Christmas, I am not a fan. Why, as a society, have we not yet outgrown the need for Christmas? Why does Christmas persist? Why, oh, why won’t we come to our collective societal senses and banish it once and for all?
I have come to the conclusion that Christmas is a self-perpetuating system, a feedback loop. We continually strive to create the perfect Christmas of our childhoods so our children can experience Christmas magic, thus creating new adults who attempt to repeat the process ad infinitum.
Why are we teaching our children that they have to live up to some perfect Christmas ideal? And why must we buy stuff we do not need, gorge ourselves on sugar, fall off our carefully balanced routines and toss our true selves out the window? Why? We all recognize the need to build sustainable and balanced lives, and then we throw all that out the window to bow to the great god Christmas.
Christmas. I’ve heard the arguments for it. It breaks up the dark and dreary winter. It’s an opportunity to celebrate, slow down, reconnect with friends and family, and surprise and demonstrate an appreciation of others with gifts. Then, I suppose there’s the true meaning of Christmas, to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Still, I know very few people who celebrate the Christian part of Christmas, including myself.
Year after year, I offer a few weak protests and ask my family, must we do this? Only to have December 1st descend and the Christmas sprint set in motion yet again.
Enter the year 2020. A year when we might be forced to do something different. At least, I could hope.
Anyone who knows me knows I like systems. Systems have been my saviour as, without them, I become unbalanced and then, I become depressed. A healthy diet, enough sleep, enough exercise, enough work, enough connection leads to a stable Renee. Too much of any of those leads to an imbalance that takes time to correct. I obtain proof of my theory every year in May, the end of tax season when I contemplate running far, far away from my life, so I never have to repeat tax season again. The summer is my reprieve, my chance to reset and re-establish balance in my life.
COVID tax season was different. It did not end until September 30th. The tax deadline would potentially loom over me in the summer – my usual time to reset! I could not let that happen. So I didn’t. I ensured that I maintained balance and took breaks to get outside and have fun despite always having a backlog of work. I worked on what appeared to be essential and allowed myself time off in between.
The new tax deadline came and went without much notice on my part. I was already onto the new essential tasks, back-to-school time for my kids and the start of the COVID soccer season. The next thing I knew, it was the end of November. My sister was hounding me for gift ideas for my kids and our parents. How did the Christmas season get here so quickly?
On November 29th (despite my never-ending work backlog), I emailed my family (parents, sister, aunt and cousins) to ask them what they personally needed from Christmas. My aunt was the first to reply, and then, to my delight, my entire family chimed in. My mom even responded after she was told that her initial typical mom-like response of: “I’ll just do what everyone else decides to do.” would not suffice.
And I am going to write my mom’s response verbatim, as I think it reflects what many of us feel yet do not articulate:
“Christmas has always made me feel slightly inadequate…..I never see enough people, never bake enough goodies, never decorate enough, but for the last several years, I’ve been letting most of that go…..this year, there shouldn’t be any worries about not getting together with enough friends; as we’re forbidden from socializing! Decorations? I think I’m going to discover that I do them for myself. Was it last year I didn’t put up a tree? It didn’t cause any permanent trauma, but I’ll probably put one up this year. In other words, I understand your Christmas stress Renee but have no answers about how to relieve it.”
At this point, I realized that I had already gotten the Christmas I wanted. Genuine connection with my family and an understanding of how I can make Christmas meaningful to me without it sabotaging the rest of my carefully balanced life.
To me, Christmas is a chance to reconnect with family and friends, a time to delight in holiday magic when the world seems to slow down between Christmas Eve and New Years’. Then, we all do add ons a bit differently depending on our personalities. My sister likes to cook and surprise people with gifts, my cousin wants to read books and play games in a cozy cave. I enjoy getting outside and reading books without having to think about what I have to do next. I think we all like the chance that the “open time” gives us to reconnect. The kids like to play together, eat candy, and a mom who lets them just do what they want with no school thoughts for two blessed weeks.
We all agreed that Christmas is an opportunity to escape certain life obligations so we can all reconnect. Yet, Christmas also creates all these obligations, as my mom pointed out. I decided to try to let those obligations go – time to try something new in the year 2020, when if I wasn’t going to try something different, I don’t think I ever would.
I invited my children’s dad over for Christmas morning. Usually, my co-parent and I “share” the kids on Christmas. One of us parents the kids from the last day of school until 2 PM on Christmas, when we switch over. The other parent then parents the kids from 2 PM on Christmas through the New Year. I couldn’t get together with my parents, sister, or aunt and cousins, but I could get together with my kid’s dad. He accepted.
I pointed out to my co-parent that I would have the kids full-time up to Christmas and little opportunity for shopping, and he offered to do the shopping for the kids. I accepted that too. We did fall into a few old patterns whereby he left the shopping until the 24th and needed my final push on specific decisions, but we found a way that worked. At one point, I texted that our eldest shares some traits with his dad, including being incredibly difficult to shop for. “Karma?” replied his dad. “LOL,” was my reply. No, not Karma, genetics, I think.
I did not quite manage to let other obligations go, I got a Christmas tree, and I reluctantly decorated it. This year, though, I decided to enjoy that tree (and I had more time to do so with fewer social obligations). And I did, and I still am. I also still had the requisite Christmas guilt when family, friends and colleagues gave me gifts when I had given them nothing in return. I also ate (and continue to eat) too much chocolate.
The other parts of Christmas fell into place as needed. I connected with my aunts, uncle and cousins over Zoom and “met” my cousins’ children for the first time in their lives. We reminisced about our grandparent’s Christmas celebrations when we were children. I got together with high-school friends on Boxing Day – typically, we go for dim sum, but this year, we gathered in our homes around Zoom. We all got to attend this year, even our good friends who live scattered around Canada and the US.
Oh, and my co-parent ended up asking me for Christmas dinner as well. He made the turkey, I made the stuffing and mashed potatoes. The kids loved not having to eat yams and Brussel sprouts (as we made them broccoli).
I was tired on Christmas – it had still been a sprint, and I still did too much. Yet, I also noticed the pitfalls of Christmas and started to implement a few systems to continue to convert Christmas from an obligation to a celebration. What started out as a COVID Christmas to endure has instead turned into Christmas traditions for a lifetime.