Do you feel that? Do you hear that? It is the sound of a stampede of retailers preparing to ruin the next two months for you. But it’s not just the retailers – it’s your office holiday planners, it’s your mediocre pop and country singers, your great Aunt Marge’s sewing circle, your children’s classmates. Everyone is gearing up for the holiday season. Scheduling parties, making commercials, making homemade gifts, talking about what they’re going to get, to give, to make, to take.
I’ve already been asked by relatives what we want to do for Christmas. It’s an easy answer – we do nothing on that day. We have our old beaten down artificial tree with its ratty homemade ornaments and our time worn traditions of pretending there’s a Santa Claus. It’s just our little family of three, in our pajamas, hanging out, playing games. We don’t go anywhere, we have a nice, but not extravagant meal. We play favorite music, we watch old movies. Time stands still.
I dislike the full-on dumping of sentimentality at the holidays, as if we’ve been hoarding it all year long. We get to spend a lot of time with people we wouldn’t pick as friends. Small children, who have spent the year entertaining themselves with cardboard boxes and mud, now expect a 76 trombone parade to accompany the loads of cheap crap we give them. We, the adults, goad ourselves into overspending, telling ourselves “it’s for the kids”. That’s bullshit – most of us are trying to resolve or replicate our childhoods. Our kids are often bemused by our holiday craziness.
Our daughter has never believed in Santa Claus. She was an inquisitive child and her continued interrogation of me meant that I would have to recite one lie after another. I wasn’t comfortable with that, because someday, I’ll really need her to trust and believe me when I say “don’t drink and drive” or “people who love you don’t hit you”. After a discussion with my husband, we went with the truth. She’s a smart kid and I think parental integrity is going to be a necessary tool in our arsenal for the future.
When we discussed this issue in one of my parenting groups years ago, I was chastised for taking away my daughter’s holiday, taking away the magic that is Christmas. Really? The magic that is Christmas is an old white guy breaking into our house and leaving crap from his sweatshop staffed by little people? I asked my daughter what her favorite thing about the holiday season was. Her immediate answer was “cookies”.
Every year, we bake cookies and make up gift bags for friends and relatives, with Kleenex packs, hand lotion, lip balm, cough drops and hot cocoa packets. We spend an entire day baking cookies. The next day we decorate and package them up. We get punchy after so much decorating and burst into giggles as our cookies start looking more and more Picasso-esque. We have cyclops snowmen and gingerbread ladies with clown noses and googly eyes. We talk about where our charity money is going for the year. We spend time. Together. Doing something for someone else.
I didn’t start out with a plan for our family holidays. We would drag ourselves through various rituals imposed upon us, attending multiple celebrations to deal with shared custody situations in relatives’ families. I would get angrier and more exhausted. I began to hate the holidays. I hated the shopping. I hated the forced cheerfulness. I hated the constant stream of holiday music (and I LOVE music) and stupid commercials designed to make you feel like your family was the anti-Waltons or the dysfunctional Huxtables.
I put the brakes on about three years ago. It was hard at first. People would buy gifts for our family and I’d feel a little miserly giving them their bag of baked goodies with the winter wellness kit. I kept waiting for their gifts to taper off or for similar ideas to crop up from their side, but it never happened. Now I only have to make a couple of shopping trips to get supplies. And I like to believe that my daughter, who receives exactly two presents (one from Mom & Dad, one from “Santa”), understands the magic of the holidays – spending time together and the joy of giving to others. Plus, our cookies are REALLY good.