Posted by: minnow | December 19, 2008

Christmas

Christmas, the holiday I most delighted in as a child and most dreaded as an adult, quickly approaches. Break begins today (Friday) at 3:00PM and lasts until next year (January 5)! What fun to say that)! The dread I felt the closer Christmas came had nothing to do with brightly decorated homes and streets, smiling children on Christmas morning, joyful Christmas carols, or humble nativity scenes. So, this year, long before the holidays were featured in advertisements and television specials I began to ask myself why I longed for January 2nd, instead of December 24th. I did not hate the holidays. I was never alone or traumatized as a child.  My own children are some of my favorite people in the world. The truth be told, my childhood memories of Christmas are some of the sweetest memories I have of childhood and my memories with our children are delightful.

As a child Christmas meant family and fun. My grandparents always came to visit. We had special treats we never had any other time of year, like lefsa, and shrimp cocktail, and peanut brittle, and cinnamon sticks in hot cider. We got to dress in our prettiest dresses, patent-leather shoes, and hand muffs to go to a beautifully lit Christmas Eve service where we sang all my favorite Christmas carols. My sister and I wrote letters to Santa and left them under plates of cookies and a glass of milk (Yes, that is only one glass of milk and two plates of cookies; my Mother was not a milk drinker and we never did figure it out). We were allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve, (We usually picked the one from our Uncle who was often stationed overseas.) our stocking on Christmas morning, and the rest of our presents after breakfast. My Dad’s Mom always made us something wonderful and my Mom’s Mom always tempted our taste buds with melt in your mouth fudge and whisk you away to another world books. I had nothing to dread, nothing to feed anxiety or despair.

Memories with my own children are equally fun-filled. Family friends faithfully sent them chocolate filled advent calendars which they got to open before breakfast each morning leading up to Christmas. We read all different kinds tales about Santa Claus and his flying reindeer, Sinterklaas and Black Pete, Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, and the Yule Goat or Tomte and learned about different people in different lands at the same time. Each year my children waited for baby Jesus to show up in the nativity and loved to hear about the different roles the angels, wise men, and shepherds played. We traveled to one set of grandparents or the other and had Uncles, Aunts, and Cousins to enjoy as well. (I write in the past tense but these are on-going events and activities). Currently, a 3 year old in the house definitely renews one’s wonderment.

Still, for years I functioned at Christmas time more from a place of duty, obligation, and compulsion then from joy, peace, or love. Is there any wonder a dark cloud hung over my heart? My attitude had stolen Christmas. As I began to examine the feelings I had toward Christmas I wondered what I needed to do to create an attitude adjustment. 

First I decided I needed to focus on the duty, obligation and compulsion I felt.  To what degree was it legitimate?  In other words, what part was I putting on myself and what part was put on me?  Once I understood that, I could decide what to do about it.  Almost immediately I knew that I felt obligated to exchange presents with my side of the family but at the same time I also felt I neither could afford to nor did I care to spend the kind of money I would need to spend in order to get something which fit some of the members of my family’s taste.  Thus year after year I went through the motions of gift giving without any of the joy that comes from knowing you have blessed, surprised, pleased, or satisfied someone else.  I canceled gift giving other than grandparents and immediate family. 

The second activity I considered was all the candy making I/we do.  This time I realized that while some parts of it were stressful I actually enjoyed doing it.  I liked taking turns with my children, passing on family recipes, and having one-on-one time with each of them.  What I did not like was feeling like Scrooge when it came to who got to enjoy the fruits of our labor.  So, I started by making the first batch of each thing available to the whole crew.  Only after the second batches were on hand did I start “setting some aside” so we could give it away. 

The last issue that came to mind was possibly an underlying theme of the other two as well—money.  [NOTE: We are in process of getting out of debt.  (Accumulated with the birth of our youngest daughter and during a time my husband gave our fellowship a month of his labor followed by a second month at half of what he normally makes—three years ago!).  We never should have let ourselves get into debt (To be fair we probably could have given the time my husband gave without getting into debt but we did not curb our spending the way we should have.) and I am determined to get out.  Other than a possible house payment, once we do get out of debt I never want to get back in debt again.  I have too many other ways I want to spend my excess money than as interest to a bank!]  I hate feeling controlled by money.  I hate fighting over money.  I do not even like having to use money.  We are all aware that the economy has not done anyone any favors this year.  How much it costs to make candy, how much it costs to get everyone on my side or your side or the “in”side…a gift, how much it costs to write a Christmas letter to all those people we only talk to once a year, how much it costs to…to stress over how much it costs was my real attitudinal barrier. 

So, when we started down that path this year I put on the breaks.  No letter.  We will write our closest friends a blessing for the first of the year, after the first of the year and forget about the obligation letters.  As a family we exchanged names and said, “If you cannot stand not getting something for the rest of the family limit yourself to stocking stuffers.” (Everyone contributing to everyone else’s stocking has long been a family tradition we all enjoy anyway).  We will forget about the compulsion to spend more than we have.  Each of us picked a couple people to whom we wanted to give candy.  And we are all helping to make the goodies (and enjoy the goodies).  We will forget about the duty to pay back every nice gesture that comes our way and simply be thankful others thought of us. 

Dread and anxiety are not growing in my heart as Christmas approaches for the first time in over twenty years.  I feel peaceful, almost light headed when I think about how fun the next couple weeks with my family are going to be.  I am singing some of my favorite carols again—without having to turn on the radio.  “Love and joy come to you and to you a wasile too and God grant you a happy new year!”

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Responses

  1. “The last issue that came to mind was possibly an underlying theme of the other two as well—money. [NOTE: We are in process of getting out of debt. (Accumulated with the birth of our youngest daughter and during a time my husband gave our fellowship a month of his labor followed by a second month at half of what he normally makes—three years ago!). We never should have let ourselves get into debt (To be fair we probably could have given the time my husband gave without getting into debt but we did not curb our spending the way we should have.) and I am determined to get out. Other than a possible house payment, once we do get out of debt I never want to get back in debt again. I have too many other ways I want to spend my excess money than as interest to a bank!] I hate feeling controlled by money. I hate fighting over money. I do not even like having to use money”

    SOOO agree with that whole statement. yes!


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