“Ugh!” I groaned when I read the advertisement for yet another holiday how-to book, guaranteed to result in the “BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!!!”
Shaking my head and mumbling to myself, I headed downstairs to spread a little Christmas cheer to my unsuspecting husband.
“Can you believe this?” I bellowed. “How To Have the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER?!” I can’t believe the pressure women put on other women: do more, buy more, craft more, bake more, stress more! Like any of that has anything to do with Christmas!”
“Um hum,” he mumbled, without even looking up from his coffee.
“I should write a book about how to celebrate a stress-free Christmas. I could do it with my eyes closed!”
“Do it,” he said.
And so I did.
But I probably need to back up a minute and fill you in on the whole story.
Hi. My name is Susan. I am a Christmas-aholic. It’s been five years since my last “stressed out” holiday.
When it comes to celebrating the holidays, many of us operate out of our past, determined that we’ll never experience another Christmas like the one we had when _________ (fill in the blank with your particular dysfunctional family memory.)
Either that or we cling to memories so magical we feel obliged to reproduce them for others, no matter what the cost in money, time, energy or emotions.
Having grown up in a stable, two-parent home (albeit modest) I was blessed with the latter experience. When I married and became the resident orchestrator of Christmas in my own family, I wanted to produce the same kind of atmosphere and memories for our children.
Mom always made fudge, so I made fudge. She baked dozens of jewel-toned cherry thumbprint cookies, so I baked them too. But I couldn’t seem to stop there. More is better, right?
Over the years my baking list expanded and so did my waistline. My to-do list got bigger. I added a second Christmas tree, and crafted wreaths out of pinecones and made gingerbread houses from scratch. No store-bought kits for me!
Those were also the years I began to discover my gift for hospitality. I put a ton of pressure on myself to be the perfect hostess, design the perfectly decorated house, and serve the perfect holiday meal, complete with plenty of perfect little appetizers. I was Martha before Martha became a thing.
Years later I worked in catering. There were months of planning and preparation for the holidays, then 8 solid weeks without a day off, cranking out holiday goodies for customers. Trust me, Red Velvet cake loses its appeal after you’ve iced 500 of them. Add to that the over-the-top amount of cookies, cakes and candy I was still determined to make for family and friends.
For those of us born with a ring of flour around our waistline, holiday baking is a drug and I was prone to overdose.
Full Disclosure: I’ve reigned in my holiday kitchen like a queen and I’ve terrorized it like Gordon Ramsey on Hell’s Kitchen; an over-worked, menopausal woman standing in front of a hot oven is a scary combination.
Then the grandkids came along and the holidays became wonderful-er (is that a word?) but even busier. In my zeal to be THE BEST GRANDMA EVER!!! I came up with a tradition which I was sure would find a place in our family’s Holiday Hall of Fame: [Insert ridiculous Christmas sweater and reindeer ears, which I decided everyone had to wear when they opened their gifts.]
The tradition endured all right –every year they remind me what a lame idea that was. Sigh.
I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but I was HOLIDAZED.
OK, time for a definition:
Holidazed: adverb – a temporary, seasonal state of being, characterized by a tendency to spend too much, do too much, and become, well, a little insane.
Now, you might be shaking your head, and thinking, “There’s no such thing as “too much” when it comes to the holidays.”
Call me Scrooge, but THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!!! doesn’t happen because you download the cutest little gift tag templates, craft an ornament out of the wishbone from Sunday’s chicken dinner (true story) or purchase the perfect Christmas organizer. (If you really need a Christmas organizer, you might be doing too much. Jes’ sayin.’)
But I get it. Cause that was me. My Christmas sobriety was hard won and gradual. There were several moments that opened my eyes to my HOLIDAZED propensities.
One was the year I actually got my Christmas shopping done early. It was mid-August, 98 degrees outside and there I was, sitting at my desk in a tank top and shorts, sweat dripping down my back, writing a Christmas article for a local lifestyle magazine.
The holidays were still four months away, but writing about gift-giving, traditions and party planning put me into panic mode – how on earth was I going to get it all done? YIKES!
Since I was at the computer, I decided to do a little online shopping and before you knew it, bam! I was finished, and oh, was I smug –until the second week in December.
While everyone else was out shopping and caught up in the excitement, I was as restless as a reindeer and grumpier than the Grinch.
Then there was the look in my Dad’s eyes that Christmas morning, six years ago. Money was tight, for us and for our two daughters, both single moms. And yet despite the lack, somehow we had all managed to make it THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!!! for those kids.
There were so many presents that we literally had to call a time-out from the gift opening to clear away the mountain of scattered bows and wrapping paper.
I glanced over at Dad and saw something in his wise old eyes, a wistfulness and a sadness and I was pretty sure I knew what he was thinking: “Why? Why so much?”
I felt it, too. Too much. The kids didn’t even seem to be enjoying themselves. It was a madhouse of ripping open one gift and reaching for the next, hoping for bigger, better, more. Mainly, more. It seemed like the more they got, the more frantic they became.
But it took a full-blown, holiday-induced panic attack in the middle of CVS to shake me out of denial of my truly HOLIDAZED state.
It was Halloween and I’d walked to the drugstore to buy cough medicine. As I stepped through the door, a jingle of bells and a sea of red assaulted my senses: Xmas displays lined the aisles, threatening to crowd out the pumpkins, ghouls and goblins. Whaat?! Xmas! How on earth was I going to afford Xmas?!
My husband had lost his business that year, we’d lost a car, and had just found out we were going to lose our house. But when I realized there was no money to buy gifts for my grandchildren – that’s when I nearly lost it!
The enemy came in like a flood: guilt, shame, dread, and embarrassment… WORST GRANDMA EVER! I literally tossed the cough syrup into the candy cane display and ran out of the store.
I walked home, crying and praying my heart out cause I knew if I gave in to those voices I was done for. And guess what happened?
The Spirit gave me a song:
“I am a child of the most high God. I am not forsaken, I am not forgotten, I am forgiven and free.”
From Halloween to Happy Thanksgiving and on through the Christmas holidays, every time I felt a stab of condemnation, I sang my simple chorus. That melody and those simple words were my Christmas present that year, God’s gift to me.
Oh, and that word “gift?” It comes from a word that meant dowry or bride price. Wow! Jesus came to earth to pay MY dowry!
See, that year when there was no money for gifts, no room in the budget for holiday baking, no heart to entertain, and only a scrawny Charlie Brown tree –
THE WORST CHRISTMAS EVER!!! turned into
THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!!!
Why? Because my focus changed.
Sentimentally I might sing, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” but when a lack of finances actually forced me to have a little Christmas, it was as if Jesus was asking me, “Can you still be merry? Or will you be singing the blues?”
In a culture where abundance means having to take a lunch break from opening gifts, a ‘little’ Christmas ended up being just what the doctor ordered.
I could either think deprivation, which I’d end up passing on to my family, or I could develop a thankful heart and a mindset of abundance, because the one who I was celebrating was not just enough, but more than enough.
“Yes, Virginia, there is a God and it’s not Santa Claus.” His gifts are better. God’s greatest gift was, is and forever will be His son, Jesus –THE BEST GIFT EVER!!!
Jesus gave His life that we might receive life everlasting. He’s the most significant gift I’ve ever received and I wanted to give a little something back.
And so I wrote my own holiday how-to book, complete with tons of tips to learn “How to Slow Down, Spend Less and Restore Sanity to the Holidays,” but with a disclaimer:
While the above advice may lower your holiday stress levels, it is not guaranteed to bring you joy.
Sorry, but Joy isn’t found in traditions, the perfect gift, or even in hospitality. Happiness maybe, but not joy.
How about this year, every time you’re tempted to do more, spend more, bake more, shop more, stop and ask God: “Will this bless You? Will it help me be more available and show the love of Christ to others or will adding it to my plate turn me into Scrooge?”
When you sing “O come, all ye faithful,” I want you to actually do it! And then teach your children how to come to Jesus, too.
Take your eyes off the Christmas to-do lists and instead, “Fix your eyes upon Jesus.”
You just might have THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!!!
Susan Ely, a former overwhelmed, over-budget, overworked, and under-appreciated holidazed superwoman, writes about her journey at susanely.com and is a seasoned speaker for Stonecroft International. She shares about her journey of hospitality hysterics at thesharedtable.com. Contact her at [email protected]. Purchase her book, Holidazed: How to slow down, spend less, and restore sanity to the holidays here.