Friday, December 18, 2009

I Don't Mean to be a Scrooge, but

Let me start with a disclaimer. I love Christmas. I love presents. I love food. I love sparkly twinkling lights. But there are many things about the modern American observance of Christmas that drive me crazy.

Today my newspaper had an article about some families in the area who had decked out their houses with so many lights it looked like a scene from that movie with Mathew Broderick and Danny DeVito, Deck the Halls. Seriously. Now, the article was a nice one that encouraged people to drive around a view all these lovely lights. When I read it, not only was I aghast at the sheer gaudiness of it all, I was astounded at how ridiculous these homes looked with so many lights. And here's what bothered me: gas is $2.69 a gallon last time I filled up, not to mention it pollutes like the dickens. And the author of the article wants us to go drive around to see these lights? Second, think of all the electricity, money, and time spent on these displays. How much good could these families have done if they had put all that energy, money, and time into helping their fellow human beings? To their credit, one family asked everyone who came to their home to see the lights to make a charitable donation. Good for them.

The other day, Melissa and I were at Target. I've made it quite clear that I hate shopping, right? But I went with her, because I was in a rare shopping mood. But I have to say, everything at Target just reeked with sameness. Homogeneity. Plastic trash. I just was not inspired by anything there. It was all so...I don't know...useless. I confess that when I shop I prefer local businesses, but Target is one of my preferred chain stores in general. Yet, that day, I was struck with visual images of 25 dresses all exactly the same lined up on a rack. I had a very hard time feeling the joy.

My husband's Christmas party was last night. At times, depending on who plans the party, they can have a rollicking good time. One year they had a swing band and we stayed and danced until we closed down the party. In the early years, we had entertainment, like a high school choir or a short Christmas play. I liked that. Partly because I hate going to parties where I know very few people and I am expected to sit and chat with them like they're my long lost cousins, especially when the noise level is approximately the same as the runway when F-15s take off. But not this year. This year, we had a nice, but boring, meal at an exclusive club. That's it. A meal. No entertainment. No music. Not even a cheesy gift or the tiny bit of happy anticipation that you might win the centerpiece at your table. Okay, I realize we're in a recession and that the firm needs to keep expenses to a minimum. I"m all for that. I'd rather have a fun party with no dinner than an awkward dinner with people I don't even know.

Now, the party we had after the Christmas at the Cathedral, that was fun. Of course, I knew all the people, so that helped.

I guess my point is that I would rather have Christmas be less gaudy, less strained conversation with strangers, and less commercial crap. I have tried to fill my time with family, friends, and an occasional foray into the shops. I want to bake cookies, drink tea, and hope for snow. I want to sing Silent Night in the candlelight on Christmas Eve.

I hate to sound like a Scrooge, but maybe I am. Or maybe I have it figured out and the rest of the country just needs to catch up. I'm not saying those families don't enjoy hanging all those lights and stuff. I'm not saying buying one of those 25 same dresses at Target is wrong. Or that the person who planned the Christmas party is an idiot. I'm just saying, it's not me.

I hope whatever makes you happy this Christmas, you get to do it.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas Stress?

So I'm sitting in my Weight Watchers meeting yesterday (yay me!) and we're talking about how to handle the holiday stress. I have to honestly say that I am finally at a place where I do not have major stress over the holidays anymore. Part of why this is so is what I want to share today.

Years ago, when the kids were younguns, I wanted things to be so perfect. I decorated the whole house, I made handmade advent countdown chains out of construction paper, bought presents for the less fortunate, I wrote my witty and heartfelt Christmas letter to one and all, blah, blah, blah. As I learned how to take care of myself, love myself, do what nourishes me instead of what I feel I need to do for the good opinion of everyone else, I learned to let go of my perfectionism. (Some say I may have let go too far, since now I am about as un-perfect as one can be, but that's their problem.)

Here are some things I did to make the holidays fun again.

First, I axed the Christmas letter. I still do it, just at some other time of year, whenever the mood hits me to reach out to people I never see anymore and still want them to know I'm alive. This not only saves stress, it saves money. I don't have to buy Christmas cards anymore. I just send a nice long letter in the middle of, say, spring break, and everyone is happy. They don't expect a card.

Second, I quit getting the tree up early. We now put up our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, just like they used to in the "old country"--assuming we have any ancestors from the old country. Nevertheless, we don't have this large tree taking up half our living room using up electricity for the lights. It makes the moment more special, too, because all the presents aren't piling up for a month. It takes the focus off the presents, I think. A definite bonus.

Third, this year, I have yet to put up any Christmas decorations. At the risk of sounding like a Scrooge, I really don't feel like taking the time to put up a bunch of nick knacks that collect dust and then I just have to take them down again in a few weeks. I will eventually put up a few. Maybe this week. Maybe next. If the mood strikes. One of the kids, probably Peter, will likely decide it's time to get out some decorations and will go ahead and do it, if I wait long enough. (Which helps prove Melissa's theory that if you ignore something long enough, it will go away.)

Fourth, I refuse to go to the mall. I really hate shopping during "normal" times. I abhor it during Christmas. This is due most likely to the fact that I generally don't like people, especially in large quantities. I might do some shopping, in secret, on a Friday night, but definitely not at the mall. I still give presents. How they come to be in my house is a bit of a mystery to me, because the end up here without a lot of stress on my part. I do have to confess to using the internet a lot.

Fifth, due to the fact that I generally don't like people, I am not invited to many parties. In fact, we go to David's firm's party, and that's about it. I'm not begging for invitations, mind you, so don't invite me. I don't like people. Last year we did invite some friends over after Christmas, and that was a lot of fun. I will try to do that again this year. I really do like people, after all, only the ones I already know and like. Not a bunch of strangers all crowding around me.

Sixth, not having a job and being generally lazy in all ways, I have a lot of time on my hands, which lessens the stress considerably. I can practice my flute for the many musical gigs that happen during Christmas--which is my favorite part of the holidays really. I can watch the snow fall and sip my tea. I can cuddle with the dogs. It's a luxury, for sure. Doesn't help with the financial end of the holiday, but that's why I like the fact that we de-emphasize the presents. This year, I'm putting out a jar in which my family can write their "wishes" down, wishes for things they'd like others to do for them. Then we will draw them out and do them for each other. I hope it works. If not, I won't stress about it, because I'm just that lazy. It's an idea.

To sum up, I basically think that the reason my stress at holiday time is so much lower than most everyone else is that I pretty much continue about my ordinary life and celebrate the actual day without getting sucked into the insanity of months of preparation. I like it simple. I wish all of you a wonderful, blessed, warm and cozy, and totally imperfect holiday season.