Here we go folks! Fasten your seatbelts for the roller coaster of emotional, physical, and financial stress that we fondly call “the holidays”. I don’t think there is another month on the calendar that is more packed with expectations, obligations, traditions, activities, and dangers than December…and yet we embrace it with open arms and grin like fools doing it! From its humble beginning as the birthday celebration of a child to the extravaganza of gifts and guilt that we cherish today, Christmas Day is the end of the month-long ride for most of us, but other events throughout the month can be just as exciting…and exhausting. I’ve often wondered if the sale of vitamins and energy drinks rises as dramatically during December as the sale of toys.
My mother was always a bit depressed during December and it took me a few years to figure out why. When I was a child she suffered from the four classic holiday maladies: She missed her family, she feared the expectations of others, she had too much to do, and she didn’t have enough money. I only recall one year when we were able to travel from CA to OK for Christmas. I don’t remember a lot about it, but I’m sure Mom was happier that year.
My own feelings about Christmas were confusing for several years. I call them the “Santa years”. If you accept the whole premise of Santa rewarding “good boys and girls”, then I had to conclude from my presents that my behavior didn’t quite meet Santa’s expectations. Oh, I got some good ones over the years. My parents did their best to buy us something wonderful. But there were certainly some years when I wanted something I didn’t get, and there were lots of years when my friends and classmates got much, much more. So I just assumed that I was somehow less worthy. Think about it…it was the only thing that made sense! I offer this letter to Santa from 1928 as proof that I was not alone in my thinking:
“I thought I’d better write you before it is too late. I am a little boy five years old. I quit fighting yesterday and thought I’d be good now so you will come to see me. I want a red truck and lots of fruit. I have a baby brother you have never seen, be sure and bring him something. Hotuh Freeny”
December is packed with school and church activities. While most of them are entertaining and enjoyable, they are also emotionally and physically stressful. One of my fondest memories is reading the Christmas story, from the Bible, at a school program when I was in the fifth grade. I was a nervous wreck for a week before that program, but I was also proud and relieved when it was over. I’ve also participated in church productions that required months of preparation and weeks of rehearsals. I don’t regret one moment, but at the time there were certainly some fears and a few tears.
Of course the two most stressful traditions of the holidays are the family gathering and the exchange of gifts. Be honest…there are some family members that you “acknowledge”, and can even converse with if necessary, but the only reason you’d sit down to eat with them or give them a present is because “mom says I have to”. I recall a few holiday dinners that dissolved into heated arguments and hurt feelings that lasted for months. I remember at least three occasions when I was chastised for my “country ignorance” by relatives I barely knew. One reacted to a question I had asked with, “Girl, haven’t you ever seen a mink before?” lol No I hadn’t.
Gifts have become the major focus of Christmas. Buying the perfect one at a bargain price is so important that for many the quest begins early in the summer. For others it intrudes on Thanksgiving and as quickly as the dishes are done the family takes off for the nearest mall. Expectations for gifts have become more specific. Brands are important. Styles are important. Trends are essential.
And of course what would everyone do if they couldn’t compete with their neighbor over who has the best tree, decorations, and/or light show? Some major retailers have Christmas merchandise in stock as early as July. So the planning and preparation can begin months in advance. Decorating and decorum are obviously sometimes at odds with each other. Even cities, as we saw recently, can respond to expectations of “beauty” in surprising ways! People decorate for pleasure, for pride, and sometimes to raise money for charities. Just another treasured tradition.
Oh, and dangers in December? All the usual- fire, theft, accidents- seem to increase when we are tired and stressed. So be careful out there!
Don’t get me wrong. I love December. I love Christmas. I have many, many fond memories of school, church, and family celebrations. But I begin the month with eyes wide open and with an understanding of all that may be required to get to that blessed day when hopefully we’ll all remember what started this…