white lights.
Anyway, at one point maybe two years ago, Grace asked if we could skip the big tree altogether and just put up the two small trees that I had been putting up on my own- I didn’t realize that she loved them just as much as I do, even though they weren’t covered in sparkling ornaments or taller than either of us. So we got them out of the garage and put them both up and it was lovely. Not impressive, but perfect. My parents wondered when we were going to put the big tree up, but we decided to just stick with our plan.
When we started talking to Grace about decorating this year, she pretty much made it clear she’s not a fan of the big tree and she loves the little trees. So Tom got them out of the garage and the three of us got them up and fluffed and lit and decorated in about an hour. It was a quiet evening at the beginning of the month and we did it on a whim.
For the first time in my life, decorating the tree was lots of fun, not at all fussy or complicated, and we were all really happy with the whole process. It was just us hanging out and laughing and having fun. It was just lovely. I didn’t snap any photos or anything until after we were done because it didn’t occur to me to stop what we were doing and find my phone and mess with the lighting. I was too busy enjoying the moment. I was even singing made up carols at the end because I loved how they turned out, and I DON’T do stuff like that.
After we got the trees up, Grace decided she wanted a garland for over the stairs so we went online and found this cool felt banner of old-school Christmas lights that looked like something out of Stranger Things (which we watched in early November, and which we are all obsessed with) so we added that to our decorations.
So simple, so perfect. Finally, after all this time, we had the perfect decorations and had a wonderful time doing them. It wasn’t the fanciest decorations, or the most exciting, but it was perfect for the three of us.
I have to admit that NOT being on any social media really makes such a tremendous difference in my life, especially at this time of year- I didn’t see any posts about anyone else’s decorations, holiday plans, shopping being done, presents all wrapped and under the tree, etc so it was like the pressure was *off*. Checking out has really helped me to check in.
I decided to let that set the tone for the holidays this year- just go with it as it comes. I just gave myself as much time as I needed to prepare for the holidays and let go of everything else (except school, because I still have deadlines- there are no December holidays in Buddhism so my classes go right through Christmas. I even had a paper due last night, Christmas Eve, and a new week of classes began this morning- Christmas Day)- Every evening I’m come into the studio, and just do something holiday related- I watched some YouTube videos, drank some holiday teas from Adagio, and either shopped or wrapped gifts or figured out gift cards, etc.
I finally realized that Grace loves this time of year not because of the twinkle lights or the dinners out or the presents- she loves it because it’s a break from school, she doesn’t have any homework, she gets to sleep in every day, and she gets a ton of extra time to read and draw and do whatever she wants, and has a chance to hang out with her friends. If we try and schedule a bunch of “activities” for the family, she will begin to close down a little and ask for more time to herself.
And Tom gets a little time off work, and he’s still recovering from cancer and surgery and from the hurricane recovery, so he’s not really looking to have to go to walks at the Botanical Gardens or going out to overcrowded restaurants for dinner or chauffer us around town, etc.
Another thing that is different this year is we’re not spending the holidays with my parents- we’re still on a little “time out” with them after the drama during the hurricane. Grace spent Saturday (the day before Christmas Eve) with them and exchanged gifts and went to dinner, so that was good. It’s kind of bittersweet- this whole situation continues to be very difficult for me, especially around the holidays, but it’s also a relief in a way because we don’t have to worry about figuring out what to do that makes all of us happy. It’s kind of exactly what we all needed- serious downtime.
So the best thing we can do is play it day by day and see what we feel like. I know we all want to go see Star Wars for sure (we’re waiting until it’s not as crowded so sometime later this week) and that’s pretty much it. What the three of us actually want, more than anything, is to spent the holiday week RELAXING. No events, no parties, no dinners out in crowded restaurants. Just some time together, quietly.
One additional note (and I’m including this so that when I look back at this it serves as a reminder to myself):
I was actually thinking about doing December Daily earlier this fall but as December rolled around I realized, once and for all, it’s absolutely NOT HAPPENING.
A) I have no time
B) there’s not enough that’s genuinely worth documenting
C) I’m sick and tired of feeling this pressure to make the whole month magical. Because the whole month is NOT magical. It’s a busy month, it’s holiday related, but sometimes there *isn’t* magic in the mundane. Sometimes the day is just too long and you don’t feel great and there’s a lot to do and your kid doesn’t want her photo taken, she wants to get home from soccer and take her shower and finish her pile of homework and have a quick dinner before she collapses asleep.
Sometimes it’s okay NOT to document what wrapping paper we used or exactly what we got one another as gifts or what songs were played during the school holiday concert.
Sometimes it’s okay to just *do* and let it go.
Sometimes you find the magic in the mundane when you don’t try to find the magic in the mundane. Does that make sense?
For years I have been trying to get the magic back into Christmas and this year- the year I finally gave that up- I got some of the joy back. Go figure.
Happy holidays, and much love <3