Sunday, November 24, 2013

Put Away Those Red And Green Running Shoes

Pressure Busting Tip #18
When I was a kid, my parents were all about The Ritual.  They excelled at The Event.  Even the smallest, most mundane thing was turned into a Special Treat, Something Worthy Of Note, or as my father liked to say, somewhat sarcastically as he skewered the slang of the time, "A Happening."  Merely talking about a future trip, a celebration, a gathering--that was more than half the fun.  And we all got good at it.  I can remember my dad and my mom sitting at the kitchen table, talking about going someplace.  They'd describe to each other and, if we were listening, to us kids the route, what we'd see, places we might stop and what we'd do there, how the ice cream might taste, the breeze might be cool, and the way the little puffs of clouds would hang above the horizon over a certain mountain.  In the weeks before Christmas, my sister Susan and I would lie awake in the double bed, and she'd say, "Tell me about Christmas Eve."  And I'd begin to weave our-ages old, shared story about how we would get everything ready.  "Mom will make us get up early, and we'll have to wash woodwork, dust, clean the bathroom, and run the vacuum.  Patti will be allowed to hang all the Christmas cards.  We'll get out all the candles and make sure they're lit right before everyone comes.  Aunt Martha is always first, and she comes in singing Jingle Bells. Aunt June will be in soon, and she'll have her flash camera ready, and yell at Uncle Jul all night.  We'll get out the relish plates and the potato salad and...." The routine was so familiar and so wonderful.  Susan could have--and often did, in places--told the story to herself, but she loved to hear it.  I don't know if Mom and Dad built this into us on purpose, but it was a great idea.  All of us learned from it.  We learned to appreciate an entire experience.  That the journey is as important as the destination.

I think it's something to think about when it comes to Christmas, too, and it can help ease some of the holiday pressure we feel as adults.  So many times during Christmastime, I felt like I was rushing, rushing, rushing headlong towards a goal, a sort of finish line of December 25th.  It was hard to appreciate or enjoy anything I was doing to get there.  All of the Stuff I Was Doing up to then seemed more like obstacles rather than part of Christmas.  Shopping, wrapping, preparing food, baking, spiffing up the house, decorating--all of that was in my way of reaching my goal of Christmas.  That was my mindset.  When I was able to realize that, in those simple terms, I was--to be honest--stunned.  And a little embarrassed.  Why hadn't I ever understood that before?  And when had all that happened?  And, more importantly, how can I fix it?  It's important to go back to The Ritual.  Recognize that Christmas is not a goal; it's a whole season, a many-faceted celebration. It is made up of a myriad of interwoven experiences and memories and traditions and sensory mementos.  Pressure Busting Tip #18 is a reminder that Christmas is a journey, not a destination.  It's not just you working and running your head off and then rip, crash, bam, it's over in a half-hour of giftwrapped pillaging.  It's the kids making Christmas Calendars the day after Thanksgiving and crossing off the days before they go to bed.  It's taking the family out for breakfast and then to a store to pick out a special ornament for each.  It's going and getting a tree together.  It's decorating the tree and then having a special Christmas-themed dessert with a little red candle stuck in it.  Afterwards, you can play "I Spy" and lie under the tree, looking up at the lights. It's hot chocolate with little candy canes hanging on the side of the mug.  Or going to find a Giving Tree, then picking out a gift or two for a child or family less fortunate.  Tell the stories of your Christmas.  And build some Christmas Stories of your very own.



  1. I've been reading your updates by email and have been enjoying them. I don't celebrate Christmas; I'm Jewish, but I love reading about the holiday and celebrating with others. I love seeing the lights and decorations and I don't even mind when someone wishes me a "Merry Christmas".

    I have two sons, ages 31 and 34, and when they'd ask me why we didn't celebrate Christmas, we told them that it simply wasn't OUR holiday but that we can enjoy other people's enjoyment of the holiday. That made sense to them, particularly when I explained we didn't celebrate Ramadan or Kwanza, either.

    Our observance of Hannukah was not to make it OUR Christmas. It really is a relatively minor Jewish holiday, which has been elevated to Christmas-like stature. We'd light the candles every night, but they'd only get one gift each night; a couple of nights from their parents, a couple of nights from their grandparents. We also used Hannukah and the eight-nights-of-gifts meme to buy presents for children-in-need and donate them instead of my kids receiving a gift that night.

    But my Jewish family still got together on Christmas and "celebrated" it as all good Jews do; a movie and dinner at a Chinese restaurant!

  2. There have been some wonderful years were we did enjoy the journey all along the way and other years when it was like a race and I was glad for it to be over with. A number of years we have enjoyed time with family and then Christmas away. We REALLY liked that sequence of events, but due to lots of circumstances there's no trip this year and we're going for a very low-key journey so hopefully that will work out. Hoping that we all will have a great, relaxed season.


  3. My mom could have used this advice. She loved everything about Christmas, but was VERY goal oriented, which led to major postpartum Christmas depression every year. And frankly the rest of us were glad to see it behind us.

    Now that I'm older I try to use the season of Advent to actually enjoy Christmas in a more sane way.

  4. This is excellent advise indeed. I have so often heard of people who are depressed after Christmas is over, and I suspect the issue is putting too much pressure on one day, and not enjoying any of the leadup, and feeling let down by the reality.

    If your pleasures can be around simple traditions (too many of ours around TV...we like to watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (animated version), Scrooged, and It's a Wonderful Life), and then some gifts, but not necessarily a diamond necklace or a new car, then things will be simpler and much, much happier.

  5. Read the 11/25/13 cartoon Non Sequitur and thought of you.

  6. Silliyak--Thank you for thinking of me! I'll go check it out and be back.

    J.@jj--The anticipation is part of the fun. I don't remember big gifts or specific Christmases. I recall the Rituals, the little things that seemed unusual or perfect or funny, the meaningful moments. Little happinesses. You're right.

    Bug--The post-Christmas blues are very real for lots of people. And a great deal of people truly hate Christmas. It's unfortunate that epectations and overemphasis can really take this toll.

    Shirley--I'm a fan of low-key. Our Christmases are family-intensive, but casual and relaxed. I put more stress on myself than necessary, usually. But then, I've never been a laid-back hostess.

    phoebes-I wonder if it's an American thing to always try to find an analogous relationship between cultural celebrations. Hanukkah has always been equated with Christmas, it seems. I'm sure the two have been conflated mostly due to the time of year. Your Jewish celebration sounds like my family's celebration of Independence Day. We always order Chinese, drink wine, and just hang out. No movie, though.
    Glad you're enjoying these posts. I hope I can continue the more frequent posting for the long run.

  7. Totally did this and I wish I had it to do all over again. Love your holiday tips!

  8. At the end of a column by Jon Carroll SFGATE.COM...In other news: Thanks to an article in the online version of the Atlantic, I now know that there is a new preposition a-brewing on the Internet, and soon it will come and eat our lives up.

    I quote from Megan Garber: "Let's start with the dull stuff, because pragmatism.

    "The word 'because,' in standard English usage, is a subordinating conjunction, which means that it connects two parts of a sentence in which one (the subordinate) explains the other. In that capacity, 'because' has two distinct forms. It can be followed either by a finite clause (I'm reading this because [I saw it on the web]) or by a prepositional phrase (I'm reading this because [of the web]). These two forms are, traditionally, the only ones to which 'because' lends itself.

    "I mention all that ... because language. Because evolution. Because there is another way to use 'because.' Linguists are calling it the 'prepositional-because.' "

    The prepositional "because" is by no means standard English yet, if it ever does gain that status. It would not be used in Chronicle news stories, for instance, because rules. But it's well established online. Garber quotes from Wonkette and Daily Kos and Jezebel to make that point.

    And of course it's all over Twitter. Here's a recent one: "The sun is about to flip over ... but don't worry everything will be fine because science." Slangy, casual, funny, irreverent - it's a preposition with attitude.

  9. Silliyak--Thanks for the fascinating article. I had been noticing the prepositional because for a time now, and I had been trying to track it down. I think it's an interesting linguistic blip, and I have to say I find it--right now--creative and fun. Once it becomes trite and overused hipster bullshit, then I'll want to hurt myself each time I run into it.

    Caught the Non Sequitur you commented upon. Gave me a smile. Thank you.

  10. Rainbow--OOOPS! How did I miss you? Christmas does make us sentimental for little kids stuff, I know. Shopping, especially, is way more boring now.


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