My mom was all about Christmas. She really did it up big. She went way overboard every year. Every year we waited for her traditional claim that she was “cutting back.” She tried hard not to say it and we conspired to make her slip up. She always did. And when the proclamation inevitably came, we would hoot, call each other on the phone, and herald the news that it would be another good year. One time she asked my teenage son if he still believed in Santa. His response was, “Yes. She has red hair and drives a…”
When I became an adult, I tried to keep up for years. I can’t. I’m not even sure I want to keep up in many of the ways that she did it. It’s a lot of pressure. When I took over some of her shopping and wrapping and baking as her health deteriorated, I wondered aloud why she was so happy doing so much all those years. It was her way, and she was good at it.
But, alas, times change. We don’t have huge family gatherings they way we once did. My entire family came together for the first 55 years of my life first at my grandparents’ home and later at my parents’ home to join in the full day of festivities. It started with presents, stopped for breakfast, and continued with presents. The rest of the day was spent cooking and eating, playing games, and laughing over well-worn stories of Christmas past.
Once my parents made their permanent home in Florida and Mom couldn’t travel, things changed. We’re now spread out across two countries and five states. For a long time now my brother has spent Christmas with his wife’s family. My sister goes to visit with her children wherever they are in the country or they come to her in Virginia. Once Mom passed away Dad started coming to my home, but he lives in Florida, hates the winter weather, and has now chosen to stay there, golf, and celebrate with his girlfriend and friends.
My Christmas celebration has become more and more pared down with the passage of time. We don’t buy and buy and buy the way Mom did. My son and daughter-in-law host Christmas every year because, after working in a grocery store during the holiday season, his biggest Christmas wish is not having to wear anything but sweats and not having to leave the house all day. She has decided that Christmas dinner should be simple and involve no hours in the kitchen that day. So our Christmas feast will look a lot like a deli buffet.
My friends don’t host holiday parties. Denise and Joe have our “chosen family” over for dinner on Christmas Eve, and I have the same group at my home for New Year’s Eve. Last year I went all out. I took out the mountain of Christmas decorations I have amassed and inherited over the years. I made the house look festive and hosted a Christmas tea. I enjoyed the time with good friends and the little ones in their lives. I pretty much maxed out the number of people I could have here for a sit-down meal but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves even with tight spaces.
This year I’m pruning back another couple of traditions. I always search out Christmas cards that have a picture and message that says what I would like to say to people. They have to be just perfect and involve a pursuit that takes time. Many years, I created and printed my own cards. All of this became a chore that added pressure and anxiety to my holiday. This year the scaling back starts with not sending Christmas cards in the same way I have done in the past. I will still find the just right cards but I’ll only be sending out a few to those I won’t get to see over the holidays – and I’ll write personal notes to those friends and family far away. If I’ll see you tomorrow, I give you a hug and wish you a Merry Christmas. If I’ll see you on Facebook, I’ll design a wish for one and all to send out. I will do no more than I can handle and will not put pressure on myself to meet some arbitrary Hallmark expectation in sending cards.
The other thing that I am scaling back on is the holiday decorating. I had one year that I wasn’t going to decorate at all. Mom had died and with her my Christmas spirit. In the end I forced myself to get out all of the decorations and go through the motions. I did it in memory of her. I did it because I have grandchildren. And in the end it was good for me because I really love Christmas and the decorations.
I have more of Christmas stuff than someone with a house twice the size of mine should have! Every year I swear I won’t buy another bauble, ornament, piece of tinsel…not even another Nativity for my collection. That usually flies out the window before Thanksgiving hits. (Confession time. This year it happened before Halloween, but it was a really different creche.) When I’m putting the decorations up, I am listening to Christmas carols or watching a Christmas movie. I am seeing my treasures that have been hidden away for the whole year. I take out some and smile a moment reliving with old friends the memories they bring. Some come out and bring a surprise because I had forgotten them. Last year I took them all out and made the house look as Christmassy as possible. You know what? It was WORK! And these days, I’m the only elf putting them up! The adults have their own to do and the grandchildren don’t have time either.
And the only thing more work that getting them out and placing them around the house is packing them up putting them away! By then I’m no longer feeling all sentimental about them. I’m not listening to the Christmas music. It’s over. And I want it to be done with! I’ve turned grinchy. And as for those grandchildren? Only one of them even saw the full blow-out last year!
So this year, I will decorate only to the point where I can see a few beautiful things that bring the season alive for me without an overwhelming amount of work. I’ll put up the tree. I’ll put out at least some of my Nativity collection. And I’ll hang the stockings by the fireplace and the wreath on the door. That might be it. I’ll sort through the things that can go live somewhere else, and I’ll save the rest for next year and cherish them then.
Curbing the things that add work and anxiety will hopefully free me to find the “all is calm, all is bright” of the season. I will do the things that gladden and hearten, helping me to truly celebrate and enjoy. Maybe I’ll bake…maybe not. I’ll make a few gifts…if the mood strikes. I’ll wrap gifts with beautiful bows because I like to do that. And I will certainly hold on to
the sentimental and lovely things that have invariably filled me with the true Yuletide spirit. I will listen to lots and lots of my favorite music. I’ll watch Christmas specials and tune in for a few of those cheesy and wonderful Hallmark movies. I’ll take Lily to see Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer at a local theater and the light display at a community park. I’ll attend a special Christmas music event that a friend plans every year. I’ll go to church. And I’ll read Christmas stories – the ones written for adults and the ones for kids. I’ll find an audience for some of them, and for other’s I’ll curl up and revel in the quiet warmth of a fire, a cup of tea, and a story.
Along with my collection of Christmas decorations, I have a wonderful accumulation of music and books reserved just for this time of year. In fact the depth and breadth of this assemblage forces me to start taking joy in them well before the arrival of Thanksgiving! But that’s okay, because they are things I love, and they are not fattening, they’re not bad for my health, they uplift my spirit, and, perhaps best of all, they are shareable.
So let me share with you, my friends, some of my favorites. Today I’ll share the titles of some of my favorite Christmas music to get you started on the season. You’ll notice I kind of like older stuff. I love the traditional hymns and artists who sing these songs simply so that you can sing along. You won’t find the sad ones.
My favorite Christmas music:
- Amy Grant – “Tennessee Christmas – I love all of her holiday albums but especially A Christmas Album, 1983 that introduced this song.
- Kelly Clarkson – “Silent Night” featuring Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood – from the album Wrapped in Red, 2013
- Bing Crosby & David Bowie – “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy,” 1977
- Vince Gill – “Breath of Heaven” from the album of the same name, 1998
- The Forester Sisters – “An Old Christmas Card” and “This Old White Doorway” from their album Christmas Card, 1987
- Andrea Bocelli’s album My Christmas, 2009
- Alan Jackson’s album Let It Be Christmas, 2002
- Il Divo’s album The Christmas Collection, 2005
- Martina McBride – “Do You Hear What I Hear” from White Christmas, 1999
- And any Christmas music by Pentatonix, Michael Bublé, Michael W. Smith, Celtic Thunder, Straight No Chaser, and anything from the artists my mother and I sang along with over the years Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis and the rest.
Later I’ll share some book titles that will get you in the spirit and make great gifts for the folks on your list! And if you’d like to stop by to have a cup of tea and some music, for a story time, or to borrow any of these, my house will be the one with the wreath but not a lot of other things outside.