When You’re Trying To Do Christmas and Politics Get In the Way

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I remember the good old days when I could find all sorts of fun, quirky things to write about at this time of year: cheerful vignettes about childhood holiday memories, charming seasonal facts long forgotten, the ten worst Christmas traditions ever; you know… meaningful stuff like that.

The holiday season just seems to lend itself to warmth and whimsy, the exploration of themes related to love and gratitude, our favorite recipes and the funniest Santa Claus pictures. Unless one is truly a curmudgeon, it’s almost impossible to not have least one happy memory attached to this time of year. I was—and am—no exception.

In fact, I love Christmas. I’m one of those. It makes me happy. I feel no compunction to spend money I don’t have, plans trips I don’t wish to take, or attend events I’d rather avoid. I’m very protective that way. It’s all about designing a season in which the only obligation is to create happiness for those within the circle. In fact, my husband and I began our marriage by making our first Christmas a thing of joy, and those handpicked ornaments and table decorations, cookie traditions and family gatherings, favorite meals and notable activities, sustain to this day, as precious to us as anything we hold dear.

scary-election_mikeyBut still, I’ve been more serious lately. Life got more serious. I blame the election. The damn, interminable election that sucked the air out of our nation starting a little over a year ago and ratcheting up every day since. It’s been a war of sorts, one that’s left us battered, bothered and bewildered. As one friend put it, “I hate that I’m actually in fear for our future. I’ve been disappointed in election results before, but I’ve never felt terrified about where this person might take us, or how and if we’ll survive.”

I’m not one who lives in fear, but I feel her pain. I share the concern. Despite previous political conflicts, rancorous partisanship, and caustic disparities amongst the parties, I, too, have never felt quite the level of darkness and toxicity that permeates this particular election… and this particular person. That the man entering office is doing so despite his opponent winning almost 3 MILLION MORE VOTES, and despite the fact that the wisest, more experienced, most admirable and honorable men and women in the country/world believe he’s an unmitigated disaster, means little at this point. We are here. Where we are. And at this moment there’s no changing that (later moments…we’ll see).

Dealing with the daily litany of horrible, idiotic, hateful, head-shaking, corrupt, indecent, and just plain stupid things the next presi— (I can’t say it… I won’t… #NotMyPresident… ever), occupant of the White House says or does has been exhausting and unnerving (that’s a tepid word… how about TERRIFYING?!). I have no idea where it’s all going either, how long the trainwreck will be allowed to smolder before someone gets it to the scrap yard, or if we’ll be teaching our children how to desk-dive in “nuclear drills” before the year is over. But I won’t live in fear. I prefer the sentiment of this section of the poem, Protest, that Dan Rather shared:

‘Protest,’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1914

To sin by silence when we should protest
makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law.
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare must speak and speak again,
To right the wrongs of many.

I will live by that. I will continue to raise my voice, as Ella suggests, to “speak and speak again,” however loud and long is required of me. I promise you that.

But still… there’s Christmas.

And Christmas is important. We human beings need the rituals and traditions of our holidays, those times when we can collectively acknowledge and experience celebration and joy. Without them we might end up spending all our time wailing on social media, and that’s not a good thing!

But to those for whom loss or grief keeps them from finding the joy… those whose loneliness and isolation occludes their ability to embrace the happier aspects of seasonal celebration, I say this: I understand. I do. I’ve been there. I know how tough it can be, when you’re in those particular places, to carry on about “jolly St. Nick” and the proper temp for Christmas roast. My beloved grandmother died the morning of Christmas 1979. I had some of the loneliest days of my life over Christmas of 1988. I went into the season of 1989 having just lost a job. I got dumped once right before Christmas. My father died in early December of 1999. I know how those seminal events, those states of being, can impact one’s ability to celebrate and be happy, Christmas or no Christmas.

I hope, though, that through friends, through social media, through whatever connections you can make, can find and feel in your world, that you’re able to glean at least a moment or two of warmth and holiday spirit this season… I wish that for you.

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As for me this year: I’m fortunate. My family is healthy and doing well, my work is moving along; I’ve got a new theatrical adventure to begin this coming year (more on that soon); the house looks magical, the gifts are wrapped, the cookies are baking, every gathering has met expectations, so we’re doing it up right. But yes… at least a few times a day, as I do my work online, I check social media and various news sources to see what the hellfire is going on, and dammit if I don’t have to tweet or post or write or share or comment or yell about one damn thing or another because that little orange mother—BUT WAIT!!

It’s Christmas… I’m mellow and jolly, wrapped in reds and greens, nutmeg and cinnamon wafting through the air; Music Choice is set to “Sounds of the Season” and it’s so, so, so lovely… so NO! Donald Trump does not get my holiday! He may have shattered my belief in democracy, lowered my estimation of human decency, made me question how deep my coffer of disdain can go, and raised my level of revulsion beyond good health, but he is NOT going to ruin my damn Christmas!

So, despite politics, I will revel madly, enjoy friends and family to the utmost, occasionally hug my big Santa statue by the doorway, all with hopes that you can do some version of the same (the big Santa is pretty exclusive but, I tell ya, he’s quite something!). And please know that—if you’re reading this— you’re likely one of my circle, those chosen few with whom I vent, debate, inspire, exchange ideas, share important articles, post unimportant but utterly appreciated videos of pandas playing with snowmen, or just, in general, grant outlets and venues and canvasses upon whicchrismas-carh to commiserate. Our mutual and connected attempts to makes sense of this crazy world have literally kept me from feeling alone and insane during this “Annus horribilis,” so THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!

And Merry Christmas, dear friends. Let’s make 2017 a year that “trumps” the year we’ve just had… in all the good ways in which that word can be applied. Let’s reflect on the poem Dan Rather shared and make sure we are not those who “sin by silence.” Let’s be loud, and make COURAGE the word most spoken this coming year.

Until then, have a Christmas cookie… mmm, so good! ❤

Santa photo by Caleb Wood at Unsplash
Scary Election by Mike (Mikey) @ Unsplash
Christmas Car photo @ Pinterest

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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Christmas Creep… Or, I’d Like My Holidays Served Separately, Please

The anxiety’s picking up, debates are front and center, and posts on the topic have gone viral. It’s clear we’ve got a big problem and it ain’t about politicians, global warming, or radioactive sushi. What is it, you ask?

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Christmas Creep.

Yep. It’s big, it’s bad, and, frankly, it’s too late, cuz, odds are, it’s already taken over your town.

I know you’ve heard the protests; they’re loud, clear, and to the point. Pleas to hold off on the Christmas bombardment before we’ve barely retired ghosts and goblins. Entreaties to wait on carolers and candy canes until we’ve had a chance to fully experience pumpkin pie and a well-roasted gobbler. There’s even a petition going around denouncing stores that will be open all day Thanksgiving, thereby robbing employees of a chance to be with family in the retail rush to kick Black Friday off on Thursday.

Protest away, folks. There’s no stopping this snowball.

It may be inexorable, but it wasn’t always like this. No, there used to be a delicious timing to it all, a careful unfolding that drove us mad with anticipation but was all part of the fun. When I was a kid, the turning of leaves and quickening of the cold were signals that we’d left the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer to move into the next and most exciting time of the year: the much-vaunted, adrenaline-inducing, just-can’t-wait holiday season.

As it started and the various days of celebration rolled out like a cavalcade of stars, we’d ready with our well-marked boxes of decorations and the traditions for each that we knew and loved. It started with costumes and the dizzying sweetness of Halloween, rounded the corner into warm Thanksgiving gatherings, then, depending on religion and ethnicity, there was Hanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa to fill the month of December, with Christmas, clearly, the seasonal headliner. The slow, well-paced build-up allowed us to relish one flavor, so to speak, before moving on to the next.

These days?

It’s like sitting down to a six-course meal and having every single course dumped on the table at the same time. No consideration for the pleasures of each item and, sorry, palate cleansers not allowed. I saw Christmas decorations in a hardware store in September and by early October a few retail shops actually had decorated trees hip-checking the Halloween displays off center stage. Come ON, people!

I get being prepared, but isn’t there a limit? I actually have a neighbor who not only begins her Christmas shopping in June, but takes great pride in announcing to anyone who’ll listen that, “I got it all done, wrapped, and ready to go before Labor Day!” Holiday spirit as competitive sport. Thanks, but I’ll take my summers with lemonade and sunburn; you go ahead and get Santa involved.

While certainly this rush to rush things has been building over the years, somewhere along the line, like an unseen hitch in the rate of the earth’s rotation, it picked up speed, so much so that the notion of holiday differentiation is almost moot at this point. Look, I’m old enough to remember the creaky maxim about “no white after Labor Day” so this conflation of celebration does not go unnoticed. And when I see the Three Kings of Orient are at Costco before the kids have even stopped arguing about who’s going to be Buzz Lightyear, I feel a shudder in the time/space continuum.

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What’s odd about this acceleration is that most people claim they don’t like it. SOASTA, Inc., a leader in cloud and mobile testing, found last year that 75% of those polled didn’t want to see Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving, with 78% objecting to even hearing the music before then. This year?

In a survey of 2,038 Americans age 18 and older, in which data was weighted to be representative of the entire country, conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of SOASTA, discovered that 81 percent of American adults think stores should not play Christmas music before Thanksgiving—up from 78 percent of American adults when SOASTA conducted the survey last year.

In addition, 77 percent of American adults think stores shouldn’t put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving—up from 76 percent last year.

A similar poll at NPR – albeit a non-scientific one –  found numbers skewed even higher when the question was asked about “Christmas creep” before Halloween: a full 82.11% of respondents said they didn’t want to see anything “Christmasy” that early in the season. There’s actually a Facebook page called “No Christmas Before Thanksgiving” where users bemoan everything from Santa’s early arrival to the latest transgression – Black Friday actually starting on Thanksgiving Thursday – and still, still, the beat goes on.

What gives? If so many people resent the rush, why is it picking up speed?

Macy's Christmas Balls_smWe all know, don’t we? It’s retail that’s the “industry behind the curtain,” twirling dials and ratcheting up promotions to get people the in the doors as early as possible. With holiday shoppers creating almost 20% of a store’s annual income, it’s not a hard formula to fathom: more days to spend money, more money spent. And this particular year, given when Thanksgiving falls, there are actually fewer shopping days than last year between the two holidays, and, dear God, that’s causing panic in the streets!!

OK, maybe not panic, but clearly retailers have made note of the deficit and are raising the stakes in response. I swear to God, if they could have gotten away with it, 4th of July banners would have been wrapped around Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Of course, not everyone hates this holiday hash. According to some, they want to get the heavy lifting done as quickly as possible so they can spend the true 12 days of Christmas wrapped in quirky sweaters humming “Little Drummer Boy” as they assemble the gingerbread house. Others just can’t get enough of Christmas cheer, whenever it comes. Me?

It’s not so much the rushing; it’s more the conflating. I don’t want my Halloween goblins pre-empted by Christmas trees. I want to enjoy the orange and browns of Thanksgiving before I see green and red everywhere. And once we get past turkey and stuffing, I want to, very slowly and selectively, relish each separate, specific element and tradition of our Christmas.

Since there’s little we, the people, can do about what retailers put into motion, it’s up to each of us to design our own holidays, cultural pressure be damned. If you’re okay with the rush, enjoy it. But if you’re like me and want to slow things down enough to actually experience one holiday before we steamroll onto the next, you’ll just have to set your boundaries. Which means putting on blinders and exercising serious self-control (a good Christmas cookie is hard to resist no matter what time of year!).

Around here, no decorations are pulled out until the previous holiday has been joyfully exhausted and packed away. We avoid Christmas candy until the pumpkin pie is gone. And don’t talk to me about Black Friday because we’ll still be reveling in the true meaning of Thanksgiving. (I’m not kidding… get away from me with that credit card and those wild-eyed sales schedules.)

It can be done. You can ignore what’s being foisted and partake only when and where you see fit. There is no mandate to march to the madness. They can dangle the decorations and crank out the carols but the power is in your hands.

I hope you had a delightful Halloween, I wish you a beautiful, warm, and appreciative Thanksgiving, but I’m not talkin’ any more about Christmas until next month.

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

The Ten Worst Christmas Traditions. Really. And I Love Christmas.

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There is no holiday as steeped in tradition as Christmas. Every denomination, ethnicity, country, even individual sections of the United States, has specific traditions that infuse their celebrations with something rich and unique. Of course, there are also the more mainstream, universal traditions that often seem to transcend diversity, to the point that they become trademarks of the holiday. Some are good, some not so good. Some have even circumvented all conventional wisdom and good taste to become iconic symbols of Christmas gone wrong (if only tongue-in-cheek). We’re going to focus, for the moment, on the not-so-good ones that makes us all – well, most of us – cringe just a little.

The Ten Worst Christmas Traditions In No Particular Order

1. The Christmas sweater. Why does anyone think a bulky knit top with garish Christmas designs and neon-bright colors is ever a good sartorial statement? When Rudolph’s red nose pokes conspicuously at Grandma’s bosom and Santa’s beard stretches over Uncle Bob’s burgeoning belly in that way that makes the little kids laugh and point, it’s time to take a second look at this notorious holiday fashion. Regardless of well-meaning knitters, Christmas sweaters are simply not flattering on anyone – truly, no one.  EvenAngelina Jolie would look hideous wrapped in red elves with bells. Also, and not to be dismissed lightly, they make even the slimmest person look as if they’ve already packed on the Holiday Ten. Truly, the only way to wear one is ironically, and really, how often is that the case?

Suggestion: Since there is no way to make a Christmas sweater look good, follow the advice of wiser fashionistas and avoid them like room-temperature eggnog.

2. The Christmas family newsletter. We get it: it’s the year-end wrap-up, the summation of twelve months of familial accomplishment; the list of achievements of children and grandchildren far and wide, blah blah blah. The problem is, family newsletters are sent out generically, to the entire Christmas list, with no particular accommodation made for individual relationships. Which means we’re all regaled with “Austin’s Scout troop went to Springfield for the Lincoln fest …” or “Minerva did her very best but only placed second in the McHenry County step-class competition” when most of us have no idea who Austin and Minerva are.

Suggestion: Send them only to people who actually know all the cast members and trust that the rest in the family/friends circle either already know or will find the updates on Facebook.

3. The Christmas photo card. I don’t know why, but I’m pretty sure Christmas photo card companies are run and staffed by Satan. There can be no other explanation for the stunningly and consistently HORRIBLE photographs that emanate from their environs; hideous concoctions sent on cheap, glossy card stock accompanied by a generic message and the name of the family. I’m not talking about the cool art cards created from professional shots you send in to a design card company; I’m talking about the ones that are shot in a cheesy mini-mall studios with the worst possible lighting, backdrop rejects from the local high school theater department, and stylists who pose humans – and too often, animals – in ways that suggest nobody involved has a clue about composition or creativity. In fact, I’ve observed that even attractive people can be made significantly less so by bad photo processors who makes normal people look strange colors and all people look like deer in the headlights.

Suggestion: Don’t do it! Or make the investment to hire a professional photographer and get it done right. These will likely be on refrigerator doors for months to come; have some pride in your legacy.

4. The Christmas Video or CD. The digital revolution has brought much good to the world. It has also lowered the bar on every form of creativity and entertainment ever dreamed of by man. Due to the ease and affordability of creating almost anything – books, movies, records, photographs, videos, etc. – everyone with even a modicum of computer skill can crank out something that resembles a creative accomplishment. For people with talent who, heretofore, had no funds to get this done, this is a boon. For the rest of the much larger crowd of marginally-if-not-at-all talented folks, it has resulted in a sea of self-created, self-produced and self-published product that is akin to the photo card discussed in #3. More regularly now, families are creating Christmas videos and CDs to send out with their Christmas card (and, God help us, newsletter). While certainly a delightful bonus to the non-judgmental immediate family, the less forgiving friends and colleagues on the Christmas list are less amused or entertained by a four-minute rendition of a badly-performed version of Jingle Bells, with lyrics specific to your family and sung by grade schoolers who, though charming in their squirmy grade-school way, will not be winning any awards at “America’s Got Talent.”

Suggestion: Again, don’t do it. Don’t send it out. Or, like the suggestion for the newsletter, reserve this stocking stuffer only for a very select few in the closest possible family circle. They’re always an amenable bunch.

5. Fruitcake. You wouldn’t think at this point we’d need to have this conversation. It has been made abundantly clear that nobody on this great green Earth actually likes this stuff. The Food Channel can show as many “how do they make these?” shows about the dubious confection, and Claxton, GA can unashamedly claim the title of “Fruitcake Capital of the World,” but I’m going to go on record, here and now, and say this has got to be the biggest waste of calories in the entire food pyramid.

Suggestion: Don’t send me any. Please.

6. Carolers in Restaurants. I know, I know; they’re charming, they’re in pretty costumes (apparently all carolers are from the Victorian era), they sing well (usually … ometimes … not always.) and they bring musical merriment to any restaurant festive enough to hire them for the Christmas season. And they won’t get away from your table no matter, how reticent you were about “what song would you like?” And could they get any louder with that jingling bell and the four-part harmony on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas?” I was at a restaurant recently where we got hit up once – fine, they sang one, two songs, we all tipped, they moved on – then a second batch came by later and despite our alerting them that we’d already been serenaded, like a wolf pack of aggressive carol-harassers, they insisted on another round. Pressing as close to the table (and my head) as they could get, they sang too loud, too long and made us feel like captive audience … literally. I would’ve tipped them to go away, which they ultimately did … but not before my prime rib got cold.

Suggestion:  Bring the volume down, one song per table (unless otherwise requested), don’t hover for tips and if people don’t want the racket, move along.

7. Green Bean Casserole: What is this dish … really? Canned soup, canned fried onions and beans. In a casserole dish, piping hot and … seriously strange. This is a culinary holiday tradition? Why? A holdover from the Depression? Campbell’s Soup propaganda? Brainwashing from the ‘50’s when canned products were actually served without irony? Whatever the reason, please stop. We’ve moved on. Fresh fruit and vegetable are easily accessible. Get a little creative. Vintage is nice with old clothes and furniture, not so much with food.

Suggestion:  Anything else of a vegetable variety that doesn’t come in a can.

8. Charity solicitors.  There’s no secret to the timing; organizations that raise money for any kind of charity, religious group, foundation, etc., choose Christmas time – the “time of giving” – to hit up generous (aka: guilty) people who feel moved at the holidays to dig deep. However, in more current times, most of us do our giving via the web or mail: making donations, giving to Kickstarter campaigns, gifting charitably, etc., and door-to-door solicitors only seek to interrupt dinner, disturb the evening activities, get the dog barking like a hound and cause us to stand too long in our doorway listening to a badly memorized script about “unwed mothers,” “children looking for a way up,” or something to do with a church. I get it; they’re doing what they gotta do. But giving is done in many ways; for most, it’s safer, easier and more credible to give via the web versus giving to a teenager with a clipboard. The other night I had three episodes of doorbell ringing, dog howling, and long speeches about giving. It broke my heart to repeat my “I give via the Internet” (I do!), but it had to be done.

Suggestion: Groups that send children door-to-door need to rethink the strategy. I feel for the kids pounding the pavement, but it’s not a particularly workable paradigm. It ends up creating a sense of disruption – like calls at dinner or email spam – that works against the goal. I give online. Thank you for thinking of me but please don’t roll your eyes when I tell you I’m not going to donate to your cause, Christmas or no Christmas.

9. Animated Christmas e-cards: At first these were cute, particularly Jacquie Lawson cards, or JibJab silliness. But after you’ve received about twenty of these from well-meaning friends, they all, seriously, all, start to look the same. Cute graphics, warm messages, silly messages, you click, you watch, “oh, cute!” … you get the picture. Actually, you do get the picture, but it’s kind of lost its cachet. It’s like Krispy Kremes or Tickle-Me Elmo; after awhile, the novelty wears off.

Suggestion: If you’re so moved, send them out once to somebody, then never again. I know, that sounds Scroogian, but that’s just the way it is.

10. And lastly, Mistletoe. Seriously, while this may have descended from a delightful Norse tradition, in today’s culture this poisonous, if picturesque, little plant is an invitation to your creepy uncle leaning in the dining room doorway, the skeezy loser at the office party who slips in a little tongue if you happen to be found under said plant, or for any number of people you don’t want kissing you to feel they have permission to do so by virtue of this age-old holiday tradition. It’s like a flora gone wild.

Suggestion: Use mistletoe sparingly for colorful table displays, embellish Christmas packages with it, delight in holding it over the head of your willing loved one, but keep it off ceilings and doorways where unsuspecting recipients of unwanted kisses are too often found.

So there you go; that’s the list of the Top Ten Worst Christmas Traditions. You likely have some of your own. Feel free to share in comments. We’ll keep track and just make the list bigger next year!

Merry Christmas!

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Christmas Isn’t a Bad Boyfriend

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I was in line behind a woman tightly wrapped in a Christmas sweater; strained eyes, pale face, the dry lips of a slightly manic and dehydrated overachiever. Panting ever-so-slightly, she hugged a packaged I-Pad to her chest and with an edge of madness, leaned in as if we were trench mates and announced triumphantly, “I got it! The last one! Thank God, cause I swear he’d flat out kill me if I didn’t get him one for Christmas!”

And there it was.

Christmas as a Bad Boyfriend.

Think about it. It’s an apt metaphor:

  1. Endless demands made and you best meet them if you know what’s good for you.
  2. He likes you in a certain mode of dress (that sweater, those ornament earrings!) and it doesn’t matter how you feel about it.
  3. The house better look “the way it’s supposed to!” (get those decorations up!).
  4. Preferred music (“Deck the halls with….”) loops endlessly for his listening pleasure.
  5. There’s a clear presumption of copious gift giving and general fawning attention (make sure those cards go out!).
  6. The list of favored food and drink is long and laborious.
  7. Much emphasis on “PAR-TAY!!!”
  8. Regardless of attempts to keep things calorically moderated, rich food is the order of the day.
  9. The big gut is pretty hard to miss.
  10. You must stay cheerful regardless of mood or exhaustion.
  11. No reciprocal demands are accepted.
  12. And of course, you clean up the mess after he’s done.
  13. Merry effin’ Christmas, baby.

Yeah…right back at’cha.

Face it, we do have a complicated relationship with this holiday. A love/hate conundrum. There’s grousing when public decorations come out seconds after the turkey carcass is in the can but there’s a skip in our step when we head to the mall for that first holiday visit. We complain about all the commercialization and consumerism, but there is no more energy or passion exuded than when shoppers get together to share Christmas deals they’ve found! The gift and task list is pages long, the depth of obligation grows larger every year and for religious folk the balance between sacred and secular is an ongoing challenge. And yet…if we had to admit it, there’s something kind of spirited about the whole exercise, isn’t there?

Oddly contradictory. Here’s my theory:

Quantum physics tells us time is an illusion. OK. Explanations of that theorem make my head explode but let’s go with that for the moment. Time is an illusion and over the eons of human existence, it became clear that without time management, people meandered; lost track not only of the aging process but the approximate moment to eschew summer whites. So wise ones who understood both science and human nature came up with the calendar, that corralling of time based on astronomy. We named time (months, days), we partitioned it off (years); part of time became the past, part was the future. The stuff in the middle, the present, was where we lived. Very organized stuff.

king_olav_at_christmasKing Olav @ Christmas

Since part of the mission statement of calendaring was to give structure and meaning to this passage of elusive time, one of the ways this was achieved was by marked events: traditions, holidays, cyclical rituals, those anointed and completely arbitrary moments we celebrate at designated points of the calendar. There have been many and they’ve changed and evolved over the centuries; some giving way to others, new ones occasionally popping up (love it though I do, is National Peanut Butter & Jelly Day really necessary?!).  The importance of these rituals and traditions was ascribed to their function of connecting communities, honoring days, people and historical events we deemed special; ceremony and circumstance anticipated and enjoyed by the collective. They marked the passage of life, rendered it meaningful, and, frankly, gave us reason to dress up in hats. We humans seem to appreciate that.

Certainly Christmas has been the most enduring of these time markers. Year after year it comes with its long, fluid, history – often debated and certainly controversial – and it remains one of the most pivotal shared events in the world. Celebrated with mind-boggling variety, and despite the baggage it carries (including its manipulation as a weapon in the cultural, political, religious “wars” (see No, Virginia, There’s No War On Christmas), it is quite universally beloved. It is also, in more contemporary times, unfortunately resented as well.

Christmas as a Bad Boyfriend.

It seems that the growing commercialization of Christmas has succeeded in corrupting its aura in ways that make the aforementioned metaphor convincing. But, frankly, this phenomenon is wholly avoidable. If you were my friend sitting at the table sobbing about your BB, all “what should I dooooooooo? He’s so mean but I LOVE him!!” I’d say the same things I’m going to say right now. So quiet down, take off that goofy mistletoe scarf and listen up.

You cannot be taken advantage of unless you allow it. That goes for Christmas as well. There is not one person on this earth who can blame anyone but themselves if Christmas has gone all BB on them. It’s a choice. Just as we’re taught to set our boundaries, hold our ground, and stand firm against unrealistic expectations in other relationships (needy friends, ex-spouses, PTA), we are capable of taking the same stance with this holiday. We can either design one that makes sense or succumb to the party line. You can either assess your ability to participate and move forward accordingly or you can capitulate to the commercial madness. Your call. It’s doable. If I can wrangle Christmas, anyone can. Here’s my Seven Commandments of Christmas, for what it’s worth:

  1. Only entertain if you enjoy it. I promise, no one will notice if you don’t. Entertain, that is.
  2. Attend business parties as needed but do your networking in the first hour so you can leave before smarmy mailroom guy or the new temp start hitting on you.
  3. Stick to crudité and avoid heavy drinking. Minimal weight gain and a consistent lack of vomiting go a long way toward a more enjoyable holiday.
  4. Decorate only when, and as much, as you like…and only with items that actually have appeal. Blow-up plastic Santas and those hideous front lawn snowmen are unnecessary and considered blight in some circles.
  5. Don’t be browbeaten into sending paper holiday cards. It’s a new world. A well-designed e-card sent with love and a sweet note is not only acceptable, it’ll keep a few thousand redwoods above ground and save you hundreds.
  6. Don’t travel unless you want to and can afford it. Both must apply. Obligation to fly the hell all over the place at the busiest and more stressful time of the year becomes counterproductive to holiday cheer. You can just as easily visit family on non-holidays and give yourselves permission to stay put. Or suggest – if you’re so inclined – they come to you. And remember that Skype makes face-to-face holiday visits doable without breaking the bank or your sanity.
  7. The deal breaker: GET VERY SELECTIVE ABOUT YOUR GIFT-GIVING. The mindless and burdensome expectation of “gifts all around!” is a Kool-Aid too many have partaken of year after year and there is no one single thing more responsible for the fear and loathing of Christmas. We max out our credit cards, drive ourselves crazy “finding the right thing” for people who need nothing, we overdo with children who are so bombarded they have no idea what to play with next. We gut-churn over not giving a gift as expensive as the one we got, feel guilty if we accept a gift when we did not give one, and the whole ridiculous exercise becomes as antithetical to Christmas as the Black Friday nut job who pepper-sprayed her way to a video game and or the frothing shoppers stepping over a dead man to get to the sales table. STOP THE MADNESS! This is NOT what it’s about. (And who but a Bad Boyfriend could’ve ever come up with Black Friday?)

I can already hear my sobbing friend caterwauling about how Bad Boyfriend will never stand for all that self-preserving, boundaried, sensible limitation. So a little primer about how that goes; make note for next year:

Long before the holidays roll in, make a decision about who in your family or circle of friends you’ll be buying gifts for. A short list. Then write a warm, loving email and send it to EVERYONE involved announcing your decision. Something along the lines of “In our effort to keep the Holidays as stress-free and financially manageable as possible, we’ve decided to limit our gift-giving to ___________ (i.e., Mom  & Dad, the kids in the family, etc.). We hope you understand and, of course, ask that you not send gifts to us. Cookies, however, are always welcome!”  As I said, this must be done long before the normal shopping season starts so no one gets huffy about jumping the gift-giving gun. Be prepared for some grumbling and criticism but hold firm. Over time and years of sticking to the program, the family will GET that you’re serious and eventually come to appreciate the reciprocal unburdening. But remember: even if someone violates the request and sends gifts, thank them but DO NOT change your policy. Ever. Break once and BB is right back, snapping his fingers, big gut resting on the table, wondering where the carols are and why isn’t the prime rib ready?

family-gathering

I love my friends, I love my family; I appreciate and respect my colleagues, associates and collaborators. And when the holidays roll around, I look forward to the rituals and traditions that make this time of year different from the rest; that marking of elusive time that comes with revelry, cheer and reciprocated appreciation. I get out the favorite decorations and make my Greek cookies. I acknowledge the holidays with artistic notes, maybe an open house, a holiday dinner with close friends, certainly those wonderful family gatherings where we simply enjoy being together, sharing a good meal and watching our select few open their gifts. It’s lovely; manageable, affordable, and there’s no weeping.

Just as a Good Holiday should be.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a really fabulous 2012 to you all!

Photography credits:

Christmas mannequin by Buzz Andersen @ Unsplash
Santa Gnome reprinted from www.timswineblog.com
King Olav illustration reprinted from www.gutenberg.org
Bad Boyfriend Doll: www.amazon.co.uk 
Candle and all family photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.