I love the holidays.
Go ahead – say it – Bah! Or Humbug! You can’t snuff my spirit.
I love the holidays. And I even like them when they no longer turn out exactly as I might have planned. (Did they ever?) I’m getting used to them coming before I expect – as in, What happened to October and November? -- and I’m growing increasingly flexible about what we eat and when, if we go to church and/or when and where, who shows up, the perfectly size, shape, and décor of the tree, and what constitutes a thoughtfulness quotient for gifts. Those are the things I used to think really mattered. Older and wiser now, I realize they don’t, necessarily.
Now Christmas cookies, the ones my grandmother and mother baked before me, they matter, down to having legitimate cinnamon hearts with which to top the spritz (cookie-pressed) Christmas tree. And the scent of fresh-cut trees in a lot still holds a compelling allure. And, occasionally, I need an angelic rendering of a Christmas carol, one that isn’t schmaltzy. Beyond these three things – the cookies, the tree, and the music – what matters to me is that Christmas is my assignment. It’s mine to do and make happen, to create. It’s mine to orchestrate and stage-direct. It’s like a second job, or a third. You finish the day’s work, and then you take the softened butter and get to work on a double batch of, say, shortbread. You clean up after dinner and then retreat to the spare bedroom to wrap the packages. You run to the grocery store and, on the way, stop at Fed Ex Kinko’s to pack up the gift you never should have bought because it’s going to cost more to ship than it’s worth.
Many women – most women – whine and groan about these chores. I revel in them. I’ve had my moments. Twice since I’ve been a grown-up I have had close friends dying in December. One made it; one didn’t. Both times I found myself asking if I were in their shoes – in their beds, to be precise – would I spend my last few days doing what I was doing? Could anyone find meaning in tracking down one more string of clear, white mini-lights or mailing envelopes for those albums of vacation photos you finally put together for all the kids? Those years I told myself I was making Christmas happen for others, and especially for my children so that, when they might feel overwhelmed by sorrow themselves one day, they would have great Christmas memories, among others, to sustain them. The truth, however, was closer to this: I was doing it because I could.
Which brings me to the main source of my enthusiasm for the holidays. In these days of seemingly intractable global, national, and family problems, it is simply gratifying to tackle something I can control. Christmas is something I know how to do, something that makes me feel productive and something I think adds love and good cheer to our realm. Small potatoes, I know, to get the stack of gifts to appear equal for each child (and in-law), when higher minds are occupied with the perceived fairness of the spoils of war in Iraq and Afghanistan or Gaza or Rwanda. You can’t even count my Christmas shopping as an economic stimulus, and I probably won’t change any minds about Planned Parenthood, Fundamentalism, politics, education, or religion at a Christmas Party, even if I throw my own and invite folks who are surprised to have been included. Nor will Justice be advanced, no matter how generous I am feeling toward all the people I should tip. Problems, in other words, will not be solved while I am “doing” Christmas.
But they won’t be solved if I don’t “do” Christmas, either – so give me that list! I am delighted to have food to order, gifts to buy, packages to wrap, cards to address, notes to write, stamps to wait in line for, trees to light, ornaments to pull out of the closet, the Advent calendar and Nativity set to assemble, cookies to bake, and decisions to make about this year’s celebrations, including who will pick up our son and his wife at the airport 10:30 Christmas night. And sometime early next year, after the pine needles have all been sucked into the vacuum cleaner and I’ve eaten the last of the Christmas cookies for lunch, I’ll resolve to turn my attention to matters more challenging once again.
What do I want for Christmas? The opportunity to make it happen. And a clue about the next year, about what I might be thinking about doing full-time -- and not just during the holidays -- to bring more love and joy into the world.
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by Ann Sentilles
December 8th, 2009