December is a hustle-bustle month. Aside from the obvious holiday preparations, it also seems to be the month where we try to squeeze in everything we have put off the months preceding it. This seems especially true at work as people are trying to meet their end of the year goals and budgets and suddenly everyone has a renewed interest in getting work done before things more or less shut down around Christmas and New Year’s Day. And on a personal side, people are planning visits and outings, trying to meet their own goals for fitness, love, new jobs, school exams…the clock is ticking down to a new year and everyone gives that last push to make the most of the current one. It’s exciting and exhausting.
I gave myself permission to take a week off from writing, from thinking, from planning, from stressing about Christmas preparations and to ease into this month. We bought the Christmas tree last weekend and took all the ornaments down from the attic. We did a little home decorating and called it done. I knew this week at work was going to be a hectic one, so I gave myself permission to go to bed early each night. Midway through the week, after a particularly stressful day and the mind-boggling realization that my son seems to have lost his brand-new winter coat, I gave myself permission to drink more than one glass of wine, stay up late, and watch my guilty pleasure show (Nashville, don’t judge) on television. I gave myself permission to let the laundry pile up, to eat all the leftovers and meals made from staples in the cabinets, to play Words with Friends and scroll through Facebook at night and not do anything remotely productive. I gave myself permission to be a total slacker.
The thing is that being a total slacker is a lot like binge eating or drinking or shopping or anything else people do in excess. It feels good in the moment, but the next day(s) you feel dirty and gross. And while I do feel that I earned a week to concentrate only on my day job and completely unplug and disconnect from everything else in my life, I have definitely reached the point where now I feel a little, well, disconnected.
So now it is time to jump back in. Even though this season can be taxing, especially for single mommies, I feel that I’ve reached a new place in my adventure where I am actually prepared. My expectations are in the right place. I’m giving myself permission to make this holiday as low-key as possible. We’ll do only what feels right for us as a family and not try to force any Christmas cheer where it doesn’t belong. We don’t have to follow some predetermined path for what constitutes a “Merry Christmas”.
It seems to me that there is a lot of pressure to make Christmas this magical time when families are perfect and homes are perfect and our hearts are perfect and we have pictures with Santa and elves on the shelves and Santa breakfasts and holiday boutiques and Christmas tree lightings in our towns and the cities and school concerts and church plays and parties and ice skating and caroling (wait, no one does that anymore…a shame, really). And while all of that is perfectly lovely, we shouldn’t feel the need to do it all. In fact, we shouldn’t feel the need to do any of it if we don’t want to. Giving yourself permission to be a bit of a holiday slacker can go a long way.
Don’t get me wrong. I am no grinch or scrooge. I’m not suggesting slacking to the point where one feels lazy and dirty. I’m just talking about being selective. Discriminating. Picky. Following traditions is a wonderful thing for a family, but if each and every year you are trying to top the year before, pretty soon you are in manic holiday mode and that never ends well.
Traditions have definitely formed in our little family, but they are the ones that we’ve chosen over time together and therefore aren’t stressful to uphold: making paper snowflakes to hang in the window, choosing the Christmas tree, picking out special ornaments each year and then finding just the right place on the new tree for all of them, making cookies for our neighbors and delivering them along with dog biscuits for our doggie friends, watching Christmas movies and snuggling with hot chocolate. These are the holiday preparations that have emerged as important to us as a family, so these will be the ones that continue. And I am sure in time, new traditions will develop and maybe some of the former ones will fall away, and that’s OK too.
Last year, I told my mom that I just couldn’t do a big thing for Christmas dinner. So, she said she would cook a meal at my house and we would just have a quiet dinner. I felt a little guilty at first, but it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. My brother and C played chess, while my mom and I read and G played with his own new toys until we were ready for dinner. We had a simple meal and everyone was happy and content. It was peaceful, pleasant, and perfect really. I just had to give myself permission to see where my limit was and stick to it.
Give yourself permission to make your holidays as simple or extravagant as you wish. Know your limits. Know yourself. Know what you are doing with love and joy, rather than obligation and only do those things. You’ll be so happy you did.