Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Christmas Equation

Each year when it’s time to take down the Christmas tree and other decorations, I feel mild pangs of guilt. Did I appreciate all the beautiful Christmas lights and decorations enough? Did I make it a point to get out and actually see them instead of just taking the festive lights for granted? Did I feel peace on earth and good will towards men? Did I listen to enough Christmas music? Did I sit quietly in my own living room to enjoy the simple light cast by the Christmas tree lights? Did I take enough time to contemplate the birth of the Savior? Did I, did I, did I?

With the exception of one of those questions, the answer to all of them is invariably “No,” and with that realization comes a sadness brought by regret. It is slightly alleviated with the knowledge that in another eleven months or so I’ll have a chance to improve on last year’s holiday spirit, which is almost immediately dampened with the memory of having the same thought eleven months prior and still failing.

So. Christmas is over. And it’s true – I didn’t listen to enough Christmas music, or sit under my own tree, or drive around looking at lights. I definitely lost some feelings of goodwill towards men as I negotiated busy parking lots and long cashier lines and a perceived general lowering of other drivers’ IQ levels, causing me to frequently echo Scar’s sentiment, “I’m surrounded by idiots.”

Some of the guilt comes from the (probably false, or at the very least, misplaced) belief that Christmas should be as magical for me as an adult as it was when I was a child. For all that I still believe in Santa Claus (truly!) and magic, I don’t think it’s possible to reclaim the childlike novelty and mystery surrounding the holiday. As my brother wisely points out, it’s a simple matter of percentages. When a child is two, the next year is 33% of her life, the next is 25%, etc. When a person is 47 (to pick a not-random number), a year is a little more than 2% of the remainder of her life, assuming death at 90 years of age.  In other words, the older you get, the ratio of responsibilities begins to way outdistance magic.

But if we’re using math to explain why the magic disappears the older you get, it actually seems like it should be even MORE magical because the math says that the ratio of magical vs normal days lessens, which should make it even more mysterious and thereby delightful.

Sadly, the reality is that the heaviness of everyday life tends to weigh the average adult down. Memories and experience add to the weightiness of those scales, and the (perceived) responsibilities of living up to the hype of the season makes it nearly impossible for some to rise above the heavy-laden expectations and achieve peace, let alone joy or happiness, regardless of what every greeting card you received says.

So now what?

I don’t know. Unfortunately, the equation for finding n where n = Christmas joy and magic will vary for each individual. But I do know that the more expectations I place on myself to have the house decorated by a certain date, or presents bought, or cookies baked, meals prepared, feelings felt, lights viewed, the less I enjoy the season.

I will tell you that I really enjoyed this essay by Mark Evanier, a gentleman’s blog I follow. In it, he explains why Christmas didn’t feel stressful for him (his half-Jewish status notwithstanding) or his family – because they didn’t feel the pressure of being nice to each other during one season of the year, because they already WERE nice to each other. It’s a good read – give it a try.

Meanwhile, I do hope your holiday season was joyful, or as joyful as you knew how to make it. And if you’ve got secrets on how to enjoy it more, please feel free to pass those along.

1 comment:

  1. This Christmas was one of my best yet, and I truly believe the reason why is that the gifts we gave were very simple--a home-sewn pillowcase and a used book (bought at our local library sales for .20 or .25 each) for each of the grandchildren, and a check for a relatively small amount for their parents. I requested that our children give us simple gifts, too, and they did. I think next year I'll work on not feeling so bad about such simple gifts. I love the essay you shared. I truly think that taking the focus off of the extravagant gifts is the key to finding joy during the holidays.