I had this long post written about the Christmas traditions we kept when I was a girl and how I kept those traditions going with my own children. You know, things like playing some favorite Christmas records while we decorate the tree, specific Christmas snacks we would eat as our mother placed garlands, candles and the ceramic drummer boy she’d made around the house. There was a method to tree decorating (smallest ornaments on top) and to setting up the nativity that we ritually performed each year only to immediately pull out the Star Wars action figures and play all in the middle of it.
All of this I did with my kids, except different tree, a goofy Christmas Dance Party cd (It’s so bad that it’s wonderful.) instead of Elvis’ Blue Christmas and a non-breakable nativity that now has a monstrous angel since the dog got it by the face last year.
In writing about all of these things, I think I was trying to talk myself into feeling that “Christmas Wonder” that I once had but now sounds kind of cheesy. I do love winter and being warm inside with loved ones. But, honestly, I don’t love celebrating Christmas the way I once did. I suppose it’s good that I don’t actively dislike it anymore, right?
You may know, by now, that I’m a Christian. So, when I say I don’t like Christmas, I mean the things that go with the celebration, not the Christ we are supposed to be celebrating. I’m wondering how many of you feel this way too?
It’s not one thing, well, okay it is mostly one thing. The holiday went from being a time of shared family love to my feeling spread thin, appeasing relatives- relatives not in my immediate family. I’m sure you can imagine it, as it sounds like a common issue in families today. After weeks of insane Christmastime schedules, we’d enter the holidays to an ongoing debate about who we visited, in what order, and for how long. One year is was the fact that we showed up at all that angered some. There were arguments over where the meal would be cooked and where it would be served, even if I was doing quite a bit of the cooking for that get-together. Then, for other get-togethers I would ask to help and was always told no because of some proprietary Christmas meal thing, I don’t know.
Things were simple and sweet when I was a girl and my mom was alive. But age, blending families, new generations, and typical dysfunction just changed it. I realized I spent so much time on food that might be the focus of a gathering and it wasn’t really savored with gratitude- certainly not by me. Or money on gas to drive across state and feel like I was constantly having to be show a high level of interest and deference to others, while downplaying myself and my family so as not to arouse competitiveness and grouchiness that everyone saw, but no one would address. Not every individual had a problem with us, or me, and I’m thankful for the love they gave. It’s also possible more of my family members really enjoyed some of the get-togethers I’m thinking about, but I swear, amidst all the emotional turmoil I saw, it didn’t seem that way. Most everyone seemed to either be patient, angry, exhausted, dissatisfied, or nervous. I didn’t see much joy. So why was I trying so hard that I always, always ended up sick when it was all over? I think I may have been the most dissatisfied, nervous, or angry participant of all.
I am working through feeling ultra responsible for things I shouldn’t be responsible for. Sometimes we just get in a habit of doing things for others because we can. But after a while it is expected. There aren’t many people who would step back and say, “Oh, you don’t have to do that, it’s my responsibility.” or “I’m feeling crummy, but it’s not your job to make me happy. Thanks for just being here.” or “I was late, but I don’t expect you to stay here longer to see me because you have other relatives to visit.” Etc. And if I was someone who was afraid to risk disappointing someone else by saying no, I would be stuck.
Working for approval is the worst way to grow up. That’s not something my mother ever taught me. But in her absence, I picked it up, and it’s taken about 30 years to shed it.
So I’m a few years into trying to reach a balance and de-stress my little family’s Christmas. Doing my part to not distract the celebration from what it’s meant to be about, celebrating Christ as a family. I’m not sure how it will play out each time, but I am lessening the amount I physically do for Christmas Day. I’m saying no to some things and unexpected yeses to others. There won’t be any complaints from me about how hard the meal was to prepare, etc, because it won’t be. It also won’t be the huge traditional meal of Christmases past- at least not any time soon. We don’t travel far anymore and probably never will again. I have taken 4 days to decorate my tree this year. Seriously, there are big rubbermaid tubs stacked in the living room and that’s okay. I am also decorating by myself and enjoying it anyway.
We also try to relax more leading up to and after the big day. Having only one child in school now makes that easier. I’m sad that I’ve only come to this decision after my children are grown and out of the” Christmas Wonder” phase. But if I can see that no one feels nervous around our table or like they owe something, I will be satisfied. People can stream in and out of the house whenever they like. If every single person is shown respect and love and receives kindness from me, it will be a success.
So I am actively thinking of every member of my family I will see and letting good memories and things I can be thankful to them for fill my mind, so I will be prepared to spend quality time with them, not just rush through stages of the day. I want to prepare myself for worship too, because I am thankful for Christ and I want to keep the fact that He’s walking with me in my mind through the whole day. Miraculously, I feel gratitude welling up inside of me again and I’m feeling a little wonder.
So, friends, I know I’m slow to respond to comments because I’m just trying to post more right now, but I’d love to know how you keep Christmas from being meh? Any thoughts would be appreciated.