Most of us take the holiday season
w-a-a-a-a-y too seriously.
Watching people as they go about the business of observing this necessary tradition, putting up that particular tree, sending out politically correct cards and selecting the perfect gift, all while staying on a budget, observing ship-by dates and trying to remain holiday cheerful, often seems like watching a cluster of robots as they perform carefully programmed tasks.
Do you remember the woman who bellowed, “Where’s the beef?” in a television commercial?” Sometimes I feel like screaming “Where’s the joy?”
Growing up in my house, the holiday season usually deteriorated into a month-long ordeal of frantic preparation and financial apprehension for a payoff of not very much fun. My parents became increasingly frustrated and exhausted over time and, more often than not, angry arguments ensued.
My father was a politician and his highest priority was for my mother to get hundreds of holiday greeting cards signed, addressed and mailed out to his constituents at the earliest possible date. My mother disliked politics and preferred to spend her time selecting and purchasing thoughtful gifts for all six of us children.
My mother was not a great cook and she rarely did any baking, yet every year she mercilessly compared her uninspired productions to those of other neighborhood mothers who seemed to effortlessly generate mountains of delectable holiday goodies and treats.
Since she was not a very creative person either, the traditional holiday crafts and decorating challenges were mostly exercises in exasperating futility for her as well, especially since my father insisted upon putting up a holiday tree every year that the high school principal delivered to us annually as a gift.
Problem was, the tree had already served as part of the decorations for a holiday event held each year in the high school auditorium and it was always way too big for our living room, but my father would put it up anyway.
We lived in the same great big, old historic house in Massachusetts where my father had been raised. Since he wanted our house to reflect the holiday wonderland his parents had always created, every year he installed electric candles in all of our windows in an ambitious lighting display that inevitably presented him with numerous, frustrating and invective-generating electrical wiring challenges, and the exterior lights presented even greater challenges. Despite all this, bulbs blew out repeatedly and the light fixtures and displays both inside and outside were regularly compromised by my four rowdy brothers.
Since a steady stream of visitors dropped off holiday gifts for my parents, our house had to be kept in visitor-ready condition during the entire season, and my mother needed to be continually prepared to answer the doorbell whenever it rang, properly dressed and cheerfully behaving like a delighted and joyful holiday hostess, which she often was not.
Visitors were invited in. We served coffee or cocktails, depending upon the time of day. As my father often reminded us, those visitors were nearly all voters and they certainly deserved to be warmly welcomed at our house.
For my sister and for me, the holiday season mostly involved helping our mother by taking coats, preparing drinks, emptying ash trays, washing cups and glasses and buying and wrapping the holiday gifts for our brothers, since our mother had little time to shop.
There was not much respite on Christmas Day either. My mother cooked a huge, traditional holiday dinner every year and afterwards entertained numerous family members who came and went, most of them my father’s relatives who really didn’t like my mother and who hardly ever spoke to her at all.
My parents were thoughtful and reflective people of great intelligence. Yet every year, year after year, we celebrated the holidays by doing all of this all over again in solemn, ritual and lockstep observation of tradition.
If they could do it all over again one more time, I think they’d each say “Bah Humbug!”
“Children grow up so fast” they’d probably continue, “ so lock the doors, recycle the lights, cancel the cards, share thoughtful gifts with each other, go to see a holiday movie, play outside, enjoy the luxury of time together and don’t bother with any people you don’t enjoy seeing, who get drunk or who are rude. Forget about baked goods, over-the-top gifts and dusty decorations; light candles, build a cozy fire, bring in fresh flowers and eat wholesome, nutritious food.”
My holiday wish for everyone this year is that you will all have a blessed and relaxing holiday cherishing the people you love most, doing the things you like to do with the people who are closest to you, while focusing on the truly amazing natural wonders of the season.
Mary McLaughlin, PhD, President
Emotional Education Services, LLC