A Lot Less Commercialism… and a Little More Christmas, Please!

Christmas seems to have snuck up on me–again.

texas christmasI don’t know if this is a result of living in Texas where December is more in line with the fall of my childhood, or perhaps it’s from the general chaotic pace my life has taken on, or maybe it’s some other factor that I have yet to identify. Whatever the reason, I’m staring Christmas in the face, and I feel totally unprepared.

ChristmasTooEarlyI used to put my tree up on November 1. I figured that, so long as we had passed Halloween, it was fair game. It wasn’t a matter of finding the time, but more a waiting a respectable amount of time before putting up that first sign of Christmas. I was ready and waiting, a runner poised for the blast that singled “Let the games begin!”

My Christmas shopping used to be done by December 1, and the only thing I needed to scramble for were a few extra stocking stuffers. I leisurely wrapped the gifts while listening to Bing croon about the white Christmas I could already see outside my window. I savored the season: enjoying the moments, admiring them, fingering them one by one.

christmas_stress_shoppingNow it’s more of a mad scramble, a dash from one event to the next–a chaotic sprinting, not a leisurely stroll.

The tree is put up in stages. First there is the bare tree, then days later it acquires some lights and maybe a ribbon or two. Finally, when we can all fit in a spare couple of hours together, we add the ornaments. And then at last the tree bedecked in all its glory to remind us that, yes, Christmas is coming (like a freight train), despite the blue skies and sunshine outside my window!

mom paperGifts are bought in a helter-skelter, often last minute fashion these days. Presents are wrapped only to be opened moments later–literally moments later. No enjoying that pretty wrapping paper peaking from beneath the tree branches. No children having days to wonder about the mysteries wrapped and waiting beneath the tree. There’s no shaking of the boxes, wild guesses, and the peeled back corners of gifts that sit under the tree to tantalize the little people in my life. Nope, there is a still puffing Mama who did a wrapping marathon only to thrust the presents into the eagerly waiting hands. I barely wipe the sweat from my fevered brow before the little people are tearing that pretty paper off and all my efforts are now crumpled in a heap on the floor…

And then there is the Christmas baking…don’t let me get started on the Christmas baking!

I used to love the smells wafting through my kitchen, the strains of the Trans Siberian Orchestra in the background, and the cup of Joe or the glass of red in my hand (depending on what strikes my fancy at the moment). I relished my role in my husband’s family as the maker of delectable desserts (it probably helps that their idea of a Christmas spread is cookies and pie bought at the local supermarket, but never mind that, I relished my role as the Martha Stewart of Christmas yumminess). They waited with anticipation for me to walk in with my homemade oreo cookies, my peanut butter bonbons, and what ever else I decided to throw into the mix that year.

They start anticipating early, at Easter, throughout the summer (never mind that I have spring and summer versions of dessert decadence), already anticipating the Christmas treats that are to come.

Oh, the pressure! I created this beast and now I have to feed it!

cooking messAnd the baking, no longer the savored Christmas experience, is something that I smoosh into my hectic Christmas Eve morning somewhere between the candlelight service (which they now have early in the afternoon which allows us to maintain our scavenger hunt tradition in the evening) and the scant few hours of sleep I’ve managed to cram in with all those last minute Christmas errands the day before the stores begin to close up shop and tell us procrastinators to “go the hell home! We have families too!”

Ah, Christmas. Still my favorite time of year, despite how quickly it comes and how quickly it’s over! How I miss the time to savor you as you so deserve!

My house may not be decorated to perfection, my array of treats might be appallingly scant, and the gifts might yet be crammed in shopping bags in the corners of my closet, but somehow, I don’t think that is what my children are going to remember (I know that’s not what I remember, though I’m pretty sure my mom was probably the chaotic, sweating, marathon running mess that I am today!).

Family-exchanging-presents-at-ChristmasMy children will remember, not the presents or decorations, but the time spent together. They will remember the traditions, the games, and the warm fuzzy feelings that Christmas will bring their way for years to come (until they have kids of their own and the chaotic insanity becomes their very own!).

I find myself reminding myself that it’s not about perfection. It’s not about a beautifully set array of cookies and perfectly wrapped presents. It’s not about the perfect kids’ craft that results in perfect little treasures for grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles.

The kids won’t notice the clutter around the house. They won’t notice that there are only two kinds of cookies this year. They won’t notice that the handmade presents are a bit less spectacular this year.

And I shouldn’t either.

Christmas CardIt’s time to stop running around like a crazy person and settle in and just enjoy being with my family.

And it’s time to remember what this season is really all about. Not the great commercial rush it has become, but something so much more–infinitely more.

Sometimes I need to remember that.

You can only do what you can do, and really that’s not the point of it all anyway.

Merry Christmas from my chaotic family to your own! May it be perfect in its imperfection!

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What have we done to Christmas?! Sometimes less is not only more, but most!

We had a little snow on the ground when I woke up yesterday. Not much, mind you, but still, actual snow before Thanksgiving, in Texas.

As I sat in my car, shivering, waiting for the heat to kick in, I had a random thought. Hadn’t I seen my Christmas CD just the other day. I rummaged around and, sure enough, there it was, so I popped it in. A little early for Christmas music, but hey, there was snow on the ground and everything . . .

So for the last two days I’ve been listening to Christmas music on my commute to and from work. It’s quite understandable then, why I found myself thinking of the upcoming holiday.

My kids are getting a little older, so I’m not quite sure what we should do for the holidays. With the exception of Lily, they’re probably too old for places like Santa’s Village. Maybe we should do the festival of lights instead. Maybe we should splurge and go to a performance of the “Nutcracker” or “A Christmas Story.” What should we do . . . ?

christmas pastAnd then I was struck by a wave of memories. Gosh, I LOVED Christmas as a kid. The memories started flickering through my head: Memories of us in our new Christmas pajamas, wrapped up in coats, mittens, and scarves, piling into whatever old beater car we had at the time for the drive to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. . . . The anticipation of getting to Grandma’s house, even though only one present awaited us, and there were no cousins our age . . . The warm glow of the memory of making sugar cookies, from scratch, cutting out the shapes and frosting them ourselves with homemade frosting and an assortment of sprinkles . . . Memories of snow hills and sledding and the smell of baking cookies and hot cocoa that greeted us on our return . . . memories of piling into the car to see the Christmas lights that our tiny little town put on it’s street lamps–pretty dinky compared to the displays today, but absolutely magical to us then . . . so many memories . . . and they couldn’t be any better.

Thinking back, I don’t think of the presents, or the perfectly decorated tree; I remember the moments, the time with family, the warm glow of time shared, time spent doing pretty much anything–it really didn’t matter what–with the people that mattered the most.

christmas nowWe didn’t have a lot of money (though somehow my parents always managed to put a big pile of presents under our tree). We didn’t have the big fancy house, with the crackling fireplace with the huge, perfectly decorated tree with the designer dressed little kids sitting in front of it to capture that picture to show the world that we had the “perfect” Christmas. We didn’t have the big shiny new car to drive to see the fancy light display or to go to the over the top Santa experience. We didn’t get everything we wanted.

But it was perfect.

I wouldn’t change a thing, not a moment. I wouldn’t trade the family game nights for a fancy performance of the “Nutcracker,” and I wouldn’t trade the memories of us snuggled together under mounds of blankets watching “A Christmas Story” for a trip to Santa’s Village. We didn’t have much, but we had everything that mattered.

In an age of commercialism, in an age of technological distractions, I find myself asking myself if I am giving my own children the same perfect memories.

We have the great big house, the fireplace, and the fancy tree. My kids dress in their matching designer outfits for that family picture. We are filling our schedule full of holiday “events.”

But are we taking the time to really have the “perfect” Christmas. The time spent together, talking and snuggling–times undistracted by little glowing screens. Are we christmas i wantlosing the small stuff, the substance, in our pursuit of the “perfect” Christmas?

I want my children to think back and feel the warm glow that I feel. I want them to remember the times spent together, not the pile of gifts. I want them to have the same flood of warm memories of their perfect Christmases–just like I have.

Thank you mom and dad. Thank you that, even though we didn’t have a lot of money, you made the holidays everything anyone could ever ask for. You gave us an abundance of all the things that matter most. You gave me memories of love and warmth and family.

They set the bar high–but I’m determined to match it. I try to do the small stuff, but I think I need to focus on the small stuff more, and make sure that the little things don’t get crowded out by a whole lot of “big” things. Sometimes just staying home, hanging out together, means far more than a flurry of activities.

And for goodness sake! Put that stupid phone down, no, better yet, put it out of sight and concentrate on the people around you, instead of losing the moments as you try to capture them to show them to everybody else out there.

Let them concentrate on their families.

And make sure that the time you are spending with your family is quality time, the kind that memories are made of.

I think I am an Event Junkie!

            I’ve been sitting here with my morning cup of coffee trying to figure out why I feel so BLAH. Granted, there are lots of things in my life that I would like to (need to) change, but I really don’t think it has to do with the reflection on what went wrong in 2011 and what I want to see out of 2012. It’s more basic than that.

            I am an event junkie! What, you may ask, is an event junkie? Well, I need something on the horizon, something to look forward to. I can cope with the status quo when I know that in a few weeks, x,y or z is going to happen and I get to break away from the monotony of my daily life. Thus, an event junkie!

            So here I am on the post side of Christmas with all the excitement and busyness behind me and I am looking at the stark boring months of January and February. BLAH. I should be content with the little things, and I would be, if there was something on the horizon, but the only thing on the horizon is Valentine’s Day (and let’s be honest, when you’ve been married for 12 years and have three children, Valentine’s Day usually doesn’t even hit your radar!) and my birthday (which is a day I would just as soon ignore this year). Get ready for the two most boring months of the year!

            From Easter on (or even March if you get to do something fun on spring break) it seems like there is always something great around the corner. Spring break leads to Easter, which leads to the end of school, which leads to all the fun trips and activities of summer which leads to school starting, to Halloween, to Thanksgiving, and culminates into Christmas. And then BAM! You have to trudge through the two stagnate months before anything fun starts to happen!

            So, what does an event junkie like me do? I stare at my planner. I will it to fill. I actively try to fill it up with mildly enjoyable activities that will pass the time until I have something truly event worthy to break me out of the treadmill that is my life.

            Pretty sad, eh? But there it is, the sad truth. Not sure how to fix it, so I think I’ll disappear into my latest good read and ignore the house that needs to be cleaned, at least for a little while. Some good escapism might just do the trick!

Valentine’s Day Can Just Stick It! Pass the Eggnog!

            When I was a kid there was a “holiday season.” You didn’t just celebrate the holiday itself. The whole time from Christmas Eve to New Year’s (heck, from Thanksgiving!) was festive. It didn’t matter that Christmas was over, the trees were still up and the lights were still lit. There was still a kind of “afterglow” from Christmas.

            This just doesn’t seem to be the case any more. Yesterday I went to the mall and was shocked to see that they had already taken the huge Christmas tree and all the decorations down. I walked into a Starbucks and it was the same thing. All hint of the holidays had been stripped away and we were still days away from New Year’s! It stole away some of the Christmas magic I was still feeling!

            About five years ago I moved to Texas. I’m not sure if that is the difference or if times are just changing. I mean, the 65 degree days and the green grass, do kind of take away from the overall Christmas feeling! But, I really don’t think that is it.

            Why the rush to leave it all behind before the Christmas cookies are even gone? I can still almost hear the sleigh-bells, but now they’re cramming Valentine’s Day down my throat! Ugh!

            Enough already! Can we savor the moment a bit before rushing on to the next one? Can we slow down for just a little so we can really enjoy it all? It’s such a mad rush to Christmas day (especially for moms!) and then they want to whisk it all away before I’ve even had a chance to slow down enough to enjoy it all in the first place! Sometimes I really hate commercialism!

              So, in defiance of the commercial push, I am going to leave my tree up for at least another week. I am going to eat my Christmas cookies while listening to a Christmas song, and I am not going to spare the slightest thought for Valentine’s Day for at least another month! Valentine’s Day can just stick it for all I care! 😉

Merry Christmas AND a Happy New Year! 🙂

Post Christmas Comatose

            I am sitting here, with my third cup of coffee, trying to get myself to think clearly, much less get motivated. My brain feels sluggish and my reflexes seem slow. I think Christmas gave me the beat down!

            Don’t get me wrong, Christmas was great! It was a total success in the kids department despite our finances being so tight this year (thanks to craigslist and thrift town!). Seeing Arabelle’s excitement about Santa was priceless. She even got the bike she asked Santa for thanks to her aunt and uncle who didn’t mind letting Santa get all of the credit. My dad bought me a brand new Bunn coffee pot so I’m back to having a truly excellent, hot cup of coffee in the mornings for the first time in months. My husband even gave me a morning to myself. Overall, Christmas was a total success!

            Still, two days after, I feel like I have brain fry and that Scrooge did a body snatch in the middle of the night. My kids are still flying high from excitement and sugar overload, while I seem to have crashed and need about two weeks of solid sleep to recover. The bickering that is the norm when all three kids are home has me feeling downright grumpy!

            I guess I never realized how much work moms put into Christmas. I never really noticed all that much despite the fact that I’ve been a mom myself for a decade. We deserve some sort of award!

            The mad rush to get everything ready for Christmas was huge this year. Then you have the explosion on Christmas day. Now I am left looking at the after math of a house torn apart and guess who gets to clean it? Yep, yours truly. I think I’ll just ignore it all and go back to bed!

            I never realized how much my mom did to make Christmas magical for me year after year. I wish I had realized then so I could have let her know how much I appreciated it! Still, belated though it may be:

Mom, thanks for making my childhood so magical! I understand now all the time and energy you put into it, and the warm, happy memories I have are testimony to what a great job you did! Thank you!

           I suppose someday my kids will understand too and I’ll get that thank you I’ve been looking for! Until then, I’d better get another cup of coffee because this house isn’t going to clean itself and my kids can’t seem to go a minute without needing me to come to the rescue for something or other!

Update: Gavin just came up to me and told me I’m a good mom . . . maybe they do notice . . .at least a little bit! 🙂

The Big Fat Man Still has Magic!

            My kids are all very different. My son who is seven is a complete realist. If he can’t see, taste, or touch something, it’s not real (with the exception of God who gets a free pass for some reason!). He’s a complete skeptic. He had worked out the flaws in the “Santa myth” as he likes to call it when he was only four. He’s smart and analytical and no attempts to keep the magic alive with him were successful. Santa just wasn’t practical.

            Our daughter Arabelle is a completely different story. She’s five and she is a dreamer. She believes that her toys come alive when no one is looking and she believes that there are fairies in her backyard despite the fact that no one has seen them. As she so adamantly tells her brother “just because you haven’t seen fairies doesn’t mean that they’re not real!” She believes in the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny and she is a most firm believer in Santa.

            This Christmas season has been a two month long debate in our household. Gavin has presented all the practical reasons why Santa cannot be real while Arabelle has unswervingly held her ground insisting that Gavin would see on Christmas morning. Santa is too real!  This drives the realist Gavin absolutely nuts, but there is no convincing my little dreamer!

            Arabelle decided that a good way to convince Gavin that Santa was real was to write him a letter and have him send a letter back. All on her own, Arabelle, who is only five mind you, starts the laborious process for a little one just beginning to write, of writing a letter to Santa. Every once in a while I would get the call from across the room of “Mom, how do you spell ____” fill in the blank. I would respond and she would keep writing. She got done, put it in the envelope, asked me Santa’s address and with complete confidence she walked it to the mail box and put the flag up.

            Of course, Santa could not possibly let her down! My husband Aaron and I love encouraging the magic. We tried with Gavin but failed miserably, but we weren’t going to give up for our girls. We decided to pull out all the stops and we were going to do our part of helping  the magic of Santa continue for our girls for as long as we can.

            Aaron decided that he would be Santa. He thought about it long and hard. He knew that Gavin would recognize his handwriting so he pulled out my old calligraphy kit, found some of the fancy stationary I had bought when we were inFlorence and started writing the magic letter.

             Only half of the fun for us was keeping the magic alive for Arabelle. The other half of the fun was stumping Gavin who was so very sure of himself! He had already told Belle that if she got a letter, it would be from us or maybe the postman would write it, but that Santa wasn’t real so it simply could not be from him. We took extra effort to try to make it hard for him.

            Yesterday was the big day and the letter magically appeared in the mailbox. We didn’t put an address or a stamp on the envelope because the mailman won’t deliver a letter without either of those things so the letter so Gavin’s theory that the mailman did it simply wouldn’t fly. The handwriting was totally unrecognizeable so he wouldn’t think that Aaron or I had done it. We’d done our homework and we figured that Gavin would be really and truly stumped.

            I casusally asked Arabelle to go check the mail. We watched her walk to the mailbox. We watched her open the mailbox and pull out the letter. We watched her tip her head to the side and stare at the letter, and then we saw one of the most precious things we had ever seen. The moment of realization. She jumped up in the air, arms waving and squealed, “Santa! I got a letter from Santa!” And she came running and laughing with her arms continuing to wave in the air. It was one of the moments when you can look at parenting and say it really is worth it. All the difficulties, frustrations and sacrifices disappear in that moment and it is all so very worth it!

            Just as we predicted, Gavin was stumped and spent half the day scratching his head trying to figure it all out. He finally gave up with a shrug and simply said, “I don’t know. But Santa isn’t real.” But Arabelle . . . for her the magic of this Christmas is very much alive and very, very real. She will remember this Christmas, the Christmas that Santa wrote her a letter, long after she has out grown the big, fat man himself. And she will always think of it with a smile and she will know that her mommy and daddy loved her enough to keep the magic alive for just a little bit longer!

A Not So Very Merry Christmas

 

            Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love everything about it. I love the hustle bustle (though not the crowds!). I love the decorations and music. I love finding the perfect present that I know somebody’s going to love. I love all the goodies. I love the cold mornings when my bed feels all the more delicious for the snuggly little haven it becomes in the winter months. I just love it all!

            But this Christmas, I find I have a heavy heart. I’m still loving the time with my children. We are having some wonderful moments. But the cloud began to form with a personal setback which seemed to steal a bit of the joy. Then I started hearing of the heart ache of many people I know. Jobs lost, illness and loss which culminated this morning in the news that my husband’s cousin’s husband has an inoperable brain tumor. As wonderful as Christmas is, life doesn’t stop for Christmas and many people are going to be finding that this Christmas is anything but merry for them.

            I remember the first few Christmases after Serena died. They were torture. Christmas seemed to heighten the loss. I think of my friend who only recently lost her son and I wonder what Christmas will be like for her this year. I think of Carrie and Aaron as they and their family clings to hope that God will give them a miracle this Christmas. I think of the many struggling families who can’t find a job and can’t afford to have the Christmas their kids are expecting. And my heart hurts. Christmas is a wonderful time of year when all is well, but when things are not well, well, it is a very different story.

            My wish for Christmas this year is that everyone who is at a good place would keep their eyes open for those who are not and that they would choose to make someone’s Christmas just a little brighter. For those of you who pray, pray for those around you who have touched by the hand of suffering or loss. For those of you who don’t pray, a kind word and the knowledge that someone sees and cares can make all the difference!

             Let’s make Christmas better this year by looking outside our little families and seeing those around us.

 

            After all, that’s what Christmas is really all about!

“Happy Halloween! Err . . . ah . . . I mean Christmas!”

            As every parent typically does, my husband and I have thought a lot about how to communicate with our kids the real meaning of Christmas. It’s hard for little people to see much beyond Santa and the presents these days.

           Last year when we asked Arabelle what the meaning of Christmas was she responded with one word, “Presents!” Aaron and I were horrified and decided that we needed to come up with a better way to get the real meaning across other than our typical method of reading the kids the Christmas story and talking to them about it. Obviously that wasn’t doing the trick!

           The only problem was that we just weren’t sure how to go about it.

            Yesterday morning as we were sitting in church listening to the announcements (or at least Aaron was. . . I think I was a million miles away going over my to-do list one more time), Aaron leaned over to me and whispered, “That’s it! That’s what we need to do!” I looked at him blankly (like I said though physically present the mind was far, far away!). “We’ll help deliver the stockings to the needy families!”

            I immediately saw where he was going and though I hate knocking on strange peoples doors, I thought I could make an exception this time. After all, it is Christmastime and the reason for the season and all that. We decided it was the perfect way to talk about the real point of Christmas being about giving, like God gave to us. It would be perfect!

            The kids were actually pretty excited. Gavin and Belle kept announcing, “It’s just like Halloween except we’re giving instead of getting!” For some reason they really liked the sound of that.

            I think that is where some of the confusion started. The kids had said Halloween one too many times and it stuck in little Lily’s mind. To her it must be Halloween come again. She kept asking me why people had Christmas decorations up and she wanted to know where the skeletons were. When we knocked on doors and no one answered, she became quite concerned that the Halloween ghosts had eaten them. None of it was making sense to her at all!

             Meanwhile, Gavin, all excited to hand out his stack of stockings started getting a little perturbed that no one was coming to the door and so he began announcing at every door, “Don’t worry! We come in peace!” like we were making first contact in an alien movie or something. I cringed every time he said it, though I couldn’t help but laugh too!

             Add to all of this the fact that every single house that answered spoke Spanish and none of us do . . . well, let’s just say that our big lesson in giving didn’t go over quite as well as we had hoped!

             So, I guess we will have to find another way to get across the fact that Christmas is not about the lights or the presents or the big fat guy in a red suit.  Our perfect idea was a perfect flop. But as the saying goes, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” 🙂

             Until then have a Happy Halloween! Oops! I mean Christmas! 😉

 

Move over Razzle Dazzle and Make Room for the Good Old Simple!

            Every year, I set out to try to make Christmas a little bit simpler. I have grand intentions to limit what I buy for my kids, to not go crazy on the baking, and to not run all around the metro heading from one event to another. I determine not to get caught up by all the razzle dazzle. And every year I fail.

            I love Christmas. I love the bite in the air. I love Christmas music. I love the lights and decorations. I love hunting down the perfect present and I can’t resist when I find something that someone would love, even if I already bought them something else. Everything about Christmas makes me happy and I get caught up in it all. I simply can’t resist the lure of going over the top.

            Yet, I think sometimes, when we get so caught up in it all, we can miss the whole point of why we’re doing what we’re doing. At least I can.

             It hit me square between the eyes the other day. I had been going a million miles an hour that day (and for several days before). It just happened that my girls had their ballet performance that night for the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in our town. I was already feeling frayed and frazzled and I had to somehow get everybody fed, get them all ready and get them to the ballet studio in just over an hour’s time. I was in full gear, my nerves were tight and my stress was high.

            Somehow I did it, but as I was trying to take a couple of pictures of my girls for this very special occasion, I found myself snapping at them. Lily wouldn’t look at the camera and when she finally did Arabelle would look away. I got worked up, and frankly, I got cranky and I started snapping at my kids.

           The whole point of the craziness was to celebrate with them for this special performance, but the busyness of the season had already gotten me so frazzled that I wasn’t enjoying the moment because I was trying too hard to make it perfect.

            I think we are so often like this. We get so caught up in all the hustle bustle that we forget to sit back and really enjoy the moment, especially at this time of year. Yet, at this time of year more than any other, we should be focusing on the small magical moments with those we love and not running from one end of town to another for yet another activity. We should stop DOING so much and just let ourselves enjoy being.

            Yes, I’m still going to bake cookies and I’m still going to buy presents, but I’m glad I had a wake up call early enough in the season so that I might be able to keep myself from getting so frazzled that it all loses its magic anyway!