As we slip into the holiday season, it’s time to reflect on the year past, and look forward to the year approaching. I could do that. But my vision doesn’t quite extend that far, I’m afraid ... I’m looking forward to surviving the holidays, and that’s plenty forward enough, thank you very much. Here’s some of the things (both good and bad) that I can look forward to as the holiday season begins to swallow us whole:
Multiplication of cardboard. I love to recycle—really I do. But recycling cardboard boxes is my least favorite part. Because you have to break them down. I mean, you don’t have to, in order to recycle them, but you have to, because otherwise they’ll never fit in the recycle bin. And nobody in my house, other than me, breaks down the cardboard boxes.1 Also, we do all of our Christmas shopping at Amazon. So this time of year there are a lot of cardboard boxes. In particular, I can count on a solid hour or two of nothing but breaking down cardboard boxes on Christmas day, or maybe the day after, if I’m lucky. The kids get to come rushing into the room and tear everything apart and fling around the bits all willy-nilly, but who do you think has to clean that up? Well, The Mother will do a lot of it, really. But all the cardboard is headed my way. Bah. Humbug.
Tiresome repitition of the “war on Christmas” meme. The holiday season is sure to bring out the crazy in the CCFs.2 In fact, it has already—one thing you can count on is that, if the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier every year, then so must the mythical “war.” I refuse to link you to the idiot whining about the fact that Starbucks cups are red and green (’cause apparently that’s not “Christmasy” enough for this douchebag), but I’m sure you’ve seen it already. I really can’t improve on my 2011 holiday rant, so just go read that. Plus it contains my excellent Christmas music mix, Yuletidal Pools. Bonus.
The cruelty of the advent calendar. To a kid, an advent calendar is an excrutiatingly slow countdown to the most exciting day of the year. Since I now have three such smaller humans—well, really two, because my eldest is now taller than I am—I’m currently being treated on a regular basis to pronouncements such as “There’s no way I can possibly wait another NINE WHOLE DAYS for Christmas!” Yeah, well: welcome to reality. Suck it up kid.
Eggnog. There’s lots of things you can pretty much only buy at Christmas, but the only one I really love is eggnog. I suppose I could make it myself, but there are some perfectly good ‘nogs out there—almost certainly better than I could ever produce—and it’s nice to be able to just bring it home and pour it in a glass and kick back and relax. Eggnog is somehow keyed to the spirit of the season for me. The smell alone is enough to put me in a Christmas mood. (Also, if you’re putting out milk and cookies for Santa, you’re gipping the fat man. Eggnog and cookies is the classy way to go.)
The inescapable madding crowds. Even though we make every endeavor not to do any actual Christmas shopping at physical locations, you can’t really get out of all shopping. There’s grocery shopping, for instance. And even though you may just be there for ordinary weekly supplies, try telling that to the rest of the crazed holiday crowd. No point in bothering, really. It’s a bit like being at the amusement park: you square your shoulders, tuck your head down, and push on through.
Watching my diet go down the toilet. As you may recall from my Saladosity series (specifically in part 3, my take on Whole30), I am not “on a diet”; rather, I’ve changed my diet. As a general rule, I do pretty well at avoiding added sugars of all stripes, grains, and legumes, plus miscellaenous other bits and bobs (like fries and chips). But the one-two punch of Thanksgiving followed by Christmas is pretty much guaranteed to crush my newly improved eating habits all to hell and back.3 Partially that’s because of seasonally available food like candy cane faux oreo’s and chocolate oranges; partially it’s because of family recipes that come sneaking out of the woodwork, like my grandmother’s pound cake, or her ginger snaps; partially it’s because Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve dinners are, by tradition, celebrations of abundance. But the exact reason isn’t important. The point is, there’s a few extra pounds coming my way.
Quiet family moments. One of the advantages of moving nearly three thousand miles away from one’s parents is that you get to have quiet little holiday gatherings with just the immediate family: The Mother, myself, and the children: 3 humans, 2 dogs, 3 cats, 1 guinea pig, and various assorted fish, shrimp, and snails. Intimate family meals, lazing around on the couch watching movies (or watching the kids play video games), sharing the excitement of gift discovery, snuggling with a child (human or feline), enjoying the warmth and glow.
Inevitable holiday sicknesses. I think this must be the 4th or 5th year in a row that some or most of us have been sick for the holidays. Perhaps it’s the change in the weather, which comes fairly late in the year to southern California. Perhaps the universe just hates us. But, whatever it is, some of us will be sniffling, and/or hacking, and/or barfing, this entire coming week. We’ve already started, actually.
Lack of sleep. It’s tough to get enough sleep any time, but this time of the year complicates matters even further. There’s so much stuff to do, and Christmas Eve is full of preparation—try to get the kids to bed, frenzied preparation for Santa, requisite picture-taking, plus it seems like there’s always at least one massive thing to assemble—and Christmas Day has a tendency to start very early, typically with small children jumping on your head. Is it any wonder that parents tend to drift off on the sofa in the middle of the afternoon for the next few days?4
Flashes of simple joy. Kids love Christmas, no doubt. But parents love it just as much, if they’re honest. Because Christmas is one of those times when you get to see straight into your kids’ hearts, via their smiles and looks of wonder. Every person has a face they wear—even young ones. Kids are just not as likely to be so adamant about it ... they let their masks slip quite often, at first, and only learn to be more cautious as life throws more and more crap at them. And of course, a lot of times even when the façade cracks, you don’t happen to be around. But there are certain times when you can count on your children’s social camouflage to drop away and allow you see straight into their sense of awe at the world around them. We have a tendency to call this “child-like,” as if it’s only something fit for children, something that you leave behind you when you become an adult. Bullshit. You lose it. You have it stripped away from you, because life sucks, and it’s hard to be a grown-up, and having people depend on you and having to pay your rent and keep food in your belly and having to show up for work every day is arduous and exhausting and we just don’t have the time or the energy to be child-like any more. But you always want to go back there. You always want to—no, need to—be reminded of that time when you could delight in simple things, when your standards for being amazed were delightfully low, and you could be happy for hours or even days just because you got a lick from your puppy, or a hug from someone who loved you ... or the perfect gift on Christmas. That’s why parents give their kids way too much crap on Christmas (or whatever holiday is appropriate for their culture): because you’re hoping against hope that one of those silly pieces of plastic and yarn and circuit boards and wood and metal and wires—just one!—will trigger that ephemeral reaction that transports you back to your own childhood and reminds you that life doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s quite simple, really. There’s family and play and being with the people you love, and then there’s the other shit. And all that other shit doesn’t really matter, no matter how much it seems like it does. It’s just a distraction from what’s actually important in life. Christmas is particularly good at reminding us of that. And that’s why we need it.
And, you know what? If one of my kids ends up throwing out the toy and just spending all day playing with the box, I’ll take that. As long as they’re happy.
1 Well, usually. To be fair, The Mother just broke down a few this weekend. Which was much appreciated, to be sure.
2 “CCFs” means “crazy Christian fucks.” These are the tiny minority that give the rest of the Christians a bad name by putting extremely tortured interpretations on Jesus’s message of peace and love. (Personally, I blame Paul. Honestly, he’s a bit of a prick.)
3 Helen Back ... heheh. My surname is Mucus.
4 In retrospect, the lack of sleep probably has a lot to do with the inevitable holiday sicknesses ...