Advent is an opportunity to examine one’s conscience – all the penance services and confession sessions are an excellent reminder of inevitable human failing – and even bathed in the beauty of the Christmas season, we are all aware (especially if we have small children!) of the potential pitfalls of the holidays.
To avoid having to fling myself back into the confessional come January, I’m making a list of reminders for myself. Catholics are always big on theories – the way things are supposed to be, the glistening perfection, the impossible ideal – and not always so helpful with the means of achieving them. Here, then, is my boringly practical list of suggestions for having happy holidays. I’ll even throw in a Bible quote for good measure.
“Turn the other cheek,” a.k.a. Do not engage: That irritating, loudmouthed uncle or in-law or daughter or second-cousin-twice-removed who insists upon trumpeting opinions with which you disagree – just walk away. Do not fall into the black hole of verbal sparring, petulance and crankiness, especially at the dinner table. Avoid any teasing that could be misconstrued as baiting. If a comment or opinion so offends you that it must be addressed, do so privately.
Know thyself: Lust and gluttony are my favorite of the Seven Deadly Sins. Unfortunately, we are supposed to be chaste and moderate. Thus, I will attempt to avoid spending the entire Christmas season clutching a bottle of wine in one hand and a wedge of Marieke Gouda (Truffle! Mustard seed! Nettle!) in the other. Better for the digestive tract, anyway. And, well, you get the idea.
Keep it manageable: By the time we get to Christmas, most of us will have spent weeks baking, cleaning, decorating, cooking and prepping. Looking through the rearview mirror, how much of it was necessary? In my single days, I loved taking platters of cookies to friends. Nowadays, three kids deep, it just isn’t feasible. I made a batch of waffle cookies the other day – two 1-year-olds and a 4-year-old were standing on chairs, battling to reach the waffle iron (there was also a fourth chair pulled over for Baby Pooh Bear, Julian’s excessively well-loved stuffed thing). We had a minor burn. And all the cookies were gone by the next morning anyway. Moral of the story: Don’t kill yourself trying to make it perfect. My idea of holiday cleaning and decorating would certainly not impress Martha Stewart. That’s ok. It doesn’t have to.
And, while you’re at it, manage your regression: An amusing New York Times article, “Your Mom Is Destined to Annoy You,” by Jessica Glose, confirmed what I have long suspected: Despite any and all achievements in my life since my nerdy, introverted, poetry-writing, grammar-correcting childhood, I am destined to turn back into an ignored (and therefore sullen and irritable) middle child the moment I step back into the family fold. There’s even a name for it – the family systems theory. Were it to be otherwise, I would be upsetting the delicate equilibrium of family life. So, fine. Whenever that ignored feeling returns, I will try to interact with others instead of introverting, and endeavor not to snap at my relatives.
Take the time: As some may recall, my husband is English. I appreciate English Christmas traditions – caroling, going to Nativity plays, opening Christmas crackers (great entertainment for Christmas dinner), taking family walks on Boxing Day, playing games together, going to the woods in Advent to gather evergreen boughs, pinecones, seedpods, etc., for decorating. Even the liquor-soaked Christmas pudding en flambé has its charm. All of these traditions are about celebrating together and, I think, may generate more happy memories than binge-watching football or (those simpering) Hallmark Christmas movies.
Right-side the season: Secular Christmas starts in November or October or September or whenever. Christian Christmas starts with Christmas. No one I know goes back to normal life on Dec. 26 – at the very least, there’s a whole week until New Year’s – but for some reason, American consumerist culture quickly devolves into post-Christmas sales and how-to-keep-your-New-Year’s-resolution articles. Don’t give in. Look for opportunities to be generous. Wish others happy holidays. Keep your Christmas lights twinkling. Relish and share the joy of the season, long after the secular humanists have moved on.