I didn’t use to enjoy Christmas as much as I do now. In the past I felt compelled to create the perfect holiday experience for everyone. Every year we put up and decorated a big fresh-cut tree, festooned the house inside and out, hosted a big Christmas Eve open house, and bought lots and lots and lots of presents. I baked hundreds of cookies, cooked special meals and ate too much. I overdid it all, and we always spent way too much.
It was exhausting, and I came to dread the arrival of the holiday season each year.
I realize now that I let my own past get in the way of being sensible when it came to the holiday. Christmas was one of those things growing up that I always wished was a big deal but never was at our house. Raised during the Great Depression, neither of my parents had celebrated Christmas in a big way and saw no reason to begin. The holiday always seemed to be pure drudgery for them, not only for the presents that had to be bought (and the money spent), but for the decorations and other holiday cheer that had to be endured. Still, I and my siblings eagerly awaited Christmas morning each year. The few gifts we received though were typically uninspired. It was difficult to visit my friends’ beautifully decorated homes, or go back to school after the holidays and see and hear about all the wonderful, thoughtful gifts they had received.
I made a vow that when I grew up and had my own family, Christmas would be fabulous. It took me a long, long while to figure out that I was using my own hang-ups and childhood disappointments as a reason to overspend and overdo Christmas, trying to create the perfect Christmas that I had longed for and never gotten. For everything I did, it was still never enough.
I don’t remember now when the switch flipped inside of me, but these days Christmas is a much simpler event at Casa Aloha than it was in the past. Maybe it’s because I finally got tired of all the hoopla, or noticed, bit by bit, that it really didn’t matter to everyone else if the entire Santa collection got put out or not, or if there was garland down the staircase or around the door, or lights around the house. It wasn’t the end of the world if I didn’t bake ten different types of cookies or if I didn’t put out the Fitz & Floyd Santa cookie jar. It didn’t matter how many presents were under the tree. What was more important was that we were together, and that the gifts that were given and received were thoughtful and something the receiver truly wanted.
Christmas is a simple affair around here these days. Everyone pitches in so that no one (especially me) feels overloaded. We maintain a few simple traditions that are meaningful to us, starting with decorating our tree with ornaments that have been collected for 40 years. These ornaments mark the places we were stationed in the navy, our son’s early life, the girls’ Chinese heritage, our travels, and other milestones and occasions. The little wooden advent tree we’ve used for nearly 30 years goes up on December 1, along with a simple, handmade nativity and a few wooden Santas I gleaned from my once massive collection. That’s the extent of our decorating these days.
On Christmas morning, stockings are opened early, before Brett and I get up. Brett serves coffee or hot chocolate with marshmallows in the Christmas mugs we’ve had for I-don’t-know-how-many years when we do get up, followed by bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, and fresh fruit (the Christmas breakfast our son asked for when he was seven years old, and that we’ve served ever since). Then presents are opened. The youngest person present serves as the “elf,” and chooses the gift each person will open for their turn, in order from oldest to youngest. Gifts are opened one at a time, so that we can all admire each one. Not as many presents are under the tree these days, but each one is selected with care and love.
Although our Christmas celebration these days is not the grand affair of years past, it’s immensely more enjoyable. The season no longer exhausts me, and the magic of the holiday remains. We put something aside every month to pay for Christmas, and no longer go into debt. We are able to give more to others outside our family as well, both in time and money.
I couldn’t have gotten a better gift.