So this is Christmas
It’s Christmas 2020, in the year of the pandemic. These last ten months have been in turn odd, scary, and monotonous. But I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a job I can do online, from home, and I have to admit, this has been the most peaceful Christmas of my life.
First, with the pandemic, there is less to do. My three-hour round-trip commute has become a thing of the past. Add to that no holiday work dinners, happy hours, ugly sweater contests, open houses, festivals, caroling, or events, and you have what adds up to a quiet and… yes… peaceful Christmas.
We got our tree up early, the weekend after Thanksgiving — a first, and a tradition I will keep. I love the tree. I love decorating it. I love the plethora of ancient ornaments that were passed down to me by my family and crazy old Beth, my sister’s German godmother. From her, I received boxes of pink and silver balls, green and white bells sprinkled with gold stars, and strings of cranberry-red glass beads with which to drape the tree.
I always buy a Silvertip, which was my mother’s favorite. I love how you can see the elegant trunk between the branches, and I love that the ornaments can hang freely and don’t lean weirdly against the outside of the tree. I love that I can hang them both in near the trunk and out near the tips. I love the multi-dimensional effect.
When I was little I used to lie on my back under the tree and look up through the branches. A wonderland.
I will have damage control to do when my son comes for Christmas, however. And that is because I was a basket case his entire childhood, trying to make Christmas perfect and turning into a wretch in the process. He arrives a little guarded. I hope to melt him with my beatitude this year.
You see, Christmas filled me with anxiety as child, and I carried that with me into adulthood. I was determined to do it differently, to do it “right.” I made everyone including myself miserable in the process.
My mother may have been afflicted with the same propensity. She, I am certain, also grew up with fraught feelings around Christmas, birthdays, and holidays because she, also, had an addict for a mother.
My mother had great taste. Like me, she had “champagne taste on a beer budget,” but that didn’t stop her from going beserk at Christmas. She’d go to great lengths to make everything perfect, from stockings, decorations, lights, loaded mantels, candles, ornaments, and a plethora of presents to a delectable Christmas breakfast and then a feast in the evening.
It started before that though. It began with the search for the perfect tree. We kids forgot every year how miserable it was to pick out the tree with my mother. She had no interest whatsoever in our opinion. She’d just get angrier and angrier, searching for the most flawless tree on the lot. Two or three hours later, hungry, dirty, and exhausted, we’d come home with the least-flawed tree on the lot. She was the same with pumpkins on Halloween.
Perfectionism is a terrible thing.
And then, tragically, she’d get drunk. Very, very drunk.
One notable year, she didn’t wake up for Christmas at all. We celebrated the day after Christmas because our mother was passed out the entirety of Christmas Day.
Even if she wasn’t passed out though, she’d be very drunk, and our mother was most definitely not a happy drunk. She was mean, loud, and scary, and we’d do anything to avoid triggering her significant ire.
From an early age, I learned to pantomime love for everything she gave me, even the pink Holly Hobby bicycle with the banana seat that was way too juvenile for me. We had to keep mom as happy as possible, propped up for as long as possible, with false cheer and praise. Truth be told, it was terrifying.
And it went on for hours and hours until she passed out, once on the kitchen floor.
So, well, I’m afraid I passed some of that on. Not the insane drinking, I’m happy to report. That particular tradition I have successfully avoided.
But I did carry with me the awful tension, as well as the desire for perfection. And I spent many a year of my kids’ childhoods stressed if a bow wasn’t tied just right. It wasn’t good enough if it wasn’t crossed around both sides of the box and affixed with a pretty label sprinkled with glitter. A post-it wouldn’t do. No Sir-ee.
I nearly killed myself buying too much (severely stressing our budget), planning too much, cooking too much, and tackling too many complicated dishes. I was Martha Stewart on steroids, and while I may have produced some beautiful puddings and pies, my crinkled, stressed face in photos tells the real story.
Therefore, it’s a major achievement to report that this year, I did not even pick out the tree, but let the folks at the tree lot do it for me. (Granted, due to Covid, this was required. But it didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I liked it and will do it from now on — have someone else pick the tree, or else literally grab the first semi-presentable specimen.)
I have not over-purchased. I am not riven with terror at the prospect of disappointing my kids. I am not in contest with anyone. I have not put lights up outside, on the house or in the garden, and have no thoughts about that whatsoever. I do not yet know what meals I will serve for Christmas, but I’m determined to have fun doing it. And, this year, we did something special. I finally made festive holiday cookie boxes for my friends.
I spent the entirety of last weekend baking five or six different treats from the NYT Holiday Cookie Box proffered to subscribers two weeks ago. While this may sound counter-intuitive to the spirit of this article (in that it’s more work, not less), instead of feeling propelled by some invisible harrowing force, I wholly owned the task and thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt good to recognize and give back to my friends and neighbors. The kitchen smelled like heaven.
And with a dozen hours returned to me weekly by not commuting, I had the bandwidth to do it.
So, this is Christmas 2020. I’m another year older, as our my kids, as is our hound, as is our kitty. My children’s father is with us, safe from the crippling depression that has stalked him intermittently for the last five years. My daughter is home from her first semester at UCLA, and my son will come for the holiday.
And maybe, just maybe, I can get him to relax, to smile, to trust that I will not be vigilant and fragile, nor will I force false gaiety upon the proceedings.
I am free, for the most part, of the weight on my chest, pushing me under, the voice in my head impelling me to do more, be more. I have done enough, more than enough. And I am enough. More than enough.
We are blessed.