Post Christmas Considerations
I love Christmas. I always have, ever since I was the little boy getting all the goodies from Santa Claus. For a few years there, when I was a single adult, Christmas got a little bluesy, but it is back with a vengeance since I have a son of my own. It is even better now that he is five and involved in the process leading up to the magical day of presents and family truce that is the holiday. Our family earned top honors this year, avoiding the annual fight brought about by stress and high expectations. It all went surprisingly well.
Keys to a happy Christmas
- Have children in the house. Children make this particular holiday worth having, at least for me. Thanksgiving is all about turkey and football, and I can enjoy those without a kid. Christmas is different. Santa Claus is just an old, fat, imaginary fairy without kids to enjoy him. The only Christmas stories I truly enjoy without adding in the enjoyment of witnessing my child's interaction with the story are The Nightmare Before Christmas and Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott. The other holiday fare is nostalgia-inducing, but not enjoyable for itself anymore. Children add their energy, their optimism, and their love to the whole event and make it worth the trouble.
- Have a child in the house who appreciates more than the presents. Don't get me wrong, my son loves presents. He'll take them anytime he can get them. But he sees more in the holiday than the presents alone. He likes visiting family he rarely sees at other times of the year. He appreciates the glitz that goes with the season: the lights, the tree, the ornaments, the ubiquitous snowmen and santas. He has his ornaments, special to him. At the moment, he adores snowglobes, and is prompting me to collect them for him. He has blown glass Winnie-the-Pooh characters for the tree. These are his things, and he has taken possession of them, deciding where they go on his own. I don't dare interfere.
- Have family traditions of Christmas. For example, our house has the tradition of Christmas Kitty. Christmas Kitty is a cat stand-alone decoration of a white cat carrying a present that my mother gave to our family. My son's third Christmas, he told us all the story of Christmas Kitty. Santa brings presents to children, but Christmas Kitty brings presents to adults. So, in our family, the adults get a gift from Christmas Kitty, while my son gets a present from Santa.
- Give yourself, and your family, a break. Christmas will not be perfect, and you should not expect it to be, and you should not blame anyone specifically for the imperfection of the season. You won't have the funds, unless you are extremely fortunate, to give everyone exactly what they want. No one's desires will be completely fulfilled. For example, my son really wants a car that he can drive. He's not getting one. There are safety concerns on my part, and a recognition that the amount of money the car requires does not justify the expense, given the brief time he would be able to make use of it. If you have pets, they will break something. My cats like to eat the artificial tree. My Jack Russell chews and takes for a run anything that fits in his mouth. This Christmas, I had to chase him down after he stole the boy's stuffed Yoda.
- Find inexpensive, or free, ways to celebrate the season. Drive about to see the Christmas lights, or take a walk in a neighborhood that is especially well decorated. Make Christmas ornaments at home. We have two Yodas cut from paper decorating our tree, and some Star Wars snowflakes throughout the house. I found the directions for the snowflakes on the internet, and my son was highly impressed with the results. Nothing says Christmas like Darth Vader and Boba Fett. My son made his grandmother a car out of craft foam for her tree, a picture frame ornament starring him for my step-mother, and a chaos-Christmas tree for my father. We still have to make Butterfinger cookies for New Years.
- Let the children play. Beyond unwrapping Christmas gifts, children need time to explore their new toys without the pressure of playing with everything, enjoying everything, and showing great joy in every single item. Yes, the child must thank everyone who gives a gift for they have thought of him/her and are expressing in the giving of the gift their love for the child. But some toys take time to warm up to, and not all presents will be loved equally. One of my son's favorite treasures, is a stocking stuffer from three years ago named Pepe. It's a blue dog that walks to a chirpy tune when you press a button. I doubt my mom had to pay more than a dollar or two for it, but the kid loved it then, and loves it now. Toys of greater expense sometimes fall flat, and that is not the fault of the kid, but of luck and the kid and the moment. My son has had two trainsets so far, and he hasn't really adored either one. I would have loved them at his age, but it is not his thing. He has different tastes and obsessions than I did.
- Be polite. This Christmas season I have had my feet run over by shopping carts, narrowly avoided being struck by various people in their various vehicles, and defended my prospective purchases against parents trying to get the same object twice. There were rude people everywhere, in the toy stores, in the malls, in the warehouse stores, all pretending that this was their single chance to get that one item they needed. In the age of the internet, it is most probable that you can find that one item somewhere else and do not have to participate in the piranha-frenzy of mall shopping. Having the patience to not run over others is a good thing. Saying excuse me, thank you, pardon me, and all those trite sayings your mother taught you when you were a kid is still good form today, and they make the day go easier for all. Happy holdiays, merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Hannukah, etc.--whatever you're greeting of choice may be--the reality of a merry holiday season is much closer when we act like grown up, civil human beings.
- Do not equate a gift with love. A gift may be one way of expressing affection, but it is by no means the only, nor even the best, way to express affection. Do not compare gifts and their price tags to determine who is loved most. I have an aunt who has been doing this her entire life; she is no happier now than she was twenty years ago, and she always ensures with her presence at least a few gloomy Christmas moments.
- Fill Christmas Day with the people you like, not the people you are "supposed" to like. Some family members are just not worth the aggravation. Send them a card, but keep their ability to ruin your season at a minimum. Sometimes, they are unavoidable. When my grandmother was alive, I could not avoid my brother-in-law without hurting my grandmother's feelings, and so I put up with one in order to bring happiness to the other. Now that my grandmother is gone, I don't see my in-law. My season is happier without him. In the modern day, with so many split families, we encounter the problem of the divorced and the disaffected, people who cannot be seen together, but all share the season with you. Make space for all, without forcing them on one another.
- The Christmas feast is not one person's responsibility. We all have that one relative who insists on cooking the main meal, because they are the only ones who do it right. A lot more goes into that feast than the main meal, though. There are cookies, candies, and snacks that have to be prepared, too. Contribute a little to keeping the hordes fed, and everyone will have a better day. Kids should help making Santa's cookies: it is part of their job during the holiday, and it gives them the chance to sample raw cookie dough. They can help put together snack trays, too; it's not that hard. Men can get into the kitchen occasionally without causing immediate explosions, and it doesn't do us any harm. When I was a kid, every Christmas dishes I thought awful hit the table, and I haven't yet grown to like them. I don't have them at my house, and skip them at other people's homes when possible. I am also not such a slave to tradition that I make my wife cook them so that I may ignore them. I just don't serve them at all. Of course, those dishes she loves and I don't, make their appearance, and she let's me ignore them. As long as everyone is fed, it is not the end of the world should we have turkey this year instead of roast beef, ham instead of turkey, or, hell, even hamburgers. We are together, and that is the best part of the holidays.
- As we shop, and this goes for all the shopping we do away from the holidays, too, we feel justified in venting our spleens on those who serve us: clerks, stockers, waiters and waitresses. These people haven't done anything to us, they just happen to be in our way when we are having a bad moment, and due to their subordinate position many of us feel that we are allowed to treat them horribly whenever we aren't having a stellar day. Keep your bad moments to yourself. All these people working the holidays, devoting their days to serving your needs, do not need in addition to the stress of their job, the thrill of dealing with rude, wrathful patrons. Even when there are problems, you can be polite, you can be civil, you can be a decent human being. This goes with the advice to relax. Every given day comes with frustrations, but we can deal with them in ways that do not make the world around us worse.
- Have your kind of Christmas and allow other people the same privilege. If you are Christian, and the season to you is about the birth of Christ and the arrival of hope in the world, celebrate that, and enjoy it. If this is not your view of the season, fine. Celebrate family, celebrate the possibility of peace, celebrate whatever it is in the season that gives you joy, that makes you happy. In the end, Christmas is one day out of a whole year of days. It just happens to be a day upon which we concentrate on being our best selves and creating, in the small space of our homes, the best world.
That is my holiday advice. A lot of it holds true all the year round. Enjoy the time you have with the people you love, for we are temporary, and so are they. Respect people, because we are all frail and hopeless creatures, and the world is better, our lives are better, when we give each other the space and the consideration necessary to reveal our better natures. Remember that family is not just an accident of birth and connection, but a relationship between people that takes care, and rewards it. Most importantly, don't sweat the small stuff. Most frustrations and difficulties are of the wounding, not the killing, kind, and even most of those only wound because we allow them to do so, strengthening what is a minor inconvenience with our own anger and impatience.