I happen to be ridiculous when it comes to the anticipation that comes with the Christmas season. I morph, mystically and on schedule, into an impatient Elf. I am the first person to want to put up my tree. In general, the day after Thanksgiving is the perfect time for me.I am filled with a holiday "nesting" spirit. As I'm cleaning up the turkey and creating bags of leftovers, I also want to begin singing Christmas carols, dusting off the Christmas light up village (complete with skating pond) and start decorating my house within every square inch. Out go the regular pillows and in come the Christmas ones. I want to watch tear jerker holiday movies on the Lifetime Channel. I wear embarrassing Santa aprons when I cook and Santa hats when I run errands. And, I usually have my cards ready to mail out on December 1st. In my heart, there is no break between the two holidays: it's as if Thanksgiving is just Opening Day for a marathon of red & green excitement. I wish everyone in every store, "Happy Holidays". I anticipate Christmas morning with a child's heart. The only difference is, I'm far more excited to see the expressions on my family's faces when they open the gifts I've picked out for them. It's all I can do not to give them presents early. I'm terrible about this: my daughter has had to say "No, Mom...we wait for Christmas or it's not special!". Like a four year old, I simply can't wait, and all of my nervous energy comes to a frenetic peak on Christmas Eve. I want to sing all night and wake up with the Christmas morning sun.
The problem is not my passion for Christmas, it's the crash that inevitably comes after. As soon as the gifts are unwrapped, the living is tidied up, and we've eaten our Brunch, I feel a unbearable sense of let down. I want my exuberance back again. What happened to "Peace on Earth; Goodwill towards Men"? It seems to vanish altogether. I want to piece the wrapping paper back together, and travel through time back to that moment just before we began sorting the gifts. I begin to rethink every purchase I made and realize that most of them were completely wrong. I want back the festivity that comes before the festival, the magic that comes before the rabbit is pulled from the hat and the expectation of a Broadway show the moment before the curtain is pulled up. I want the dimmed theater, the lifted glass just before a toast and the cake while the candles are still burning. I dream of the first page of a book you can't wait to read. To me, that infinitesimal foretaste is where the real joy lies.
So, what is there to do, when one appreciates the enthusiastic idealism more than real thing? When the clothes don't fit, when the video is one the receiver has, when the tree starts to look ragged, when the French toast burns and the pile of rubbish seems far bigger than the stack of gifts was, it can be terribly gloomy. I've found myself cleaning up, and then simply wanting to take the tree down Christmas evening...wanting to 'get it over with'. If I can't find the adrenaline rush of good cheer, I want it to be all over completely, with every trace of Christmas eradicated before New Year's. If my heart doesn't burst with the readiness, I want to move on. My inner Grinch seems to steal Christmas after Christmas has come.
The wonderful thing about life is that we're given more years to get it right, and to try again. This year I have identified my self-destructive behavior and am circumventing my own bad actions. I'm not taking the tree down before New Year's. That simply won't happen. My daughter is my sponsor in the 'extend the Christmas experience' quest. She's even more passionate about Christmas than I am...and she doesn't let the day itself ruin her holiday cheer. "When the student is ready, the master will appear"....and in my case, the master happens to be my 15 year old. We're going to enjoy our time by the tree, reading, having cocoa and tea, the entire time she's home from school. We're going to organize our gifts so that she doesn't pull out our stockings in 2010, to discover that they're all half full with last year's items. We're going to make a plan for putting away the Christmas decorations more slowly and more deliberately, so that we stretch out the process, rather than treat it like a move across country. Hopefully, this will have the added benefit of finding everything as we need it next November. If we take the after Christmas idea more slowly, it might just like inching into a swimming pool....it will be bracing, but it will keep away the shock factor. We are going to use our Christmas plates until New Year's, and not allow the negativity into our home. We're going to appreciate our gifts one at a time, instead of being gluttonous with them all at once. This will also keep the excitement fresh.
Patience has never been the strongest area in my life. I was notorious for peeking in my mother's closet weeks leading up to my birthday. I wanted to know the gender of my babies, from the moment I found out I was expecting. I couldn't wait for our puppies to come home from the day they were born. I wanted what I wanted without having to wait. I've learned, in my wiser middle years, that the sweetest moments lie in being fully present in the current moment. The pleasure that can be derived from slowing down, being mindful in each new experience, even the anticipation leading up to it, can far outweigh rushed, transitory glimpses of thrill. Therefore, it's my goal this year to be peaceful, rather than voracious, in my holiday spirit. In doing so, perhaps the joyful fires will remain kindled longer...and not burn themselves out at 5 minutes past 9 on Christmas morning.
As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote so eloquently, "