I have always loved Christmas. The trees, the decorations, the ornaments, the garland, the spirit.
When I was a kid, I’d wake up before dawn on Christmas morning and ensure the rest of the house was up too, as all kids do (isn’t it fun being dragged out of bed as a parent now?). Then I would run downstairs. I’d turn on the Christmas tree lights (because it was still dark out) and stand back with a happy shudder.
My months of hard work-- being good-- would be rewarded at that very instant, when my breath was momentarily taken away by the site of Santa’s wrapped presents glinting under the Christmas tree.
When I caught my breath, action would take hold of me again and my brothers and I would rip open our gifts and spend the rest of the day in Imaginationland, playing with toys we had hoped and dreamed about for so long.
When I was a teenager, I’d opt out on going to high school parties or get-togethers on certain weekend nights during December and I’d drive to downtown D.C. I’d visit the Capitol tree, not the huge assortment of National trees where they hold the annual lighting, but rather the lone tree that stands in front of the Capitol building. Not many people knew about it, or visited it for that matter. But it was my favorite place to go. It was always a tall, beautifully decorated tree with countless tiny white lights that twinkled in the cold air, casting a soft white glow on it’s surroundings, almost as though it was sharing some of its beauty. I think I liked going there because it was a break away from holiday madness, Christmas shopping and stressing over what to get people.
It was just quiet Christmas magnificence.
When I was in my twenties, I lived in New York City. Needless to say, there was an abundance of fantastical Christmas cheer at almost every corner. I’d walk around the city and soak up as much of it as I could. From the window displays on Fifth Avenue to the splendor of Rockefeller Center to the insanely-decorated Plaza Hotel, everything was enormous and over-the-top. But then there were also the hundreds of shops throughout the city, from the quaint to the cool, that were decorated in their own version of holiday exquisiteness.
Now in this phase of my life, holiday romanticism is found here in the suburbs, where the schools hold their sweet Christmas pageants and the neighborhoods are full of decorated houses with their occupants spreading sincere and joyful holiday cheer.
But when I had kids, I found that in my increasingly Herculean effort to heighten the Christmas magic and wonder, the Season of Joy slowly started to become a Season of Madness. I found myself taking on the roles of lead decorator, shopper, cookie maker, and party attendee. Christmas began to become more hectic with each year, when the multitude of events seem to proliferate exponentially as the season of Christmas had become more and more feverishly frenzied.
In essence, I had slowly allowed myself to be fully affected by the temptation to “do it all” and push through the holidays in a mad rushing craze, going to parties, finding ‘perfect gifts,’ decorating, then decorating more, trying to visit every family member during the holiday season…
For me, things came to a head two years ago when I had a particularly frantic and insanely-planned Christmas that basically involved traveling for the holidays and trying to do too much while incidentally appreciating too little. The entire month of December had been a whirlwind of gifts, parties, exchanges, Santa visits, and who knows what else. Then I spent the days leading up to Christmas on a 16-hour car trip, followed by shopping for most of my recipients (on Christmas Eve no less), and pushing myself just to make to the other side of December 25th.
It led up to 2:00 a.m. Christmas Eve night, where I found myself still up, wrapping presents (I hadn’t had time to do it until then). As I sat there irritated and exhausted, a tragic thought popped into my head. Something I never thought would occur to me, let alone mean anything. A thought I didn’t want to have, but had to admit that it was becoming very true all the same:
I was beginning to hate Christmas.
It was then that I decided that I needed to get back to where I was before, to where I had loved Christmas so much in the past. I realized that the best part about Christmas to me had been the enjoyment of the season and the giving to others.
So since then, that’s were I’ve returned. My husband, my kids and I take our time picking our tree. Decorating it is a fun, non-rushed event that is marked on our calendar. I decline many of the cookie and ornament exchange gatherings that take place, and shopping hardly ever happens in December anymore. In short, Christmas is relaxing and fantastic again.
And perhaps the best part is that we’ve dramatically amped up our holiday giving and try to do as much good as we can for as many as we can so everyone can enjoy some holiday cheer every year.
So for this month of December I guess my advice is to try to slow down, give to others, enjoy the season and to somewhere find your own little bit of quiet Christmas magnificence.