In the weeks after the flurry of outings and toys and cookies of the holiday season, I make a few notes in pursuit of my life-long dream of having a Perfect Christmas. Next year.
My post-Christmas list
Every year, I have grand visions of Advent and Christmas, full of baking and candles, Scripture readings and songs, all accompanied by the sweet strains of A Charlie Brown Christmas on the stereo. And every year, I succeed in some areas and fail in others. This year, I had a dream of having all of the gifts wrapped early so that I could sit peacefully with our children and read Christmas books by the glowing tree. My dream only partly came true — but we did have a lot of delightful reading times together, and that was the important part.
My vision for an ideal Christmas comes from a heartfelt place. My childhood Christmases were, shall we say, less than stellar. I always loved the idea of Christmas as a child — the lights, the peppermint chocolates, and the mystery of birth — but the best my family could do was to pretend to be happy, if not have an outright brawl. As an adult, I put a lot of effort into celebrating Christmas and Advent, partly for the sake of our children and partly for the sake of my own lost childhood. I know it will never be perfect, and I know our Christmas celebrations are just lovely in their current state, and I am truly grateful — but I am also just a little compulsive about improvements and tweaks. Sigh. Just call it the Clark Griswold in me.
So, now that you’ve heard my armchair psychoanalysis, you can see why I have big dreams about How to Celebrate Christmas. My visions generally do not include more gifts or more parties, but more joy and peace and Jesus … and baking. (When else do I get such an excuse to use sixteen pounds of butter?) The difficulty lies in the way my suggestible mind absorbs ideas (“Yes! A traditional Christmas pudding, that’s what we need this year! And a new set of homemade Christmas stockings!”) and how that conflicts with the twenty-four hours I am granted in each day, several of which I would like to devote to getting a reasonable amount of sleep. The sensible thing would be to eliminate some of the tasks on my list, but somehow I have trouble marking things off as an impossibility until Dec 26.
Since my ideals for the Christmas season and my reality do not match up, I do the next best thing: I dream some more. I find it soothing to take notes after the blizzard of Christmas has passed, in between picking up shreds of wrapping paper. What succeeded? What failed? What would I like to try doing next year? I keep track of what gifts everyone got and what went into the stockings, and I make some notes about my emotional state and deepest desires. Would you like to see some of my reflections on Christmas 2013?
- Advent candles. We made a new set of five candles with liturgical colors (purple, pink, and white) and we lit them almost every night, adding a new tiny candle along the side for each weekday leading up to Christmas. This was great!
- Bought family gifts online with lots of lead time for delivery.
- Lit our candelabra for breakfast on Sankta Lucia Day (December 13). This was much easier than trying to make saffron buns.
- Did some toy and book purging in late November to make room for the Christmas decorations, books, and gifts.
- Stocked up on baking ingredients and did not run out of butter.
- Took time for quiet in the mornings before the children got up.
- With daily exercise and attention to my food intake (and with the help of beeminder), I did not gain weight this December for the first time in several years!
- Got so stressed out about my vision of Christmas and all the tasks on my list that I had insomnia for about ten days at the beginning of December. Boo!
- Totally failed to get a Christmas card out before January. This doesn’t bother me too much, but I wish I had decided on December 1 that we weren’t going to get a Christmas card out on time, thus saving me stress. I recently took comfort in the words of Madeleine L’Engle: “…as long as the last Christmas letter gets mailed before Lent, that’s all I worry about.”
- Totally failed to send out packages to far-away friends.
- Stayed up until midnight wrapping gifts on December 23. Maybe that sounds early to you, but it’s not for us since we open our gifts on the morning of December 24!
One of our December outings this year: seeing the Thorne Rooms — all dressed up for Christmas — at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Ideas for Christmas 2014
- Although I resist crossing things off my list, perhaps I can decide to alternate years on particular activities — do some things in 2014 and another set in 2015?
- Consider making a Christmas pudding, and consider beginning to soak the fruit in alcohol in mid-November. Just consider it. Don’t necessarily do it.
- Do not, under any circumstances, try in December to work on the homemade sequined Christmas stockings you’ve been in the middle of for three years. If it’s not done by December 1, don’t even think about picking it up.
- Try to embrace the fact that my vision for Christmas really takes two full months to complete. Then either start preparations early, or enjoy celebrating well into the new year.
- Perhaps I could come as close as possible to emptying our freezer in early November to make room for baked goods?
In my heart of hearts, I know I’ll never get it quite right — but still, there is something very satisfying about renewing the vision for next year. Here’s hoping for an even more delightful December 2014!