Yesterday I was at the grocery store picking up all of the supplies for our family gingerbread house making party (and by family I mean 16 people). I had a list. I had carefully and calmly contemplated what I needed. I came home and put everything away, separating out what I'd need for the evening in neat piles on the counter. Then I picked up Becca from choir rehearsal. Came home for 17 minutes. Then I picked up Parker from some after-school science thing, drove straight to Becca's guitar lesson, helped Parker study in the car for his drama terms test the next day, drove home, and started getting the table ready for big time gingerbread. Becca put together the little smokies wrapped in crescent rolls. I was making the Pioneer Woman appetizers with the bacon wrapped around a club cracker. Except I somehow forgot those require two hours in the oven. And it was 6. And everyone was arriving at 6:30. So I jumped in the car and ran to HEB to grab a block of cream cheese, some raspberry chipotle sauce, and some crackers to fill in for my bacon-wrapped thingies...since I was out of time.
And as I drove I realized I'd failed in my create-a-stress-free-and-peaceful-holiday.
Lately, on blogs and in magazine articles all I read about are the virtues of a stress-free holiday. Keep it simple. Don't overload yourself or your kids with too much: too many presents, too many activities, too much pressure to make the holiday perfect. Also, be sure to have EVERYTHING finished before December 1st so that you and your family can relax in the joy of the season and bask in the peace emanating from every corner of December. Also, cuddle with your little ones, watch a holiday movie, bake cookies in the glow of the hearth. Enjoy a cup of hot chocolate while exuberantly playing board games. Drive through the softly drifting snow to gaze, with wondrous awe, at the holiday lights. But don't, under any circumstances, get stressed out...or pass that stress on to your kids.
I'm here to say this: THIS EXPECTATION OF NO STRESS IS CAUSING ME STRESS!
First, let me agree that any encouragment to focus on people rather than things is always sage advice. I'm all for simplifying. But let's be logical. Our lives are already pretty busy. We have piano, and choir, and cello, and guitar, and church activities, homework, dinners to make, friends to invite over, cars to repair, and dishwashers to unload ON A NORMAL WEEK. Once you add in a few Christmas concerts, Christmas parties, gazing (with wondrous awe) at Christmas lights, and playing board games, you are edging towards LOTS OF STUFF TO DO. It's all good stuff. I want to do it. But the ideal of slow-paced DAYS spent contemplating the reason for the season doesn't really work. I'm more in line with carefully carved out HOURS of trying desperately to feel the Christmas spirit. I feel it...but then I've got to get to the gingerbread.
My point is that experiencing the hustle and bustle of December is okay. It's okay to freak out at 6, when your gingerbread house decorating party starts at 6:30, and run to the store for a cheese ball rather than hand prepping 6 dozen appetizers. It's okay to stay up till your eyes are red and dry and your stomach kind of hurts wrapping presents or finishing off your homemade gift. It's okay to knock yourself out putting on a grand shindig for the people you love. Because guess what I've also learned? The quiet twinkling lights and calm morning spent fireside absolutely require a lot of work. Someone has to to find the lights, and drag them down from the attic, and possibly displace some other attic junk while doing so. Someone has to hang the lights and find the right extension cords and fight with those darn tiny bulbs when JUST ONE goes out. Someone has to locate wood, and haul it in, and start the fire. And how calm are things when the house is a wreck? So someone has to clean and scrub and organize and declutter before any of this calm joy can even begin.
So let's not pretend that the season isn't a lot of work. Let's just agree that it's worth it.