by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Jessica Fontenot
We know how it goes by now. At the tail end of summer, in the sweltering September heat, you walk into any grocery store and are bombarded with mini-pumpkins, pungent cinnamon sticks and strange tin yard art of witches and ghosts. The minute November 1 rolls around, Halloween is swapped out for Christmas and we are rushed along onto “next.” I’m not sure why Thanksgiving gets such minor fanfare. Oh wait, it’s because the entire point of the holiday is to appreciate what we already have, not acquire more. No wonder it gets summarily skipped over. Contentment is not a big revenue stream.
It’s no surprise most of us begin the month of December feeling as though we are already behind.
This year I’m challenging us to do it differently, especially those of us who are Santa, the people behind the scenes who make a holiday a holiday. It’s a shit-ton of work, am I right? First it’s the rush to get out holiday cards just as you finish the Thanksgiving dishes. Then it’s the decorating. My kids always want to know why we don’t have cool lights like the neighbors. Because those lights come directly out of your gift budget, I want to say. I probably do say. When the kids were little, we used to drive out to some Christmas tree farm and chop a tree down, honoring my childhood, when I lived in colder places. The final year I tried to make the tree farm happen, the kids were eye-rolling and fighting, it started to rain and my son commented that the scraggly-ass trees were smaller than the fire ant piles between them. He was right. He cupped his ear and leaned toward me, listening intently.
“Mom, do you hear that?” he said.
I listened, and could hear only the sound of the trailer bumping us around while seated on hay bales and the tinny Christmas music played over the loudspeakers.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“That sound. Creeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. It’s the sound of a tradition dying.” He doubled over laughing.
All right, fine. I get it. We ended up at some divey Mexican place, with margaritas so strong I could not feel my legs. My dad had to drive us to Whole Foods so we could grab a tree from the parking lot on the way home. That’s our new tradition, by the way.
“Here’s my holiday gift to all of us. Let’s try easy instead of trying so damn hard.
My other tradition, yet another sample of my try-too-hard-forced-family-fun (FFF), is a holiday dinner with my kids, my boyfriend and his kids. I cook dinner, and we decorate the tree, bake Christmas cookies, do gingerbread houses and watch “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” — one of my all-time favorite movie classics. I make everyone wear some version of matching Christmas pajamas. Last year I went to Walmart and got us onesies. I was in a rush and grabbing things off the rack. What I thought was a brown reindeer onesie for my boyfriend turned out to be a pooh emoji when I pulled it out of the bag and noticed the hood. I poured him more wine.
Then of course there’s the shopping stress. Since when should making people feel special equate to crossing to-do’s off a list and going broke? Somehow that’s how it always ends up. By the time my kids leave my house at noon on December 25 and head to their dad’s for Christmas Two and Improved, I am utterly spent. I collapse in a pile of dog hair, crumpled wrapping paper, bent boxes and discarded bows, brunch dishes and leftovers that no one will be around to eat, and lists for thank-you notes that will likely never be written. I used to cry. Now I go for a run and come home and deal with the mess. My brother comes over. We open a bottle of wine, listen to any music but Christmas music, strip the by-now-dryas-a-bone tree, sweep the needles, put the decorations up and drag the naked tree to the curb. I’m quite certain that my neighbors are appalled — a nice Christian woman like me closing down Christmas before nightfall.
We do the best we can, people. Here’s my holiday gift to all of us. Let’s try easy instead of trying so damn hard.
It is, we are, already enough.