Monday, December 3, 2012

Holiday Rituals and Straitjackets

With few exceptions, I've found that my limit for doing something as a holiday ritual is about five years.

That's about how many times we drove around a spectacle of lights, went to see the downtown tree lighting with Santa arriving on a fire truck, hosted a big New Year's party, bought tickets to the Nutcracker, went out and chopped down a Christmas tree, watched Charlie Brown Christmas as a family and had our kids pick a Secret Santa in the family to give a present to.  After that, it feels like a holiday straitjacket to me.

Our tree as decorated by
Shey, Ava, Lizzy &
Vanessa last night
I know other people are different.  If they could, they would take the year that everything clicked holiday-wise and replay it for decades, same wreath, same parties, same foods, same people, even same tree if it's artificial, or they can find a way to preserve it indefinitely.  Some of my kids would be like this if they could.  Yesterday, Sheyanne was distressed that we (and by that I mean my husband Mark) weren't going to Stew Leonard's for a tree the way we (again) did last year.  Mark wasn't going to do it.  It wasn't that much fun for him last year given the traffic on the trip to and from Norwalk, the crowds at the store and the proximity of just-as-nice trees within a mile or two of our house.

So they went to the Sundae House and had a great time.  Next year Sheyanne will ask to go there.  She can't help it.  She loves the rituals.

There are some I don't tire of.  These tend to be the easier ones, which of course says a lot about me but there it is--having fun is not supposed to be a lot of work.  I like cinnamon rolls on holiday mornings (all of the big ones, from Easter to New Year's) and the way we have our stockings hung around windows in our house.  I like the routine we started six whole years ago of assigning each of our kids a code names (we've used planets, baseball teams, Greek gods, Egyptian pharaohs, continents and this year will be Disney characters) so that I can wrap their presents and put them under the tree early.  On Christmas Eve I just switch the tags and am done--fun and easy.  I like white lights around the house (so much we never take them down), Christmas Eve at my Dad's, Christmas morning at my Mom's, and pictures with Santa for kids under ten.  I like Christmas Eve mass at St. Gabriel's with the living creche, and the pot-luck party at the K of C that Meg Stofko puts together every year.  I like that my mother and my husband both fill me a stocking, of course, they have great taste.  I like shopping for gifts and making others happy in the same way.  I even like Black Friday, and went out with Ciara this year at 4:30 to stock up on deals.

I would go beyond like to say I need a Christmas card photo of my kids every year.  I don't know why--just to broadcast that we'd all made it through another year?  Pride?  Love?  It doesn't matter, it has to happen.

This has been decidedly not easy over the years, in fact some of the more difficult hours of my life.  Getting the kids into a Sears studio in coordinated outfits was such painful effort that Mark would try to make sure he was working that day.  If he wasn't he'd need a drink before to prepare and after to recover.  The kids began to dread it.  They were all so badly behaved, even more so as they grew "too old" for it.  It was a straitjacket I was putting them into and they're strong, and wiggly.  Last year I wised-up and just herded them into the backyard on Thanksgiving in whatever they were wearing and snapped some shots, uploaded them onto snapfish and ordered the cards.  This is now my favorite ritual because--yes--it's fun and easy.

I worked with a great guy named Kevin for many years, and his equally wonderful wife Marge made Christmas cookies and (for St. Patrick's Day) Irish soda bread that he distributed throughout our hospital.  One year the holidays came and went without either.  He said it wasn't fun for her anymore.  So many people had come to rely on, ask about and expect her to spend hours baking that it had become a chore.  Good for her.  A year or two later they came back, having recovered their charm for Marge.  Good for us.  

This is one of those play-it-by-ear rituals for me.  I like baking, and I like eating, and I buy holiday food magazines to get ideas each year for both, but I don't like anyone saying I have to do anything for them unless it's my boss and they have a good reason.  Once it becomes an obligation it loses its fun, and the "magic" of the holidays comes from all that we do coming from the goodness in our hearts and not the pressure of our guilt (Where does that reside anyway?  For me, in my rear end).

So happy holidays, enjoy the month, have fun at your rituals, try something new (to find a new favorite) and if you need help wriggling out of a straitjacket let me know--raising kids for twenty-five years has made me very skilled at saying no.

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