Over at my apartment, it feels like the Grinch stole Christmas. Until today, just eight days before Christmas, there wasn’t a Christmas decoration in sight.
The banner over our window still read, “Happy Fall,” with a couple inches of snow clearly visible behind it. The Christmas cards were shuffled under some bills, old pay stubs, and coupons for Maternity Motherhood nursing bras.
There was one plate of just a few cut-out sugar cookies, stacked on top of a Tupperware full of unfrosted cookies, and if you looked in our fridge, you’d find baggies of colored frosting left over from a week ago when we invited my sister to decorate cookies with us. We got a late start with the cookies, and then her baby got cranky for bedtime, and she left, and with her went all motivation to finish frosting the rest of the cookies. I don’t know what I was thinking — I’ve always hated decorating cut-out cookies.
I’m also bad at decorating in general. I said there wasn’t a Christmas decoration in sight, but that’s not entirely true. Every Christmasy thing we owned has been spread out over our table for weeks. Even though I had plenty time during the day, puttering around waiting for my baby to be born, I avoided it.
I was so much more prepared for Christmas this year than last. Joanna Gaines had come out with an inspirational holiday collection at Target. I had been pinning Christmas ideas since the summer. I had read the Christmas editions of both Better Homes & Gardens and Family Circle.
And then the thought of making decisions and things not looking right and me botching Christmas again…the only warm and fuzzy feeling I got at the thought of Christmas decorating was intense anxiety.
The Grinch is wrong, by the way. The true meaning of Christmas exists without presents and Who Hash, but what is Christmas without the traditions surrounding it? I’ll tell you what — just an ordinary day of reflection on family and togetherness and Jesus. All good, don’t get me wrong. But not Christmas.
Unfortunately for me, I haven’t had much luck with igniting the Christmas spirit on my own. Our first married Christmas, I thought it was simply a matter of meshing my husband’s and my favorite traditions and making them “ours.” That bombed the second we squabbled over when to open stockings — on St. Nick’s Day all the way in the beginning of December (wrong), or on Christmas morning (right).
“It wouldn’t be Christmas to me if we opened stockings at any other time than Christmas morning,” I pleaded. “That’s my favorite part of Christmas.”
Of course, opening stockings on St. Nick’s Day was one of his favorite parts of Christmas, too, and it just wouldn’t be Christmas without that.
I don’t know why we bothered arguing about it. It was a moot discussion, because Santa doesn’t visit anyone who lives without their parents.
We tried migrating over other family traditions — the Advent wreath, the canon of Christmas songs and movies, the driving around town in our pjs sipping chocolate shakes and looking at lights. Those never caught on, because I discovered something I’d never realized before as a kid — it’s not half as fun to be the adult in the situation, the one who has to hunt down those elusive purple candles at Michael’s, who has to go out and rent all the movies and CDs, who must Google the route around town and justify spending money on shakes.
And it’s no fun trying to be the sole motivation for all these things without an energetic younger sibling to support you. I learned that the hard way when I’d planned an entire St. Nick’s Day celebration only to hear the words, “I’m really tired and just want to go to bed” from my husband. It was 7:30. Party pooper.
Adrift in a Christmas season without any traditions of my own — that’s how I felt. And no matter how many nostalgic feelings I felt about Christmas, no matter how many times I scrolled through my Christmas Pinterest boards, I just couldn’t seem to make those traditions happen.
Then I realized I was doing it again — that thing I do as a young adult, trying to recreate something that no longer exists. I can never go back to being a little girl whose primary job in the kitchen is eating the cookies, not making them. I can never go back to being the recipient of Santa’s generosity, not the jolly old fellow himself. I can never go back to not being in charge of the budget or responsible for planning the day’s events or making the Christmas magic happen. Christmas wasn’t going to feel the same, because it, frankly, wasn’t the same.
Even when I go home for Christmas, it’s not the same. Someone’s always missing, off fulfilling their holiday obligations with their significant other’s family. There’s only one kid unjaded enough to get excited about Christmas cookies and decorating the tree. Some of the family traditions have stopped completely due to all the adolescent inertia in a house full of teenagers.
Christmas couldn’t be found there, either.
But the Grinch hadn’t stolen it completely.
Sure, we didn’t watch any of the holiday movies our families watched, and we didn’t get the tree up until eight days before Christmas, and we don’t have access to my dad’s complete collection of Mannheim Steamroller CDs, and, realistically, we probably won’t do a fraction of the things I wanted to do. And yeah, decorating sugar cookies doesn’t get me in the mood for Christmas anymore.
But we don’t have to do those things for it to be Christmas, and those old traditions don’t have to work magic in the way they used to. We’re our own little family, our own persons, and Christmas comes to life in different ways now.
That’s where all the anxiety and frustration was coming from — I wasn’t okay with that, with growing up, and accepting that things are different, so Christmas will be different too.
The Grinch didn’t return many of the old traditions that growing up stole — but their absence inspired some new ones. And when I look back at this Christmas season, I’m satisfied. I’m happy. I’m in the Christmas spirit — even if it’s eight days before Christmas and we only just decorate our home.
We spent a frosty day picking and cutting down our way-too-tall Christmas tree, sharing a kiss under the mistletoe at the owner’s bequest, and drinking hot cocoa with my brother-in-law who works on the tree farm.
We light two candles at every shared meal pretending that they’re Advent candles, since, after all, there were only two Sundays in Advent left by the time we set them up. We didn’t do any of the accompanying readings or prayers or songs, but there’s always next year.
My church gives us plenty of opportunities to sing Christmas carols, both in and out of service, and I love communal caroling.
I play Spotify Christmas playlists as background noise.
I sang through Handel’s Messiah — all of it — because that’s my favorite Christmas music of all. And maybe I’ll start over and sing the alto parts now.
What’s to stop me from eating the raw cookie dough and frosting left over from our failed cookie decorating endeavors?
But my very, very favorite — we read A Christmas Carol out loud. Next up is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and, of course, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I hope that’s a tradition that carries on forever. But even if it doesn’t, in some other season of grown up life, I know there’s something else out there that can make Christmas feel exactly like Christmas is supposed to be.