Whose holiday is it, anyway?

I have been up since 4:40 am.

I have been awake because although I have had the holiday cards stacked on the bookshelf since December 7, I cannot get the address labels to print and I have not had time to hand-write them. I left a gift for my niece Greta in my Amazon shopping cart and now it is too late for me to wrap it myself and send it to San Francisco, which is where little Greta lives, so I have to have Amazon wrap it, and I am worried that they will not do as good a job. Pottery Barn, with their illogical system for inputting monogram information, has now sold out of replacements for the four cosmetic cases monogrammed in initials that are nearly – but not exactly – those of my dearest friends. And I have not yet begun to wrap.

I was really starting to Bah-Humbug this morning when I remembered one of the best gifts I ever got. That gift came from my friend Mary, years ago, when our kids were small and the pace was even more frantic.  Five young mothers in the neighborhood, a class of preschoolers between us, we were all overwhelmed when it wasn’t Christmas; once the holiday season hit, we were outmatched, and grumpy, and we couldn’t figure out why it was so hard.  We complained about having to shop for the kids, our families, our Kris Kringles, and our in-laws too. We felt underappreciated by our husbands.

I won’t speak for Mary, Molly, Kathy, and Bev, but I know I feigned holiday enjoyment while running from errand to errand, frantically remembering the “little something” needed for the preschool teacher, the mailman, the coach. Despite the almond-sugar-cookie-dough ingredients waiting patiently in fridge and pantry, I ran out of time and bought tubes of refrigerated dough to appease the children, and, while making them, scolded more than I had intended to. My jolly husband’s favorite and sincere rhetorical, “Don’t you just love Christmas?” was met with a blank look and, in retrospect, probably some vague hostility. Every time the children counted down the days until Christmas, I thought I might throw up. The “holiday” felt more like overtime.

Mostly, I wondered what I was doing wrong.

But that all changed when Mary shared with me a valuable piece of advice, passed on to her by a wise friend in the midst of the holiday madness:

“Christmas is a holiday for men and for children.”

I wish I could remember which friend of my friend Mary first made this ingenious statement; all I remember is exactly where I was when Mary said it to me, because it changed my life. It was years ago and I was feeling, as I was feeling in the pre-dawn morning, that I should be enjoying the holiday more.

Of course, men and children enjoy Christmas. I mean, wouldn’t you if you had you to get it all done? I have had people tell me that this concept is depressing, but I disagree. If you are a mom who is organized and prepared enough so that as you read this, your gifts are wrapped and your cookies await elaborate decoration before your elegant Christmas coffee for fifty of your closest friends, you have my admiration and respect. I am sure that you rock, and that you probably don’t know what in the heck I am talking about. But if anyone else out there is, like me, jacked up on caffeine and stress in the days preceding the holiday, and wondering why it all isn’t more Fun for Moms, well then I hope you will find this concept as freeing as I have: it kind of isn’t supposed to be. It doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong.

Before I get any farther down the road, inviting helpful comments about the true meaning of Christmas, let me clarify: I understand that Christmas is for everyone. The joy and peace of Christmas is bigger than presents and wrapping and is meant for all, and if I don’t enjoy the true meaning of the season, it is my own fault. I know. As a mom of four kids whose ages span eleven years, I have the Charlie Brown special on the subject memorized. But here’s the thing: once Christmas actually comes, once all the lists are crossed off and the gifts are wrapped, and the family is gathering, I do love it. Nobody loves it more than I do when we actually get there. Once I named the reality that making Christmas special for rest of the people in my life was really the most important thing to me, anyway, the non-funness got, predictably, a little more fun after all.

So this morning, I came downstairs after an hour or so, giving up on reclaiming sleep. I spent a little quiet time in the presence of only the twinkling tree and napping Newfoundland. It was nice. It was early, but my dear husband had made the coffee last night, and with coffee in hand, I kind of enjoyed it.  I thought a lot about the families in Sandy Hook, and two families in my community who have recently lost their dads, and the countless unknown families suffering this holiday for reasons we do not know. A holiday time for men and for children, all on moms to make it happen? Lucky us. Tired, frazzled, lucky us.

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