A Post-Christmas Letter to Myself for Next Year

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December 26, 2014 by Julia

Dear Self,

You should probably read this in November sometime.

Don’t worry so much about finishing your Christmas preparations early. True, you pulled off some good presents and experiences for your family, and a lot of the work – shopping, wrapping, creating, baking, decorating, planning – was enjoyable. But harbor no illusions about somehow clearing enough spare time for relaxed, pure “savoring.”

What does that even look like?

What many women envision, I think. But how long should we sit with our coffee and stare at our wrapped gifts? Overrated, if you think about it. Also, her wrist is like a toothpick.

Did you think if you finished your wrapping three days before Christmas everything else would pause? You could cuddle your children around the tree in their flannel pajamas for three days straight? That they would stop whining for snacks or fighting over the space in your lap…or stop needing clean laundry or dinner? Or that even if you do have a few hours to yourself, you would be able to turn off your brain?

There will always be more Christmas stuff to do, in addition to the usual stuff to do. That’s just the way it’s going to be, up until December 26th. Relaxation is not a viable goal, and I don’t want you to kill yourself trying to get there. I was stressed out this year about relaxing. Silly.

I don’t say this out of bitterness or bah-humbug-ness or even regret. I’m just saying it might be helpful to keep in mind that the holiday season will be full of all kinds of moments – some delightful, some not-so-much. And that is okay!

The sweet, perfect images of Christmas cast a long shadow, and we will all feel that darkness at some point. No matter how charming our tree is, or how thoughtful the presents are, or how delicious the cookies are.

Half of your problem, self, is that you think if you try hard enough, you can cast out all of the shadows, for yourself and your family. It’s okay to make the holidays fun and beautiful. You are a good mother for trying. (There, I said it!)

Just remember that pretending the shadow of Christmas doesn’t exist will only increase the pressure on everyone. The kids may need to meltdown. The husband may need to gripe about shopping or traffic. You can cry from sheer exhaustion, too. None of these events mean you’re having a bad Christmas. These events mean you are engaging the holiday season. You and your family are fully human, particapating in the traditions and joys and disappointments and drama, and this is all part of it. The lovely moments you long for will still be there, sprinkled liberally throughout.

I found peace this year not by “doing things differently” than in previous years, although I do learn a few tricks every year to make things a little easier or simpler. The delight, though, came during the unexpected, unplanned moments.

Baking, by myself or with the help of my kids and husband. Inventing a new tradition of “Christmas mice bringing the kids new pajamas on Christmas Eve” and Fiona reacting with utter cheer. Working side-by-side with my husband to set the presents under the tree just right.

Driving to my parents’ new home on foggy, dark country roads on Christmas Eve while listening to sacred choral music. Mom whipping up the richest egg nog I’ve ever tasted. Dad making the best Christmas morning brunch ever. Finding Jack cracking up by himself on the couch as he watches the scene from The Christmas Story where the little boy is acting like a “little piggy” with his food at the dinner table, and his mom can’t help laughing – which is a scene I’ve often thought of in real-life situations with Jack.

At Dennis’ parents’ house (our third “Christmas” within forty-eight hours – what riches!), the moment when Fiona opens a sister doll to the doll she got at our house and can barely contain herself. (No, not the Frozen sisters, although she got those, too, and adores them, too.) My mother-in-laws’ brussels sprouts, which she knows I live for. My brother-in-law’s chocolate chip cookies, which he gave me a tin of. And the comfort we feel there as a family.

So much goodness.

IMG_20141224_164912

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Thumbs-up!

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Plants Vs. Zombies Obsessive

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Zombie decorating cookies

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My family, minus one brother and sister-in-law, and minus the kids who were at that moment sneaking down the stairs trying to crash our late dinner

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So, self, don’t worry about making a perfect, or relaxed, or reflective Christmas. It may be those things for certain moments, but those moments cannot be manufactured. Embrace the light while accepting the dark. Start shopping and wrapping early if you want to enjoy it, but don’t expect to finish early. Keep a vast store of all the different types of Christmas music so that you can listen to it for all of December without getting sick of it. Explore the culinary arts more as an act of celebration. This year, the kitchen was a soothing place for you. Don’t dread the work of Christmas magic-making. Sometimes, you will truly cherish these opportunities to show love. Sometimes it will be overwhelming, but you will survive and feel pride and relief when it pays off.

As I write to you, my future self, it is early evening on December 26th of 2014, and I am satisfied and grateful. Also excited for our winter break. We survived Christmas. And the moments of joy will live on in our memories. We can ask for no more. Expect no more, and you will be fine…maybe even better than fine, once the pressure is off.

Love,

Julia (you)

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