(I know, you’re not Virginia, but if I used your real name in a public forum, you’d become embarrassed and, let’s face it, so enraged we would no longer be friends, which would defeat the whole purpose of this, so to protect your privacy, not to mention my own skin, I’m going to call you Virginia.)
Last week you asked me what you should do for Christmas. OK, maybe you didn’t ask me –- maybe you were just voicing your problems and not actually looking for answers, but every once in a while, everyone gets to be the friend who feels like it’s her job to tell you what to do. And, hey, I’m giving you a pseudonym; the least you can do is indulge my bossiness for a moment or two.
Anyway, Virginia, you explained that your choices were to stay at home with your parents and brother, who are busy juggling work and commitments and the typical holiday stresses I’ve witnessed my own family becoming entangled within for the past thirty-two years, or you could just decide to drive several hours by yourself through potentially bad weather to spend Christmas with your nieces.
It’s one of the meanest tricks we never quite realized we’d have to endure once we’ve finally outgrown ipods and gift certificates from the Gap still signed from Santa Claus. Sure, when we were little we may have noticed that the days right before and after December 25 were packed with carefully timed and orchestrated trips from one relative’s house to the next, but, hey. Everywhere we went, everyone had presents, so as kids, it was all good. Just one big rush of lights and carols and sugar and snowsuits, and if you ever ate too much of Aunt Teeny’s fruitcake or listened to too many of Pop-Pop’s stories of how tough they had it back in his day, you’d be out of that house and on to the next relative’s in a snap.
Somehow back then, we never noticed the pinched look of stress creeping across our mother’s face, or the way Dad’s shoulders would tense up in anticipation of another drive, another casserole shoved in the backseat of the station wagon, another rushed conversation trying to squeeze in every last important highlight of the year that’s quickly passing to a family member not seen since last Christmas.
We were kids, and then teenagers, and the world always revolved around us. Now, it’s different. Now, we’re older, and we expect everyone to be focused on the younger members of our families.
What we didn’t expect was that our choices would be so hard.
“Is it just me, or is Christmas not nearly as much fun as it used to be?” One of my twenty-one-year-old college students sighed just before class. It was the first week of December, and the bitter cold of winter had suddenly and sharply hit the nation’s capital, bringing discontentment and freezing our dispositions.
“It’s just you,” I started to say, then realized I was heavily outweighed by a bevy of college juniors and seniors, stressing over a busy week studded with finals and missed first nights of Chanukah due to a packed exam schedule. Tales of crashed computers and 50 page papers and consecutive all nighters floated through the room, and I felt I had to join in the fray. “I’ve got to grade sixty-five papers in six days,” I announced, joining into the mad rush that pulls us past any hope of the holiday spirit.
Where is peace on earth when we feel the semester’s weight pressing down on our shoulders? How can we even think ahead to winter break, to the stress of having to disappoint our friends and family back home, because we can never give them enough of our time? Who the hell decided it was a smart idea to plop our country’s second largest national holiday roughly three weeks before our first? There’s barely enough time to breathe between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and this is coming from a girl who followed up a turkey dinner with two sections' worth of papers for dessert.
The thing is, Virginia, we never really realized the holidays would be so complicated. We never anticipated we would have these types of choices -– between families and friends, grandparents and boyfriends, school work and spiked eggnog -- before we even had kids.
Kids –- kids are something else. I think most of us expect that once we start reproducing, the holidays become one big competition for who loves whom the most, but that’s to be expected. However, the stress of appeasing everyone in not one, but two, families is balanced out significantly by the unabashed, insanely unique joy that this time of year bring to those tiny snow-frosted faces for no other reason but this holiday, the whole thing, is for them.
When I left my college students, just a tiny bit Grinchy in the expectations of a long and bitter December, I stumbled across a group of teeny children, toddlers really, all bundled up in their heavy jackets and mittens and wool hats, all linked together as they took their afternoon daycare stroll. Even though the wind was chilly and their teachers herded them together, the kids were still thrilled to be outside, to be living in this world of anticipation. For them, there was no reason not to be happy, not to anticipate the lights, the decorations, the potential of the season’s first snow.
So, Virginia, my advice, though it may be unsolicited, is this: go be with your nieces on Christmas morning. Because if the stress of heavy cold December day melted away like the last bit of snow in April after watching a handful of strangers for five minutes, I can imagine how much more gratifying it’ll be to watch two little girls you love experience the thrills of a day all about them.
We have a lifetime ahead of us to feel guilty about not bringing a maximum amount of joy to everyone in our lives –- this year, let Christmas be about the kids.
Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw
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12.8.06 @ 8:38a
If it weren't for the children it'd all be bah humbuggery to me. Atheists don't celebrate Christmas, but we do celebrate family, and we praise geese as we roast one of them. Since we only give presents to the children we don't max out any credit cards, which is a good thing, I think. It's a good day to eat, drink and be merry since nearly everybody else is doing the same thing. It's cultural, whether it's Christmas, Saturnalia, Hannukah, Qwanza or a belated celebration of the Solstice. After all, any day off from work is a good day.
Merry whatever to all and to all a good night.
12.13.06 @ 9:26a
I try to let the children enjoy Christmas, but some of those little weasels are spoiled beyond all comprehension. I like to include a little gaming and family time when I run the holiday show, so it isn't all GIMMEE GIMMEE.
I think I'm a bit humbug, too. The over-commercialization is earing me down. Nevertheless, when it's really quiet, I do love a little twinkling lights and soft holiday music playing while I wrap presents for people.
12.13.06 @ 10:08a
I love the holiday. I could do without the radio station here that starts playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving 24/7 (101.3 The Rose, you know who you are!), and Christmas decorations in the stores that go up at 12:01 am November 1. I'm Christian, and while I love all the secular things like the Santa Claus tradition (Mom and Dad still like to put "from Santa" on some of my gifts for fun, and I do the same for some of theirs), I am troubled by the fact that Christ is not the reason for the season--it is the amount of income you can make (retailers) and the number of gifts you can amass (greedy consumers), and the amount of debt consumers can incur (greedy banks).
Why is it that other religions with holidays as important to them manage to keep their celebrations focused on the religious aspects rather than the secular?
Another thing--Why must Christian holidays take all the political correctness hits? The nonsense at Sea-Tac Airport over the Christmas tree displays, for example. Political correctness run amok. Season's Greetings and Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. "X" replacing "Christ". Winter Break in public schools instead of Christmas Break--even though it was fine for over a hundred years to call it that, since, amazingly enough--that's when it is! No more Christmas parties for elementary school kids in school. ( I have the BEST memories of Mom making red velvet cupcakes for my first grade class--none of my classmates was offended by the fact it was a Christmas party, they were just having fun!) Everyone is afraid of offending people of other religions, but for some reason does not seem worried about offending Christians.
In an effort to bend over backwards to show tolerance and understanding for others' beliefs, we've made Christianity the scapegoat. One would think after the hundreds of years of persecution of various religions, someone would finally get a clue.