My mom and I were walking through the downtown street of my little town recently, when we started talking about how crazy it is that holiday decorations and Christmas shopping were already in full swing, in spite of it just being the middle of November. When I was a kid, in a small town in Sweden, we brought in our Christmas tree a couple of days before Christmas. The lead-up to Christmas was in most ways low-key and homemade: baking and lighting candles, making Christmas decorations out of paper and glitter and glue and, if we were lucky, we would watch the odd holiday movie on TV. However, I can’t help but think that my recollection of the holidays has more to do with a bygone era than the place where I grew up. These days, when I go back home around the holidays, I see the same bright light decorations and steady encouragement to start my gift shopping as I do here.
Still, the bright Christmas decorations and ample advertising to start gift shopping is really no big deal to me, I just wish we could enjoy Thanksgiving before getting all hopped up on Christmas. For my mom however, these early reminders of the approaching season, produce angst and sadness. Where I see candles, spiced wine and excited kids, she sees family drama, obligations that can’t be met and feelings of not being “enough”. Where I see good food and celebration she sees in-laws on a collision course.
I know why she feels the way she does; we have talked about it many times, and I think I would feel the same way if I had had her experiences. These days, she acknowledges that the drama and stress are gone, yet, the unpleasant feelings of the past overshadow anything that may take place in the present. She is always surprised to hear that I actually like this season. Not because she thinks no one can like it, but because she feels her stress and misery when we were growing up would have rubbed off on me.
And I suppose it is true, I haven’t always felt so Zen about the holidays and the demands that can come with them. I used to feel overwhelmed and worry that I would not be able to “produce” the kind of Christmas that I thought was expected. There was a time when I would let it get to me, when I would worry about not having a fully decked out house or that I was serving the “wrong” foods. I would obsess over people not getting along. But lately, I haven’t. I have realized that how we celebrate will have to be good enough, and I have recognized that I can’t control how other people behave, so why worry about it.
It turns out that I really like the holiday season – the rituals, the decorations, the foods, the kids’ excitement, the various family and friends that may (or may not) be present. I like lighting candles and baking traditional Swedish Lucia buns that make the house smell of saffron and melted butter. I like sipping spiced wine and decorating oranges with cloves for fragrant and beautiful decorations.
So, to stay away from stress and worry during the holiday season, I have decided to think of the good things. I have decided to not try to live up to other people’s ideas of what Christmas should be like, I have decided to do the best I can and let that be enough. And when all else fails, I try to channel my inner Bob Hope, who said: “My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”