Unwrapping the Joys and Jitters of Christmas

I don’t haul out the Christmas tree and decorations on November 1st, but I start getting excited about Christmas as soon as Halloween is over. Though I respect and celebrate Thanksgiving, I look forward to the Christmas season. Mostly. Here, I explore my joys and jitters surrounding the holiday.

The Joys

First, I love Christmas music. LOVE it. So does my son. It’s the only thing we listen to on the radio from mid-November through Christmas Day. Probably 75% of the time when a song comes on, we both say ‘This is one of my favorites!’

Typically, while driving, I channel-surf nonstop. I’ll pause if I hear a good song, then as soon as it ends, I’m surfing again. Not during Christmastime. My radio stays on our local station that plays nonstop Christmas music. Usually by mid-December, I’m starting to tire of hearing the same songs over and over, but I refuse to listen to anything else

At 42, I still love driving around, looking at Christmas lights and decorations. Growing up, my grandparents owned an RV. When I was a child, the whole family would load up in the RV, and my grandpa would drive us around town to look at lights and decorations. I can’t begin to explain how exciting that was as a kid – something about it was just special. It’s one of the traditions I miss the most.

Riding around in the car or SUV isn’t nearly as exciting as riding around in an RV, but I work with what I’ve got. I make it a point to do this at least once each December. Admittedly, I get more excited about lights and decorations than my kids – I don’t think they even really care about this tradition. But they’re good sports about it, for my sake.

Lastly, nothing beats Christmas morning. I don’t experience the same level of excitement now, as when I was younger, but it’s pretty darn close. When I was a child, 6am was the earliest I could wake my parents on Christmas morning. At 6am on the dot, that’s exactly what I did. I don’t ever recall my kids waking me up on Christmas morning; I always have to go tell them it’s time to get up so we can open presents.

The routine is the same every year – I fix my coffee and turn on ‘A Christmas Story.’ If it’s cool enough, I have Will light a fire. Some people may let their kids grab their gifts and tear into them. I like to draw it out, make it last a little longer. Why would anyone want the whole experience to be over in 2 minutes?

Gifts are passed out one at a time to each kid; I like to watch them unwrap their gifts and see the joy on their faces. I always feel a little sad when all the presents have been opened. It’s like the magic is gone, and it’s time to get back to reality.

Despite my love for the Christmas season, it also induces a high level of anxiety in me, perhaps the ultimate anxiety. It all stems from two things: gifts and get-togethers.

The Jitters, Part One: Gifts

Buying and wrapping gifts used to be one of my favorite Christmas activities. I would simply go to the mall and browse the stores until something jumped out and said “Mom would love this” or “Paw Paw could really use this.” I could knock out my entire list in one place, in one trip. Then I’d go home and wrap it all up, nice and neat, with ribbons and bows and all that jazz.

I still enjoy giving gifts to people, especially when it’s something they weren’t expecting, and they clearly love it. Wrapping gifts is neither something I love nor hate – it’s basically become a test for myself, to see how long it takes to unlock my knees and stand up after sitting on the floor for 30 minutes.

The difficult part is figuring out WHAT gifts to buy for most people on my list. The mall sucks now; it’s lacking in variety. Amazon seems like the clear choice, but it’s overwhelming when there are millions of items to browse and you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for. My kids are fairly easy – they send me lists or circle items in magazines. It’s my husband and our parents that are hard to shop for. But somehow I always get the job done, so this isn’t a big huge source of anxiety.

Each year, when my daughters were younger, I would clean out their old toys to make room for all the gifts they’d receive at Christmas. They never complained or put up a fight about it – it was something that needed to be done. All kids eventually outgrow their toys; it’s normal to clean out the old to make room for the new. Now that they’re grown, I don’t have to worry about them.

My son, on the other hand, is a hoarder in the making. He doesn’t want to get rid of any old toys, books, puzzles, games, etc.. Ever. He wants to keep everything. Forever. Knowing that he is going to get a ton of gifts at Christmas, and not having anywhere to put these new things, is nerve-racking. Still, this is not the main source of my Christmas anxiety.

The Jitters, Part Two: Get-Togethers

Getting together with family is something that most people enjoy about Christmas, but it’s what pushes me over the edge. I interact with people on a fairly regular basis at work, school, or sports functions. But I do not like social functions. I love my family, but getting together for Christmas meals or gift exchanges is still considered a social function.

There are 3 different get-togethers that we attend from around December 23rd through Christmas Day. That’s not a lot, I know it’s not. But there’s a lot of people, and a lot of talking, and a lot of activity; it’s just all too much for me. Every year, I tell myself “Try to be pleasant, you won’t be there forever.” But my face doesn’t lie. Even the small get-togethers, where it’s just 7 or 8 of us, are overwhelming. I do my best to relax and enjoy the event, so as not to bring the mood down for everyone else, but inside I’m on edge – wound so tight I could pop.

Seeing as how these get-togethers are something I must attend, and I do hate being a party pooper, I must figure out a way to reduce my anxiety surrounding these events. Maybe do a little pregaming? Take the edge off? I’ll experiment this year and see how it goes.

On a completely unrelated side note...

I am considering starting a new tradition this year. It seems like a lot of people cook a nice meal on Christmas Day, maybe prime rib or turkey? I don’t prepare a big feast for Christmas, like I do at Thanksgiving. Some years I’ll do some baking and candy-making in the days leading up to Christmas, but I don’t cook on Christmas day. We usually eat lunch at my mother-in-law, Deb’s, house. I can’t remember what we typically do for dinner. Maybe Deb sends leftovers home with us so we don’t starve at dinnertime? Regardless, I feel like I should plan something for Christmas dinner. Maybe some dish that I haven’t attempted before – like a fancy Julia Child recipe?

Do I really want to add a new task to my Christmas to-do list, when I could just take it easy and recover from all of the festivities? Maybe. I don’t know. We’ll see.