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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Grinching And Bitching At The Dept., So If You're The Least Bit Merry, You Might Want To Skip This Post Until You've Had Way More Eggnog

Oh, Heavy Sigh. Today I am valiantly trying to have Christmas Spirit, and no one is helping me. Honestly, what the hell is my problem, anyway? Christmas is not like Easter, a holiday which randomly occurs by some incomprehensible formula devised by ecclesiastical calculations based upon...exactly what, I'm not sure (and please do not feel compelled to enlighten me in Comments). Christmas is the same day every single year. Yet, for many years now, I have been left unready and unmotivated, as if it sneaked up on me like a lurker from the shadows.

It is a strange paradox: I feel stalked and victimized by Christmas.

It's unnecessary for me to rant on about how retailers have begun to allow Christmas to insidiously seep into stores as early as October now, elbowing out Halloween items for shelf space. (When I was little, I used to know that Christmas season had officially begun as soon as I saw the commercial on television where Santa rides the Norelco electric shaver. ) This Holiday Push is nothing new anymore.

What I have begun to feel, I think, is a sort of Christmas Maturation Burn-Out: it's just not fun any longer. It's all a Lot Of Extra Work. Back when Sam and Jared were little, I could wander into Toys-R-Us and zoom down the Fisher Price aisle or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle area and have fun! Or buy zippy crafty stuff like Play*Doh and boxes of Crayola crayons and a Lite Brite, or games and silly bath foam and Spirograph sets. Those littler boys did not have jobs and girlfriends and other commitments that make trying to schedule putting up the tree an occasion for a family meeting.

And buying presents now is...worky. It's all sizes and store preferences and guessing and "I don't know, Mom, I'll email you a list from work if I get time." And don't say, "Give them money or a gift card" because moms can't do that and you know it.

So I soldier on, the Bringer Of All Holidays. I do it anyway. It's My Job. I start up the 30-day Friendship Fruit for the 25th year so I can bake a cake. I throw together a couple of batches of cookie dough. I nag my sister for some ideas for her kids' gifts. I elaborately decorate the fireplace mantel and set out the snowman collection. I buy each of my four long-suffering and indispensable teacher aides a nice gift and make a mental note to get them wrapped and to school before Christmas break. I desperately try to remember how big of a ham I bought last year for the family Christmas Eve open house (held every year at my house) so that I don't have too much left over.

And there's still almost all of the shopping to do. Who are these people who get theirs done so very excruciatingly early? How on earth do they do it? Do they hold the potential recipients at gunpoint and get their lists like, in August? Or do they blithely just get each person whatever the hell they feel like buying for them? If that is the case, then I need to revamp my Entire Gift-Giving Attitude And Approach and get with that program.

TWELVE MORE SHOPPING DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS! some overly perky blond newscaster trumpeted at me this morning as I was trying to have my coffee and read my Plain Dealer at 8 AM. I wanted to hurl my candy cane mug at her pancakey face and shellacked page-boy, but I couldn't because I was immobilized by panic and shock. I have to work until the 23rd! How will I ever get everything done? "Christmas is for children" says a line in one carol. Boy, they're not kidding. Those were the days: all we had to do as kids was write a letter to Santa, show up, and open presents. Even the "being good" part was pretty much optional. I loved Christmas. Now I feel beaten up by it.

Has anyone else lost their Christmas Spirit? Or is it just me? Maybe it's the culmination of a downright crappy year. I'm hoping that, if I keep on keeping up appearances, it will just come back on its own. Wish me luck.

(Oh, and just so you know that I once had a bit more of a sense of humour about This Holiday, here are some of my favorite Christmas Posts Of Long Ago, since my LinkWithin seems to be ignoring them: This about themed trees ; this one about a non-traditional Crocs-wearing Santa ; this one about our family's sacred Christmas rules ; and finally, this one about our rather oddly-shaped Christmas tree a few years ago. I hope you enjoy them as a little Christmas present that I didn't have to shop for!)

26 comments:

  1. Madelyn10:37 PM

    Nance it's not just you my Christmas tree is in the living room with not a single light or ordainment on it as i can't seem to muster the energy to get all that stuff out of the storage space. And since my mom has gleefully taken Christmas dinner away from me I doubt my tree will ever see any of those things. My presents for my nephew and niece are in the trunk of my car and i only bought them clothes this year cause i couldn't be bothered with making them something like I always do. My co workers and friends will not receive their traditional box of cookies. I tried to muster the christmas feeling but it;'s buried in the front yard
    bah humbug!

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  2. Oh Nance, me too. My daughters are 40+ with excellent incomes and very, very idiosyncratic tastes. I have no idea what to buy them.
    Plus, it is my year to host Christmas dinner which means I have to put a tree up and make things fun for a tired, cranky six year old who had to leave all her new toys behind to go to Grandma's for a meal she doesn't really want (I remeber being that kid).
    She's a mean one, Grama Grinch.

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  3. SirEen4:28 AM

    Oye ve! You'll get none of this hassle with Hanukkah. If you can bust out the glorified candelabra and recite some songs, you're set. Bonus points if you're secular and you just light the candles and eat chocolate coins.

    Seriously, though, I can remember Christmas being this sort of pervasive, ethereal feeling so powerful that I felt wrapped in it...maybe it's just because my house was decked out (ad nauseum, as I would later realize, but at the time I was caught up) and I was an imaginative kid. My Grandma (with whom my dear Mother Carolyn and I live) would decorate her tree with maybe 2 decades of ornaments (perhaps older), and I would go through the tree, collect all of the translucent ones, lay under the tree, and look through them all with the various colors of lights. There were a few that I always pretended were spaceships.

    BLAH long comment, but I also wanted to mention that the gifts for class aids are incredibly wonderful. If I remember correctly, you gave me one of those 20Q things- those sneaky little pieces of psychic machinery- and it was, quite possibly, one of my favorite gifts. I realize I'm dangerously close to sounding like a blithering cheese-ball and that this comment is obnoxiously long. Hell, I could probably fashion a blog post of my own out of parts of it. Blaaargh!

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  4. I truly don't believe that you can take the AA stance on Christmas and "Fake it until you make it". If you're not feeling it and you force yourself, you're just setting yourself up for next year to be the same.

    A dear friend of mine, a teacher, opted out of the Secret Santa thing with everyone else in the building because she wanted to spend that money on her students. She says it's the best decision she's made in a long time.

    I don't know what the answer is except that when something becomes a chore and not a joy, I look for something new to focus on. The idea of tradition is overrated. Break free!

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  5. J.--Oh, if only it were that easy. Christmas Traditions are fraught with all kinds of baggage, and it's not so easy to just say, "Oh, I'm not feelin' it, so forget it." Too many other people can be hurt or upset and it can lead to all kinds of collateral damage. Opting out of a Work Thing is far easier than opting out of a Family Thing, no matter what it may be. I know you agree. I've already streamlined a great deal of things, and that does help. Some of it necessarily goes by the wayside when Littles grow up, but ironically, that is Part of the Problem. Heavy Sigh.

    SirEen--You are not even Jewish. And the Jewish religion is so incredibly complex and borne of years and years of suffering and symbolism that I would feel absolutely awful simply co-opting it just for kicks or something different. It smacks of sacrilege. I have lots of Jewish students and friends who would be glad to slap me around if I showed up one day and said, "I think I'll just start celebrating Hanukkah because I'm sick of Christmas." But anyway. I have all those awestruck holiday memories all foamy around the edges, too. Bubble lights on the tree, angel hair wrapped around some of the lights, lying under the tree and playing "I Spy" with my sister, and taking turns each year picking whether the tree-topper would be a star or the angel that used to be on my grandma's tree. I have lots of lovely memories, and so do my kids. I hope we're not done making them.

    And thank you for the kind, sweet words about my teacher aide gifts! I do try very hard to find good ones, thoughtful ones, and I'm so happy that the one I gave you has added to your store of Good Christmas Memories. You in my classroom remain among my Best Memories, period. XXOO

    MaryG--Perhaps Grandma Grinch can suggest that she put her slippers in a bag, along with some Granddaughter Gifts, and travel to others' houses for Christmas Evening! That way, the littles won't have to think that holidays mean car travel, and you can be spared all that work. You can bring a nice dish, visit for a while with a happy, calm child, and then leave when it's time. That's what we did many Christmases ago, and it was very much welcomed by everyone. (Just a thought...for next year, even! After all, you've made more than your share of Christmases.) But thank you for commiserating. Someday, we will have to meet and Grinch together!

    Madelyn! So nice to see you over here at my other blog! Pretty soon, I'll even see you over at Stuff On Our List, and then I'll know you're really a Fan. I can sympathize with you about your tree. This is the very first year that I even considered a fake tree, which is heresy for me. A friend of mine, Roger, who I've mentioned here before, doesn't even do a tree. He and his lovely wife bought an enormous wreath which they hang above their fireplace, well away from their two Labradors, and they hang a few ornaments on that. Period. The. End. That sounds like something I could easily embrace. Perhaps next year, I will transition toward that by getting a MUCH LITTLER TREE. MUCH. No more 8 foot blue spruces for the Dept.

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  6. SirEen11:06 PM

    Oh, I have tons of Jewish friends. The suggestion was purely in jest. I'm just offensively sarcastic sometimes. Maybe I need a permanent caveat : "the views and opinions expressed by this outspoken college student do not express those of the D.o.N., Blogger™, or anyone else who you would otherwise respect...viewer discretion is advised"

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  7. My parents give me cash. They've stopped trying to find stuff that I want, and even if there was stuff I wanted, hauling it on a plane is generally more annoying than anything. I even told my dad this year for my birthday that I wanted a gift certificate for trapeze classes, and he still gave me money, telling me that way I could be more flexible with it if I realized there was anything else I wanted/needed.

    Holidays are always easier when you screw tradition and just play things by ear. We waited until 10:00 AM on Thanksgiving morning to go out and buy ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner, and we were eating our turduckhen by 7:00 PM. We had never cooked a turkey before, and it ended up being fairly easy.

    I think the thing that takes the most energy out of the holidays is all the worrying people do. Screw it! Wait until you find a time on a weekend when you realize you're not doing anything, and go get the tree. Then decorate it one evening when you're looking for a distraction from work. Buy fewer presents. My dad's side of the family has a white elephant exchange for fun, and then the kids are just given money.

    I know everybody loves tradition, but the idea that less is more is probably a good tradition to start.

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  8. I absolutely positively feel the same about Christmas. I just don't care. I'm not even remotely religious, so that part doesn't inspire me, and giving gifts because retailers need money is just ludicrous. A number of years ago, I made this pact with most of my friends: if you really REALLY feel you must buy something, get a gift for my daughter, but don't buy me anything. Instead, let's make a date to have lunch or dinner. I'd much rather enjoy a good meal with good company than worry about what to buy. Everyone loves this idea. I still get something for my mom (she's pretty traditional), and my daughter, but that's about it.

    As an aside, my fake white Christmas tree is up and has three or four ornaments on it. It wasn't hard for this year, as we left it up from last year. It was pretty in July.

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  9. OK, you said not to, but I don't care. My Grandma explained Easter to me thusly: "Easter is the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox. Unless you're orthodox." Then I don't know.

    I still love Christmas. Maybe because I love getting time off from work. And I love shopping for gifts. I suspect mostly because my daughter is only 13, and still knows what she wants. And my birthday is not long after Christmas, which I like.

    On the other hand, the crowds and long lines and traffic suck.

    I love putting up the tree and going out looking for gifts and all of that. I do most of my shopping online, but I do run out and get a few things...

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  10. I forgot the key to Christmas shopping. Start with dinner and wine with a girlfriend. Then go shopping. MUCH more fun. And if you can start early, like dinner at 5 on a weekday, the stores are not crowded. :) That's my plan tonight.

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  11. Een, you crack me up.

    As anyone on my Facebook friends list knows by now, Christmas has been ruined for me by people who think it's endangered. I'd really love to say to all of them, "THERE IS NO WAR ON CHRISTMAS." And as it is still easily the most-widely-celebrated winter holiday in the US, I don't think they can claim discrimination. And I don't see HOW it's possible to construe "Happy Holidays" as offensive. How the hell am I supposed to know if someone's a goy or a Jew? ; ) Or a Kwanzaa celebrator or a Wiccan or...etc. Ugh.

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  12. Tiana--Oh, I blogged about that little tempest in a teapot years ago here at the Dept. What a load of bullshit that continues to be. The irony I wrote about in that post was that in that year, Christmas fell on a Sunday, and all the megaChristians STAYED HOME! Give me strength.

    J.@jj--I teach school all day, and by 5 I am like a wet dishrag. Limp and useless. Rick and I tried to get our shopping knocked out today, and it was brutal. By 6, I was so exhausted that I was ready to just buy anything that was within grasping distance. Hideous. And for the record, good for you if you keep track of full moons, although why anyone would is beyond me. Are you all werewolves or something? LOL.

    Life @ FF--My mother used to go for The Record with our live trees. Not on purpose, but just out of avoidance and sloth. I think her record was Valentine's Day. We hung hearts amid the C-mas decorations. Bless her.

    Mikey--Oh, to be single and unfettered. Then you can eschew so much of the baggage cavalierly. I can't play it so fast and loose, as I'm sure you understand. When I can run away after retirement, I can.

    Een--Oh, I know. You know I heart you. But please do share how you got the nice little superscripted TM! I NEED TO KNOW HOW TO DO THAT! I'm sad, I know.

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  13. Nance,

    My main concern is whether or not you give a nice Christmas present to the guy who delivers your Plain Dealer...

    I read your essay and see that you are drinking coffee and reading your Cleveland newspaper at 8:00 A.M. on a Saturday morning. I'm happy for you.

    I stand by my window on a Saturday morning and say Hail Marys that my guy will come soon and throw my Philadelphia Inquirer in the giant puddle in my driveway. He rarely appears before 10 A.M. and, by that time, even St Jude - the patron saint of lost causes- has given up on this guy.

    But, I always give him a VERY nice monetary reward for even bothering to come on my street. You have to understand,Nance, I NEED MY PAPER.....I simply cannot start the day without it, and I can't bear the thought of him giving me up for some hussy who takes not only the Inky but also the Wall St. Journal, and who lives on a street much easier to get to than mine.

    You do understand,don't you?

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  14. Yes! Yes! Yes! The guy on the Norelco shaver!! Oh...the memories!

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  15. When you run away, please do so to San Francisco ;-)

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  16. i dont like the idea that christmas is a deadline for something else. ie "shopping days left". to me, that seems weird.
    "merry christmas! hope you got all your shit done...OR ELSE"

    christmas was better when i was little. i used ot like christmas music...now? hate it. loathe it. i stil enjoy christmas tree decorating (why the FUCK do some people call it trimming...this is ridiculous) and i enjoy having everyone around on the eve of. but all the other hoopla? i could do without.

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  17. I'm refusing to stress over Christmas this year. I just won't do it. I want to enjoy my kids and be done with it. I don't have a lot of extra money to spend and I'm not about to feel guilty for not buying as much as I usualy do.
    As for feeling the Christmas Spirit, I'm not really not excited like I usually am. I just decorated my tree this past Sunday. Jason sat on the couch watching football and Devin was off doing who knows what with the other half of his family. Micah did hang a couple of ornaments, which was cute. But for the most part I did everything myself. It sucked. And I was hoping that once the house was decorated, the feeling would kick in. It helped a little but not as much as I was hoping for. Why the funk? I don't know. Maybe it's the weather. I like it to be cold and snowy during this time of year. It just makes it all seem "right".

    And I'm done shopping. Mostly because I knew money would be tight this year so I've been buying christmas gifts for MONTHS! And yes, I buy what I want to give. I will listen to requests but not allow that to set limitations or make me crazy trying to find something. I find that method works best for me. I've never found it to be an issue. The idea of people actually sitting down to write a list of preferred gifts is absolutely absurd to me, be greatful that someone thought to give you anything at all!

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  18. SirEen2:39 PM

    superscript TM by Een™:
    If you have a PC, you hold down the ALT key and press 0153 on the number pad. You can also produce wonderful things like:
    ® (ALT 0174)
    © ( 0169)
    † ( 0134)
    ‡ ( 0135)
    ¶ ( 0182)

    if you want to go all español, the ñ is ALT 0241, and the ¿ is ALT 424.

    : )

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  19. Een--How lovely. You are terrific. Thank you. Do you know how to get the little thingy under the French soft C, the proper term for which now escapeth moi?

    Nina--I so hear you. Nothing is doing it for me. Shopping last night was a nightmare. Nothing grabbed me; nothing looked "perfect for" anyone; nothing made me jolly. My tree is lovely, but I already cannot wait until it's gone. And it's not the weather for me because, as you know, I detest snow and cold. I'm just in a Major Funk. It's worse than after the election of 2004.

    JPD--I think part of your loathing of C-mas music is because you work in retail and it bombards you constantly.

    Mikey--Or at least close enough to visit. Believe me, all options that are WARM and NOT HERE are on the table.

    apathy lounge--wasn't it such the Holiday Harbinger? And he was cute.

    Nancy--Oh, I do! And I thought the Inquirer had gone under...? Apparently not. I guess that ilk have the cash to keep it afloat. My newspaper gets flung from the car in the driveway up onto my porch, and in the summer, I swear he tries to valiantly take out my Boston fern on its stand. Sometimes he gets it, too. So no tip for that s.o.b. I pay PLENTY for the PD, and he's got a rocket arm and a laserbeam aim, thanks to me. Hell, the Cleveland Indians might sign him up!

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  20. SirEen4:08 PM

    AH, la cédille français! it's ALT 135 (ç). "é" is 130, "à" is 133 and è is 138. For uppercase,É is alt 0201, and Ç is 0199.

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  21. The irony: Christmas became much more manageable when I quit going to church. No more making of Advent wreaths, no more day spent cleaning the church and hanging of the greens, no more Christmas pageant rehearsals, no more pressure to participate in a bajillion service projects during the busiest time of the year.

    Now I choose a few charities and give online, my gift list is trimmed so that it only includes my own family and a few friends. I get all the teachers and service personnel in my life Starbucks giftcards, and people can give me a Christmas list if they want and make SUGGESTIONS but I buy and give gifts on my own terms and my own budget. I've streamlined decorating and events and broken traditions (like baking cookies or hosting open houses), but yes, no matter what, there are some years Christmas just feels like a second job and I'm envious of everyone who simply gets to show up and enjoy it.

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  22. I feel like I'm in a Christmas slump too. I love the baking of treats (merely because I love eating!) and I love decorating because I love the lights. But as for the gift giving...I hate it. I never know what to tell my mom to get me because as an adult I get what I want/need as it comes up! And I never know what to get my mom or grandparents because I'm not around to know what they might need or want. I want to get people gifts that are really meaningful and have thought behind them, but it's really difficult.

    I would love to have kids to celebrate the holiday with (not necessarily my own, mind you!)

    And as a former teacher's aide--I still have the red sweater you bought me the one year. I like it more and more with each passing year!

    Merry Christmas! I hope you find a bit to enjoy :-)

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  23. jenomena--The Mom Gift...isn't it a killer more and more as the years go by? And so many people say, "Oh, just give the gift of time" etc., but that just isn't so easy. Sigh. Glad you still love the red sweater. It was a risk since you are a redhead, but I just thought it would be audacious and fun.

    V--I completely love your analogy: Christmas as a second job. I am using it as often as possible (and giving you credit!), and so many people are vociferously agreeing. It's the perfect description. And there's just no way around ALL the work, is there? There's still shopping and extra cooking/baking and decorating, etc. And when you're not feelin' it, the pressure is stressful.

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  24. I used to feel overwhelmed before Christmas ---too much to do, too many gifts to buy, too much cleaning, cooking, baking, and never enough time. One year at our family Christmas dinner, someone suggested that our gift-giving had gotten out of hand and perhaps we needed a new strategy. It was proposed that each person choose a name and buy only one gift the following year. I was thrilled. Then someone suggested we just not do gifts at all ---just get together and enjoy the day. And that is what everyone decided to do. Now, within our immediate families, everyone can do as they wish, but aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, in-laws ---no gifts. It was one of the happiest days of my life. So for the next 12 years or so, until my mother died, I bought one gift ---for my mom. (We have no children.) Even my husband and I don't exchange gifts.

    Gifts are fun to both give and receive, but the lack of stress is soooooooo worth it.

    If one is religious, gifts shouldn't be the main reason for the holiday. If one is not religious, then one can celebrate the solstice season ---no gifts required.

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  25. Remember this for next year. As stated above, I don't do holiday shopping anymore, but when I did, this was my holiday shopping secret.

    ***The night before Thanksgiving.***

    I used to pick up my nieces after school to shop and go out to dinner. They didn't have to worry about homework that night. Almost no one else was shopping. The stores hadn't been picked clean. Without many customers, salespeople were already marking down merchandise for "black Friday" so we got those bargains early.
    (Yes, I had also put in a full day of teaching, but knowing I had three days off kept me going that evening.)

    Instead of being overwhelmed with Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, ask everyone to bring part of the dinner. And assign the men to clean-up duty unless they actually helped to prepare the meal.

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  26. CJ--Good to see you here. (I thought my Bovine-rich post above would have brought you out more! LOL) We are definitely already down to buying far fewer gifts for nieces/nephews, having instituted the "only those under 18" rule years and years ago. I only have three to buy for now. But my own two boys and husband and mother are still plenty. Trying to teach all day up to a day or two before Christmas Eve is insane. And I just am not one of those who can cavalierly take several days off, leaving my colleagues to cover my classes or entrust my honors curriculum to a sub right before midterms. And I do have siblings who bring things to the C-mas Eve dinner, but the cleaning and prep is still hours and hours of...well, you know.

    I already told my kids: next year, I am running away to someplace warm. Sigh. But I think I said that last year.

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