2013 will not go down in my personal history as one of my best years. A seemingly unending chain of unfortunate events and pure bad luck seemed to befall me, particularly in the second half of the year.
Probably because of this, the holiday season seems to have snuck up on me, and arrived with a squealing of brakes, suddenly appearing before me sometime last week. The unseasonably mild weather we’ve been having has probably also contributed to this feeling of ‘Wait, what, it’s almost Christmas??’ I have been unable to shake the last week or so. On the other hand, I am glad the year is almost over, not that everything will miraculously turn around and be right again as the clock strikes 12:01 on New Year’s Eve.
I made a semi-subconscious decision not to be a Grinch this year and to make the ‘most’ of it, even send out a few cards to family in the Netherlands (something I haven’t done in years). Struggled to come up with gift ideas for my husband and sons, and actually managed to get a couple I think they might like. Even enjoyed it, shopping for gifts in an all-decked-out-for Christmas Maastricht. Decorated the living room, put up the tree, all in my best efforts to create a rather acceptable (if I say so myself) Christmas atmosphere in my home.
Though I’m generally not really a cynic (really, I'm not!), the Christmas television programming, in its attempts to get everyone in the spirit, can sometimes just be laughable. Holiday movies I had never seen much less heard of, pop up daily, up to two or even three weeks before Christmas, and the message always seems to be the same. ‘Love thy brother’. ‘Cherish your family, no matter what.’ ‘Be generous, but only this time of year.’
I think back to what Christmas was like when I was a kid. Growing up in Miami, I always envied those who celebrated Christmas in the snow, building snowmen, huddling around fires, skating on ponds, their mantelpieces decorated with stockings and silvery garlands. The idea of Christmas in Miami just seemed well, kind of silly by comparison. But in spite of it all, I loved the feeling I had, I loved waking up on Christmas morning to see what was under the tree. Did I finally get the Barbie camper or wait, dare I hope, the plane?? Wondering if that kind of scary, fat, smelly guy whose lap I was forced to sit on for a photo was the same one who broke into our house on the night of December 24th to put presents under our tree. (Something that, to this day I still find a weird, and yes, very creepy concept – the Santa’s lap pictures. Whose idea was that?? And what’s with the unhealthy parental manipulation of the ‘naughty and nice’ rule?)
As an adult, it seems we all try to recreate that magic for our kids, and probably for ourselves while we’re at it. There’s a forced aspect to it all, ‘you are going to have a magical Christmas, if it’s the last thing we do!’ This year, doing the Christmas grocery shopping Sunday and yesterday, I decided to pay more attention than usual to my fellow (stressed) shoppers, and have been reflecting on the whole idea of this time of year, and why it brings out the best and worst in all of us at one time or another.
At the Netherlands’ answer to Costco (the Makro, the only place I have a nearly 100% guarantee of getting a turkey larger than a Cornish hen), I watched a young family, parents and three kids under the age of 5, struggling to ‘get it done’, all three kids running in three different directions in the crowded, overpopulated store, Christmas carols blasting from the speakers as if to say ‘You are going to have a fantastic Christmas, dammit.’ The mother’s once perfectly coifed hair just this side of standing on end, the father’s face frozen into an expression of ‘The sooner we get out of here, the better.’ Later on, in Grocery Store No. 2 of 4 that day (I was on a mission, The Great Sweet Potato Hunt of 2013, as there seemed to be a thankfully short-lived run on this elusive vegetable this year.), I overheard an argument between a man and woman, the gist of which was that she was amazed to discover that he didn’t seem to understand that this was the ONLY day she had to do the Christmas shopping, and was he crazy? Did he think she was going to come back to the store on Christmas Eve day?
Yesterday at my local supermarket, I watched a young mother of indeterminate foreign origin (in my tiny village? Where was she from? Inquiring linguistic minds wanted to know!), muttering and getting progressively more worked up as she fought to get her toddler in the grocery cart, struggling to get those pinwheeling little stocking-clad legs through the holes in the cart, her toddler shrieking in protest, the mother cursing (I can only assume) louder and louder in her native tongue. I decided to go to another area where they kept the grocery carts outside, passing the Accordion Guy on the way (he’s there every year) playing Christmas carols, of course, and we exchanged a look of pity for that woman, half smiling, a look I like to think also expressed our shared befuddlement at the whole holiday spirit thing. Why some people make themselves so crazy this time of year, so they can make everything perfect for that one or two days a year when everyone feels the pressure to have a wonderful Christmas, enjoy being with family, eat the perfect meal, give the presents everyone wanted. Why? And why just these few days a year?
When I see people like these, clearly unhappy, stressed out, all wishing they were anywhere but here (in the grocery store, the mall, wherever they need to be to ‘get it done’ for the holidays), I imagine a cartoon thought balloon over their heads with the text ‘Merry Effing Christmas’.
There is an older couple in the Netherlands that achieved some degree of television fame a couple years ago, and who sort of sum up what I mean, Tiny and Lau. Though this video cracks me up every time (it’s in Dutch, but the message comes through I think for everyone, whether you speak the language or not), it also makes me sad.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just relax a little this time of year? Not work ourselves into a frenzy to make Christmas perfect? Not do our grocery shopping with a vengeance, packing our carts as if a nuclear apocalypse were imminent? Just eat and drink (and be merry for merry’s sake) more than we should (whatever that is), enjoy the time together (after all, we never know where we will all be this time next year, and if we will all even be together) and be thankful for what we DO have? Bring back a little of that magic we used to feel as kids? No pressure, no guilt?
This is my wish for everyone. To just enjoy the day off, enjoy each other’s company. No stress, no regrets.
Merry Effing Christmas everyone!