On this, the shortest day of the year, it’s worth remembering that even when the days are longer, there’s never enough time to do everything we want to do. Which is an especially important lesson to keep in mind during the Silly Season.
The funny thing is that we’ve been sold a bill of goods regarding Christmas that was never anything more than a ploy to sell us more things. And even though I know this, I still feel the ridiculous pull to try to do ALL THE THINGS. Sometime in late October, I catch myself thinking about what kinds of cards I want to make from scratch. Then it’s the lists of items to make for friends and family — jelly, jam, cookies, brownies, bread, etc. And don’t forget the idea of endless parties and individual gifts, which I always promise myself I’m going to wrap in the cutest handmade paper, and (this year, I swear) I will mail them on time!
Over the last week or so, I’ve seen several of my friends post comments to the effect that they feel like failures because they can’t get everything done before Christmas — cookies, presents, parties, dinners, cards, and all the other little things we feel like we need to do to make Christmas the way we think it ought to be. It’s like there’s this big rush to get it all done in time so we can enjoy the 25th. Like there’s some kind of deadline on doing Christmas, and if we can just get to the 25th with the proper number of items checked off, then we’ll have the perfect Christmas.
Like we can even really enjoy the day after all that planning and worrying and stress. You know that sad, empty feeling you get after all the presents have been opened and the dinner has been eaten and the dishes are done and put away? Yeah, me too. It’s because no matter how wonderful the day actually is, it can never live up to the day we hold in our collective unconscious. The one sold to us by whomever produced the most tear-jerking commercial of the season — usually Folgers, but I think Apple is in the running for the 2013 prize.
It’s no wonder most people rip down their decorations and take down the tree on the 26th. They’ve just run an emotional marathon since Thanksgiving, and all they have to show for it is some ugly sweater and some useless fancy electric knife that will probably break down in the middle of carving the Easter ham.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. I love the social aspect of it. And I really do love doing all the things I dream about doing in October. But I just can’t do them all. Heck, I don’t even think I can do some of it these day. Not and pass my classes, write term papers, and study for finals. It’s just not possible. Or, more accurately, if it IS possible, it takes an unGodly amount of dedication and perseverance. And lack of sleep.
I’m not willing to give up my emotional health on a manufactured version of a very serious and special holiday. I mean, I still WANT to do all the things, but I accept that I just can’t, and instead I will focus my attention on the things that bring me the most joy. And which doesn’t disturb my very fragile sense of peace. And isn’t THAT what Christmas is all about, really? Joy and peace?
Maybe instead of focusing so much on this relatively recent version of Christmas, we should look further back into the history of the holiday. Instead of rushing around, stressing ourselves out, we think about the early Christmas celebrations. Or, if you want to go even further back, think about the Solstice observances. It’s winter, the days are short, and darkness is close. Maybe instead of forcing so much light and activity, we listen to Nature and what she says we should be doing. Going inside, gathering around the hearth, enjoying a period of rest and renewal.
It is this sense of peace and quiet that I have been trying to cultivate in my reinstatement of Sunday Dinners during Advent. It’s nice to sit around the table and talk with people without loud music or games or lots of drink. It feels like a real connection. Instead of feeling like I’ve added more to my worry pile, it’s as though I’ve spent two hours recharging my batteries.
I still have that urge to make lists and plan surprise gifts. But I’m giving myself permission to spread them out over the coming year instead of trying to get them all done in the next week. Which will not only make this Christmas more peaceful and enjoyable, but will likely have the added benefit of spreading a bit of the Christmas cheer throughout the year.
Peace to you on this solstice.