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Reframing the Perfect Christmas, an Exercise in Letting Go

by added on 9 November 2015, Comments Off on Reframing the Perfect Christmas, an Exercise in Letting Go , posted in Blog

Amy Best, 3 Day Coordinator

It is November 2 and already the Fall Harvest décor in department stores is being replaced with glitter encrusted pinecones, cranberry/balsam scented candles, life size Darth Vader Santas and large banners promising that “This will be the best Christmas ever!”  Once again we are plunged into the whirlwind season of the Holidays, both the most magical and the most stressful time of year.  When I was a child I loved the Christmas season; the warm glow our house seemed to have, my mom’s cookies, the choir music, and our tree full of homemade ornaments.  When I got married I couldn’t wait to start my own family and celebrate even more, share my traditions and begin new ones.  I would bake every kind of cookie my mom had made and then some.  I would make all of my gifts, host parties for all my friends and family, attend lots festive activities throughout December.  And now we had my husband’s family too, so twice the celebrations!

It started out just how I wanted it to be, but gradually as the years went on we started becoming stretched more thinly.  My merry little Christmas gift making workshop started to feel like a sweat shop as friends got married and had children (each friend was now a group of 3 or 4 on the gift list), all of the sweets became too much, my husband – an introvert- became stressed and withdrawn as Christmas grew closer for we had parties to host and attend along with a whole slew of other festive outings –  Snowflake Lane! Zoolights!  The Nutcracker!  My parents wanted Christmas Day at their house – like it had always been- but we still had to squeeze in my husband’s family too, and his parents were now divorced with one remarried adding more strain.

I remember one Christmas Eve my in-laws staying very late and my children were melting down.  They got scolded by grandma for being naughty and by the time I wanted to settle down with our traditional Christmas Eve book (handed down in my family for over 100 years) my son screamed at me “I don’t want to read your stupid book!” The next morning was rushed gift opening while eyeing the clock, making sure we weren’t late to go to my parents’ house.  After an afternoon sprinkled with more family drama, my kids once again were getting scolded for being out of control when really they were so hyped up on sugar, gift overload, high expectations, and family tension they didn’t know what to do.  I ended up in tears, curling into a ball in a corner of the house.  And different variations of this scene happened every year for 3 years.  I felt so trapped in trying to please everyone (what will Mom say if we stay at our house on Christmas?) and do everything (Of course I can host the annual Christmas party at my house) that I didn’t think there was another way that wouldn’t hurt feelings or that wouldn’t let people down.  But even with all of the hard work and emotional energy I was putting into the holiday season, when the big day arrived, my kids were struggling, my husband distant and I was (I admit now) miserable.  Was this really the best thing for my family?

And then WFP Teacher Beth recommended the book Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppcock-Staeheli.  Quick book report:  This is a book that breaks down the root of holiday stress from all angles: through the woman’s perspective – Women:  The Christmas Magicians, the man’s point of view Men- The Christmas Stagehands and through the eyes of Children- The Four Things Children Really Want for Christmas.  It addresses the history of Christmas and the introduction of Commercialism into our country.  I found myself nodding my head and saying “Yes” out loud as I read the chapters, feeling so validated and enlightened.    I realized I was overwhelmed and that in trying to do the most festive Christmas ever, mine was stressful, rushed and jam-packed with “have-to’s.”  I talked to my husband and he told me what many men in the book had expressed, that he wanted less social events, more time for relaxing just us and the kids.  He didn’t like the calendar to be filled with things.  And then we decided to do something pretty radical:  spend the whole of Christmas Day at our own house, just the 4 of us.

I won’t lie; it was hard to tell my mom that we would be doing our own thing.  She was not thrilled but then she remembered that she had made that same decision for her family years ago when I was young.  My husband and I decided to make our Christmas celebration last the whole week of Christmas instead of one frenzied day.  My husband’s family one day, mine another, and Christmas day just us.  Together as a family we made a list of things we truly enjoy doing around the holidays.   Hot Chocolate with a candy cane, driving around the neighborhood to look at lights, gingerbread cookies; such little joys, but things that mattered to the children.   I made those little things be the number 1 priority and let the other things go.  I decided I would not throw a big Christmas party at my house for all my friends and neighbors but instead give them a call, visit or have them stop by individually for some cookies and coffee and conversation sometime during the month.  I enjoy canning and sewing, so I gave each friend a small family gift of jam and scone mix or a personalized felt ornament instead of trying to decide what to get for each member.   Everything slowed down a little bit to a more even pace, and by the time Christmas morning arrived we were in a more relaxed frame of mind then we had been in years past.  We took our time opening gifts, built Lego creations together, stayed  in our pajamas all day, cuddled on the couch to watch Christmas movies, ate food that could go directly from the freezer to a cookie sheet then baked at 350 degrees, and just loved spending time with each other.  Here was that warm glow I was longing for and it just happened when we all relaxed.

I am not saying all of this came naturally or easily.  It took some work, some communication and some letting go.   I am still working on not filling my calendar to the brim with activities (just ask my husband!) but I am trying to remember to slow down and check in with my family and with myself.  Are we having fun?  Is this meaningful?  Is this working for us?

So as the Christmas songs begin to play on the radio, the ornaments call from your storage containers in the garage and that holiday to-do list starts forming in your head remember to take a deep breath and go easy on yourself.  Decide what “have –to’s” don’t really have to be done.    Then let the rest go and enjoy this time with your family.  You will be so glad you did.