Like most of you, I have a love-exhaustion relationship with the holidays.
Most of the love is experienced between January and November when the stress of the season is successfully repressed and I get my turn to idealize it with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. And then along comes December again and it’s time to make merry while maintaining the frenzy of home and work. Without fail, I get overwhelmed to the rim and then sprinkle on a dash of guilt over not feeling more fa-la-la-la-la about the “most wonderful time of the year.”
The good news is that the love part of the relationship comes mostly from the right places. I enjoy the time my husband and I manage to carve out to spend with people we love and the excited look on the children’s faces as they open up their presents. The squeals I let out over my own gifts are high-pitched enough that only the dog can hear them, so they don’t really count against me.
But lately, the season is mostly making me feel like a gymnast who strives to stick her landing while Coach keeps increasing the level of difficulty of her tricks. “You must provide your family with a perfect-10 holiday season, Olga Korbut. But this year you must do this in a bad economy and with 20 more hours of work per week.”
So, as we go ticking off the days of the Advent calendar, training for the big day, I know there will be plenty of moments when I want to quit. After all, middle life is an exhausting time, is it not? We have children to care for, jobs to hold down, parents to check in on, waistlines to whittle and even a few dreams left to chase. This means that the annual ritual of hanging mistletoe, busting budgets and navigating mall parking lots can easily become the handspring dismount that ends in the compound fracture of our psyches.
While I understand how this fuss makes many people choose not to bother, I have no interest in hanging up my leotard just yet. I will, however, concede that the fanfare I create used to come from a more genuine place. The warmth and joy radiated right out of my younger, less complicated self, making the holiday planning almost effortless. We hopped from cookie exchanges, Christmas in the Park, school performances, The Nutcracker and gingerbread-house making-- all with nary a sigh from yours truly.
These days, the operations feel far more tactical. In fact, the effort seems like nothing short of a declared tenacity. I decorate, bake, entertain, shop, wrap and carol because I’ll be damned if anyone (myself included) should have to live with the “me” who would not. Especially when that “me” is trying to counter the influx of news of cancer, divorce and tragedy in the local headlines, and in the micro-local news uttered via schoolyard and office whispers.
Because there aren’t any easy solutions to this kind of hardship, it’s easy to feel powerless and distraught when taking it in. What I find, though, is that regenerating a sense of hope can come from improving anything within my control. I can’t bring back the local teen from Santa Teresa High School who died in a tragic accident, but I can create my own little ripple of hope by volunteering to run a school book club or bringing a little cheer to someone who could use it.
I know for sure that the most potent antidote to a heavy reality is the fostering of hope and lightness. While we expect to find it in big, showy actions, I think it’s just as evident in the smaller gestures of glittery bows, light-up snowmen, a decadent dessert and the exchanging of gifts. I’m convinced that this amounts to more than the cultural display of opulence the critics call it—it’s a testament to our sense of hope, resilience and the pursuit of that slippery little thing called happiness.
We just can’t let the tough stuff win. So if takes a triple-twist stuck landing to show it who’s boss, then pass me the chalk and boost me up to the bars and let’s do this.
In addition to writing for the Times Media, Inc. family of newspapers, Shana McLean Moore speaks to groups about building a strong internal community that’s empowered to do go out and do big things. www.sunnysidecommunications.com