Only three more sleeps till Christmas! Who's excited? I AM!
But, also, not.
I truly do love the Christmas season, and I try really hard to have fun things to do and traditions that my kids will remember fondly. We do always have a good time. But Christmas is also really, really hard.
For one thing, there's all the prep work. I spend nearly every day after work shopping for at least a month prior to Christmas. Then, there's wrapping, shipping, baking, festive-making. It's a LOT of work. Mostly I enjoy it. But there's always that nagging anxiety over spending too much, making sure I put together an equitable and pleasing assortment of gifts for four kids (plus several relatives/friends/neighbors), and lamenting over the things I, inevitably, never get to.
Like baking homemade cookies. Didn't do it. Don't plan to. I did buy red and green m&m's to make holiday cookies for "something" but there was never a "something" to make them for, and when will I use them now? We already have a counter full of goodies from various friends and co-workers - we certainly don't need more. Last night, when putting out an assortment of candy sprinkles for the kids to decorate gingerbread cookies (purchased, pre-shaped and with frosting and candy decorations included for $4 at Michael's, thankyouverymuch), I realized I have far too many holiday-themed cupcake papers, picks and sprinkles.
I still have supplies for amazing craft ideas I had years ago, and never got around to doing. I always start out the season (early, even!) thinking I'll make some gifts but, in the end, I never have time. I barely got our Christmas card out this year, and I didn't include a letter, but I really don't care. I'm at least sane enough to give myself a break for the incredibly difficult year we've had, and let some things go. It's ok.
But what's hard for me is not having any family around. I love having a big family gathering, especially when there are little kids around, during the holidays. I miss my mom's cooking, and the generally noisy, chaotic, loud atmosphere of a family party. I love watching the little kids open their gifts - it's been years since mine were young enough to be filled with wonder and delight at what Santa brought them. A big, festive Christmas dinner just feels like work when there's no one to enjoy it but my own family. I know it shouldn't, but it does, and we've had a few Christmases where we didn't even have a fancy dinner.
Christmas morning is always fun - the unwrapping, the accumulating pile of gifts, the general delight in giving which has certainly become more of a "thing" for my kids now that they are older and able to choose and pay for their own gifts to each other. But then the day stretches long, and there are never any family parties to attend, or the squeezing in of several family celebrations - who's house are we going to this year? Just our own.
It doesn't help that our families all live a distance away and travel between our homes is difficult, if not impassable, in December. Or that my kids INSIST on being at our house on Christmas day - no exceptions. I'm definitely at a point in my life where I would welcome spending the holidays somewhere else, or even chucking tradition entirely and going to a warm and tropical locale to lay on the beach for a week in lieu of shopping for a month and unwrapping dozens of gifts. But the kids aren't. So, we don't. And that's ok with me. I want my kids to have their own happy memories of Christmas, even if they don't include the Christmas traditions of my childhood. This is their time, it's their Christmas.
Still, it's the hardest time of the year when it comes to family. It's what makes me think about living closer, or, as my niece said recently "that commune thing is starting to look really good!" Being together to celebrate life's milestones, or just another holiday season, is what it's really all about. Thinking about what we're missing is hard. My kids don't know the holidays with the family. And the truth is, neither do I. My childhood family rarely lived close to relatives, so we spent our holidays pretty much the same as my family does now - in a town far, far away from any other family, celebrating with our own traditions. So, why do I feel like we're missing out?
I think, for me, I always envisioned a big family celebration at the holidays. I remember thinking, when I only had two kids, that my family was not "big enough" to be fun at the holidays. How would it feel to have only four around the table? Then, I had a third child, and even then I felt our celebrations would be quite small. I didn't take into account, of course, the many future grandchildren I might have. But it's possible I won't have many. It's all a mystery. Then, I got a bonus child, and now I have four. Same as my childhood family - four kids, three girls and a boy - and I hope and pray that someday, that will grow into a crowd of noisy, boisterous, crazy, chaotic loud beings who are just happy to be together, sharing a meal and a day or two of festive fun.
But until then........I miss my family. What I wouldn't give to be able to just materialize at the front door, family in tow, to a big gathering, everyone in one place. What a merry, merry Christmas that would be! It's ok to be a little sad about the holidays. I still love Christmas, and I love the traditions my own family has made. So, I take the good with the bad, the happy with the sad, knowing that things can't always be the way I wish they could be.
So, if you are lucky enough to spend Christmas with your relatives, know that there are blessings hidden in there somewhere, even if you sometimes find them exasperating. Hold your family close, because they are your anchor. And if you live far away, create a family with close friends. We're still working on that one. It's hard. And mostly be thankful for the family and friends you do have who help make the season bright. It's not an easy time for so many. I feel blessed to have my incredible, funny, silly family to spend my holidays with. I just have room in my heart for so many more.