I’m sitting here watching snow fall outside my window — a few scattered flakes; not at all the nor’easter I’d like to see come screaming in for Christmas. Wool-gathering; determined to be better about writing on this blog as so many of you have encouraged me to be.
Last year at this time I posted an essay about how we have the tendency to drive ourselves insane in pursuit of the “perfect” holiday, how we substitute stress for peace, and embrace the unholy dollar and a big case of the “gimmes” in favor of the realization that less can be more and what might be gained by it.
Understand, I’m no big church-goer. I don’t consider myself particularly religious (although I have a friend who would disagree). Spiritual, sure. Religious? I dunno. I don’t attend church, don’t embrace codified ritual or those instances when scripture seems to encourage hatred. Still….there is something about this time of year. It’s not that it hearkens back to my childhood (far from it) or evokes warm and snuggly Walton-esque memories…I’m not sure what it is. I only know that what’s going on in my heart and head is not what seems to drive things from, oh, August (when the first Christmas ornaments appear) to the midnight hour of December 24.
I won’t go into the old-timer’s tirade of “When I was a kid…” You’ve all heard it, read it, maybe even said it before. I only know that what works for me now — really works, what makes the holidays bearable and (imagine!) enjoyable — is not what I was raised to believe.
So this year, as last year and the year before, we have made things simple. No long distance travel. (There’s some nice people in my family, but they are miserable to deal with enmasse and couldn’t get along if they tried.) Fewer purchased gifts (for those few with whom we exchange) and more in the way of handmade things and baked goods. More hearty good wishes delivered in person or over the phone than cards (or those horrific unsigned Christmas letters sent by people who can’t be bothered to stay in touch the rest of the year). My husband and I are not exchanging gifts, just Christmas stockings. The year took a big bite out of our finances, why add to the issue by buying things we don’t really need? We sat back, thought about need versus want, and came away with a much more relaxed feel.
Is our way for everyone? No, of course not. But as I get older, I relish the thought of relaxing around the holidays, of enjoying my visitors (and my spiked hot cocoa) and not worrying about whether the food or decorations meet some vague “standard” set forth by people I don’t know and wouldn’t invite to my house if I did. The idea of a quieter, more contemplative holiday is not a bad thing, and it works for us.
So, yes, we’re gearing up for The Day (as much as we gear up at all), but also looking back, tallying things, making ready to put 2010 to bed and wake up to 2011. Lots of things happened this year, to all of us. Some were great. Some not so. We lost people we love and admire, but we also made new friends and welcomed new children into our extended family. In the last year, we said goodbye to the old cadre of pets, but said hello to two new cat friends. There have been medical scares and medical triumphs. There has been the hopelessness of Alzheimer’s and COPD…and the future promise of a loved one’s pregnancy. There have been marriages, visits from people we love, and travel to surprise a friend on her birthday. I finished writing a book (and hope to offer it to you soon) and began another. I realized that I’m as much (more!) in love with my husband today than I was 17 years ago when I married him.
However you do up the holidays (and I encourage you to take stock, make changes if you must, and transform it into a time you can embrace), take a moment to reflect not only on the good things, but on the not-so-good as well, those things that make you wince a little, maybe even make you cry. It’s all part of the mix, part of why we are here, part of our due as living creatures on this miraculous world of ours.
Some young disgruntled person said to me recently, “It’s all shit.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “That’s why we grow.”