I'm going to scrape what is left of me off the floor in order to write this post...not sure why when I still have gifts to wrap...
Growing up, I LOVED Christmas! It wasn't even the presents per se, although I can still remember sprinting into my grandmother's den on Christmas morning 1981 to find...inhale, inhale...The Berry Bakeshop!!!! Now my Strawberry Shortcake dolls could make real plastic pies! That Christmas, I was also covered in chicken pox, but no one seemed bothered. Those were simpler times, when kids rode in the backs of pick up trucks, babies were casually tossed in the floorboard, and people actually went over to other people's houses with communicable diseases and didn't judge the hosts if they served canned vegetables and shake-n-bake.
Christmas of 1981 was one our our American Christmases, which we always spent at my Memaw's house with my mother's entire extended family, about 15 people, the occasional pet, and one toilet, which was attached to one septic tank. And a partridge in a pear tree. But it was Texas, so make that a prickly pear tree. One Christmas, my Pepa crushed up prickly pear for my sister to rub on a boil she had on her butt. It came to a head the next day, and she was healed. True story! But back to that septic tank. It was an issue. We weren't allowed to flush the toilet unless we had had some serious words with it. And we never flushed toilet paper, that was pretty much a mortal sin at which even baby Jesus looked askance. In any case, the house was bursting at the seams, but I don't remember anyone being stressed. I certainly wasn't stressed. I loved every minute of it, all the adults making a big fuss over me, eating all kinds of awesome food, running around with my cousins. The togetherness was even better than the presents. Except for the Berry Bakeshop, that really was the best. In fact, that was pretty much the pinnacle of my existence as a Christmas consumer.
Our other Christmases were in Kenya, and there we had togetherness of a different kind. Not with blood relatives, but with the community of missionaries that lived in our town. At the time, it seemed like a solid week of parties, starting with my unfortunately timed birthday, then various families hosted teas and brunches and lunches and what have you. Actually, I think there was just a Christmas Eve tea and a Christmas Day lunch. But it just seemed bigger to me than that, HUGE, like Donald Trump would have been impressed even. After the tea on Christmas Eve, we all drove up to this remote Anglican church on the foothills of Mt. Kenya, accessed by a dirt/mud road in which someone always got stuck, for a candlelight service with all the British/white Kenyan people who attended church once a year. I always got a big kick out of the white Kenyans. They were like British people who were still stuck in an earlier time when you had to be properly introduced to people, you didn't just go around saying "hey there" like Americans do. They could be found at dog shows, flower shows, golf courses, bridge tournaments, equestrian-related places, and once a year at this tiny stone church on Christmas Eve, where I am sure they were chagrined to be invaded by a bunch of cheery Americans who didn't know the proper tune to "Away in a Manger." It was one of the few church services I actually enjoyed as a child--it was in English for one thing, there was lots of singing, the aforementioned snooty British people, and of course the fire and dripping wax aspect of things, which made it all just perilous enough to be exciting without any real danger of anyone setting fire to the place. Then we went back to the tea, which was refashioned as an evening reception I think? Someone out there correct me, but I remember eating and visiting pretty much the whole day. Then again on Christmas Day, so by the time it was all over, I had probably eaten all my calories for the entire year, which was a darn good thing, since days later I would be returning to boarding school, where one enjoyed such fine fare as hairy fried chicken and beanies and weenies.
Here's the thing about Christmas as a child--behind all those sweet memories, fun, gifts, food, warmth, joy, peace and togetherness was an army of women working their little hineys off and trying not to go insane. Trying not to be stressed, lest it ruin the magic of the season. I can only imagine that my Memaw was either secretly drunk or high the entire time or doing little mantras in her head so she would not burst a blood vessel while she worried about that septic tank overflowing and the turkey turning out dry. Those were the dark ages, before Zoloft, Xanex, and yoga. And my mother and the other missionary women in Kenya--none of whom drink, incidentally--cooked nonstop for about a month--without anything resembling a Safeway or Walmart anywhere in the whole country, much less around the corner and absolutely no pre-packaged food of any kind--to bring everyone a week-long party on wheels. And how about our Christmas gifts, again without Walmart or Amazon or anywhere to buy anything. She had to plan years in advance and have toys sent over for us in our every-few-years freight shipment. I think of that, as my children change their Christmas wish list every few days, and wonder how on earth did she think Santa would manage? Of course it helped we had no TV, internet or friends who knew what was going on in pop culture. One year, I somehow got a hold of a Sears toy catalog, and my entire universe changed. I learned there was something called a Cabbage Patch Kid and that I would most likely--and my mother would certainly--live a tortured, dissatisfied existence unless I could obtain one.
Unfortunately, I grew up, a huge bummer on so many levels. And even more unfortunate, I grew up into a woman/mom, and now it is my job apparently to fill everyone's lives with Christmas magic. And it kind of takes it out of a person. And by the time Christmas actually gets here, I'm pooped and more than a little crazed. When I hear "Carol of the Bells" on the radio, which is totally a creepy song, can we just agree on that? I could swear that the bells are taunting me for my lack of magic.
Here come the bells They're here to tell Your gifts ain't swell Your cookies are stale The Christmas lights Aren't very bright Which bulb is out You must find out Your kids are brats They Don't Give a rat About Jesus birth Or the very poor Oh see the Christmas cards pouring in You are indeed late once again Merry Merry Merry Christmas!!!!
Christmas is that awesome time of the year that combines the pressure of both endless detail and organization with finding ways to convey the important stuff, like Faith, Tradition, Meaning, Family. You really can't do the former without being stressed out, but you can't really do the latter if you are stressed out. Then there are just the blatant contradictions of buying (and wrapping! Oy!) your kids a bunch of presents while trying to tell them about the True Meaning of Christmas. I always have all kinds of plans for how I will manage this involving Fun Family Outings, Cute Advent Bible Verse Games, Christmas Baking and Crafts, Serving the Poor, and of course Building a Fire. My plan always goes out the window,and I end up slapping an adhesive bow on the whole thing, binge eating peppermint bark, and screaming, "Santa's already gone to the store and besides, there are poor children in Burundi!!!" every time my kids change their mind about what they want.
If my kids grow up with the angelic aura of nostalgia surrounding their holiday memories, it will be a Christmas miracle.
And let me take the opportunity to say THANK YOU to my mother and grandmother and all the other women (and, honestly, no men. They just showed up along with the kids and let the magic happen) who made my childhood Christmases pure joy and light.
Finally, I will end with a proposal--perhaps President Obama can enact it as a parting gift to the women of America, since, according to polls, most of the men hate him anyway (or at least the white ones)--that Christmas 2016 be the Christmas Done By Men. They get to do all the decorating, cooking, cleaning, buying, wrapping, crafting, charitable serving, family outing organizing, advent remembering, party planning, letter/card writing, and magic making, and we women will just show up and eat everything and pass out in some recliners.