A Christmas meme was making the rounds this year: “You are not obligated to continue holiday traditions that leave you broke, overwhelmed or tired.”
This stopped me in my reindeer tracks.
If I am gritting my teeth as I head to the Christmas tree farm with my family because my perfect tree has long needles and theirs has short, maybe perfect is not the point. Maybe I should go Charlie-Brown altruistic this year and actually try to find the worst tree on the lot.
When my adult children offer to put up the outdoor Christmas lights that always make me crazy, maybe I should let them. Even if they don’t get the lights perfectly positioned, the right bulbs in the right tree, the chances of my falling off the ladder are greater than theirs. I can admire their handiwork, no matter.
If Amazon suddenly emails me that the “guaranteed-delivery-by-Christmas” gift I ordered will not arrive until Jan. 2, I can print out a picture of the gift with the note “Coming soon!” and wrap it. My recipient should feel so lucky to have Christmas extended.
If it stresses me out to select, buy and wrap holiday gifts for the six couples at the annual neighborhood dinner this year, who’s holding my feet to the hearth? Maybe I can plan to say something nice to each couple instead, which will save me time, money and blood-pressure medicine and establish me as a role model for the other Christmas queens next year.
If I hate making candy, and I do, because 50% of the time, it drips off the counter instead of forming perfect candies, I can buy homemade at the local farmer’s market. It’s just as good and cheaper and I won’t eat half of it while I’m making it.
As for those brass angel chimes I buy every year from Sweden, the kind that have 18 moving parts and that make little twinkle noises when the angels hit the chimes just right? If I can never get the angels to go round and round, because I always do something wrong when I put them together, maybe I can light the candles under the chimes anyway and put on some twinkle music from another source. The imperfect chimes can be a metaphor for me.
This is all new thinking for me, the direct descendant of an OCD Christmas Queen.
Whereas for 30 years running I have felt driven to maintain “One Hundred Christmas Traditions,” a la my mother’s old edition of Better Homes & Gardens, this is the year the meme pushed me to consider my cousin, Pam, whose only real must-haves are greenery on her mantel, a wreath on her front door and music. My other cousin, Diane, tells me she’s determined this year to only put up only those Christmas decorations that mean something to her. My friend Marilyn decided it’s not her job to find the perfect gifts for people. “Merely thoughtful is fine.” I watch my friend Stacey this year, a life coach in Montana, who says: “Here, we are deeply committed to doing nothing commercial or expected or the worst thing ... ’shoulding’ on ourselves. So we read and share stories and listen to music and eat good healthy food and soak in hot springs.”
This also happens to be the year I’d been seriously ill during Thanksgiving. Still recovering, I was simply not up for going to the mess of a storage shed where I hastily threw all the boxes of Christmas decorations last year when it was 10 below zero. Wanting something, wanting Christmas, I quietly began putting out the few favorite things that never made it to the storage shed but had sat in a basket at the top of the stairway all year. Surprise: It was enough. This inadvertently set the tone for downsizing in other areas, including gift-giving, an idea fully supported by my anti-capitalism, millennial children who cannot fathom the one trillion dollars Investopedia says Americans will spend on Christmas this year and who also want their mom to get better.
Here it is now, days before Christmas.
I am looking at outdoor lights strung perfectly/imperfectly by my daughter; a set of angel chimes that will not twirl; a crooked Christmas tree that has no ornaments on it, nor gifts underneath; and pictures from the annual neighborhood party I attended last night where I didn’t bring a single gift.
I am also looking at a fresher, better, organic version of Christmas, the readings that come unbidden in the still, the candles in the window I am remembering to light often, the soft music I keep in the distance always.
It’s like magic and that simple. A little letting go of those things that don’t feed you at Christmas goes a long way to begin recreating a perfectly imperfect Christmas, the path made ready by few rules and a different kind of expectation.
It’s the kind of Christmas magic I could live into all year long, the kind cousin Pam supports by simply sitting in her living room and breathing.
“Pretend you’re in the background, like a fly on the wall,” she says.
“Let Christmas come to you.”