I get stressed around the holidays. You probably do, too. It seems to be the nature of the season. Has it always been this way? I feel the tension start to mount just before Thanksgiving, my brain subconsciously creating checklists of what must be accomplished over the next six weeks – gifts for family, friends, neighbors and colleagues, tips for the various people responsible for holding my life together. A parade of questions to be answered, decisions to be made. Should I bake cookies or not? How bad are holiday cards for the environment? If I send them, do I hate the planet? If I don’t send them, will people think I’m a grinch? I imagine mantles full of happy season’s greetings from everybody except those earthier-than-thou Ungers who sent an e-card.
Just to be clear: I get it. Christmas is a religious event, a celebration of the birth of Christ. It’s a sacred day, one to be observed with gravity for those who hold certain beliefs. I am not talking about that Christmas. I am talking about Christmas as it has become in the secular world – giant, glimmering trees, department store Santas, the constant pressure to spend, the manic refrain of jazzy carols on loudspeakers, the glut of meaningless gifts, the buzz of rushing from one place to another to be sure that you’ve purchased absolutely everything you couldn’t possibly need. That Christmas.
As crazy as it gets, I love the holiday season. I love our tree, our years of collected ornaments, the lights in our palm trees and the moving polar bears on our lawn. My daughter’s birthday is on Christmas Day (Please, don’t feel bad for her. You have no idea.). I love her excitement, the fact that she still believes in the magic of Santa, the joy on her face. We all enjoy cooking and entertaining together. We love to celebrate with our wonderful friends and family. It is truly a joyous time for us. But somehow, all that seems like a finish line, something that you get to after a mad and frenzied race. I collapse into Christmas Day with exhaustion and relief.
Every year, I promise myself that it’s going to be different. But as my life expands, so does my holiday checklist. So, in order to center myself, I start each day with an hour-long meditation on gratitude. No, not really! I wish I were that Zen. In fact, the minute I open my eyes I leap from bed and begin to run around like a crazy person. My husband said to me the other day: “You know, honey, when things get really busy, and I feel like there’s too much to do, I find it’s best to just slow down.” That did not seem like good advice to me. I don’t think he’ll be offering it up again in the future.
But, secretly, I realized he was right – sort of (don’t tell him). All this nuttiness. All this rushing around — we do it because we love our friends and families. The impulse we all feel is the purest one, to give to the people we care about, to express our gratitude. When we give a gift, we’re hoping that it carries an important message: I love you and appreciate you. And I thought really carefully about what might bring you a little joy this year.
My husband’s advice about slowing down might not be so insane after all (although, honey, someone still needs to do all this stuff). Because when we take a moment, take a breath, and really think about what we’re doing at this time of year, it’s actually quite nice. We’re taking time away from everything else we do to focus on other people and what we can give to them. So even if the process, the stress, the endless checklists seem to have divorced us from the true meaning – well, the secular meaning — of Christmas, the spirit is alive and well within us. Maybe when we’ve stopped caring about giving that we should worry that we’ve lost everything wonderful about the holidays.
So, here’s my holiday wish for you and yours. I wish that every gift you give and receive perfectly expresses a sentiment of love. I wish you guilt-free treats, and boisterous times with family and friends. I wish that when you feel that mounting panic, you pause a second and realize how lucky you are to have too much to do and too many people to love. And I wish that on Christmas night, after the gifts are opened, the meal is eaten, the dishes are cleaned, and the kids are asleep, that you take a seat and a good long … breath (you thought I was going to say drink, didn’t you?) and count your many blessings. That’s what I’ll be doing.
And just so you know, my readers, my friends, you are one of my greatest blessings. Thank you for friendship, and your support. And thank you, as always, for reading.