This Christmas

ddVckuVpRGyx7hp7gz2TZwEven though I love Christmas, there’s always something about December that makes me feel a little sad.  The shorter days and longer nights we experience this time of year don’t help, but the biggest problem is probably the way I tend to build Christmas up in my head and the fact that the reality of Christmas rarely lives up to my expectations.  (I guess Chuck Griswold and I have something in common besides our love for over-the-top holiday lighting.)

I tend to anticipate the perfect Christmas with a huge assortment of delicious cookies and other fabulous food, a perfectly-decorated tree surrounded by a pile of presents that are “just right” for the person who is going to open them, and most of all, lots of fun and relaxing time with my friends and family.  And while the Christmas I get is always pretty darned good, there are also lots of little snags along the way:  burnt cookies, the arrival of my annual Christmas cold, trying to coordinate a schedule for our get-togethers that works for everyone, and discovering that the perfect present I wanted to buy for someone special is on back-order until Spring.

And that’s the reality of a normal Christmas.  This year, we’ll be celebrating a Covid Christmas, which means I won’t be able to attend my beloved Christmas Eve candlelight service, or host the usual big gatherings of my friends and family.  My in-person Christmas shopping has been minimal, and the delivery of the gifts I ordered online has been spotty, to say the least.  (We opened one box to find only the shredded packaging of the gift we had ordered.  Someone is going to be on Santa’s naughty list for that one!)  All of which is to say that this year, it’s been a little harder than usual to maintain my Christmas cheer.

And yet….Christmas is still my favorite holiday and I have no intention of giving it a miss this year.  Yes, we are still struggling with a pandemic that has dragged on far too long, and we are so very tired of it.  The days are short and cold, and Winter is just beginning.  Celebrating the holiday in many of my favorite ways is out of the question, sadly.  But none of that has managed to stop Christmas from coming, and whether or not I enjoy this Christmas is a decision that is mine alone to make.

IMG_7285So I’m choosing to enjoy it.  I’m choosing to give the people I love my imperfect gifts, and just have those gift receipts handy if they need to exchange them.  I’m choosing to spend my dark December evenings basking in the glow of my Christmas tree, or when it’s warm enough, sitting outside enjoying the colored lights we strung around our patio.  I’m baking extra cookies this year and plan to leave them on the porches of the neighbors and friends I can’t invite over.  I’ve discovered that a local church is having an outside (socially distanced and masked) Christmas Eve candlelight service that I might attend if I decide to brave the predicted cold temperatures.  And if not, there are plenty of services I can view online.

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it.  And to absolutely everyone:  wishing you much joy, peace and happiness, now and in the year ahead.

Christmas Gifts

When my husband and I first got married, buying Christmas presents for each other was easy.  We were young and strapped for cash, so we both had a long list of things that we really wanted and would be happy to find wrapped up under the tree on Christmas morning.  I always tried for a variety when purchasing my husband’s gifts, usually settling on something like  new after-shave lotion, a wallet, a flannel shirt and maybe a money clip.  My husband was a firm believer in going with a sure thing, which is why one year I received four wool skirts, purchased from the Bargain Basement of a local department store.  They were the exact same skirt, only in different colors.  And he knew I would like them and they were the right size, because I already had one hanging in my closet.  I actually saw him checking the tag on it one day in early December.

But as the years have gone by, Christmas shopping for each other has become more of a challenge.  My husband now has plenty of clothes, a good supply of after-shave lotion, and there’s only so many years in a row that I can get away with giving a money clip or a wallet. But the problem is that there’s rarely anything new or original on his Christmas list.  He usually asks for a new golf glove, even though he only plays golf about once a year.  Apparently, each time he plays, he manages to lose his glove.

I know he doesn’t have it any easier trying to buy me a gift.  Most of my favorite authors aren’t especially popular and their books are out of print and hard to find.  Since I have reached the age where my body has, how shall I say, both settled and expanded, I usually need to try on any new clothes before buying.  And like my husband, I honestly have all the things I need and most of the things I want.  (Or at least the sort of things that can be wrapped and put under a tree.  The last I checked, world peace, end to animal and child abuse, etc. don’t fit in a gift box.)

img_2121But that’s okay, because with each year that goes by, I find myself even less focused the gift-giving aspect of Christmas.  We will, of course, exchange some gifts with each other and our kids on Christmas morning, and it will be a fun time.  But those aren’t the real Christmas gifts at all.  The real gift was having some friends over for a Christmas celebration, all crammed together in my living room, talking and laughing.  It was having the kids and their spouses for dinner and a rowdy game of bingo, and then meeting them a few nights later for a drink at a festive, if somewhat tacky, pop-up Christmas bar.  And tonight, it will be singing Silent Night in a beautiful sanctuary, lit only by the candles in our hands.  It’s a magical moment that, for me, defines the whole Christmas season.

Christmas shopping may be more difficult these days, but as far as I’m concerned, my Christmas gifts–those moments and memories that I truly treasure–just keep getting better.

Christmas Present

There’s something about Christmas that can put me in a very nostalgic mood.  It might be the family Christmas traditions, or how I decorate my house with so many old ornaments and nick-knacks from my childhood.  It could even be that most of my favorite Christmas songs are the old ones and that I listen to them a lot as I’m driving around town.  All I know is that this is the time of year when my memories of past Christmases are strongest, and I sometimes feel a real sense of loss.  It’s as if an important and precious part of the holiday is gone, and I know I’ll never get it back again.

Thankfully, I don’t feel that way all of the time.  In between my bouts of Christmas nostalgia, I have moments when I’m downright thankful for the changes that the passing years have wrought.

Last Sunday afternoon, I headed to the mall to get in a little Christmas shopping.  When I got there, I saw a line of families waiting to have their children’s photos taken with Santa that stretched almost from one end of the mall to the other.  And as far as I could tell, it wasn’t moving.  I can’t tell you how good it felt to breeze right by all those people, duck into the little boutique jewelry store, buy a gift for my daughter-in-law and waltz back out again.  At that moment in time, it felt great to know that my kids are too old to want to see Santa.

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And speaking of Santa Claus, I like being at the stage where his only role in Christmas at my house is as (an occasionally tacky) decoration.  I remember the Christmas when my son was four all too well.  I had finished my shopping early that year, or so I thought until the afternoon of December 23, when my son casually mentioned that what he wanted most from Santa this year was a toy Bat-mobile.  This was news to me, so I asked why he hadn’t mentioned this before.  Apparently, he saw a commercial for it just that morning. (Yet another reason children shouldn’t be allowed to watch TV.)  I told him it was awfully late to be changing his mind, and he said he understood.  But he was still “really, really, hoping that Santa brings me a Bat-mobile.”  So guess who got to go fight the crowds for the last remaining Bat-mobile at Target?

As long as I’m being honest, and a bit Grinch-like, I’ll admit that I’m also glad I no longer have to be responsible for games and craft projects my kids’ holiday class parties.  Or spend two hours sitting on a cold metal folding chair during the school’s winter concert.  The concerts were only about an hour long, but if you didn’t come an hour early, you didn’t even get the privilege of an uncomfortable chair.  Instead, you ended up standing in a crowd around the perimeter of the gym, trying to peek over the shoulder of the tall guy in front of you, hoping to catch a glimpse of your kid on stage.  Good times, indeed.

I think nostalgia is remembering only the good times, and of course there were plenty of those.  I’ll always miss the excitement of the Christmas mornings of my own childhood, and the fun we had at Christmas when my own children were young.  But these days I’m getting better at recognizing that those long-ago Christmases were far from perfect, and that the present Christmas has a lot going for it, too.