My mom loves Christmas. She starts putting up her five Christmas trees before she carves her Thanksgiving turkey, and the Hallmark holiday movies are on a constant rotation starting in October. She has always loved Christmas, at least as far back as I can remember. Our home smelled like cinnamon and cloves for the entire month of December, that is, when it didn’t smell like the cookies she made on a weekly basis. Andy Williams crooned away in the background while we decorated our tree (complete with hand-sewn popcorn strands and that tinsel that got everywhere) and I knew the lyrics to every Christmas carol before I could read. It felt like magic in my home. Warm, cozy, familiar magic.
But here’s the secret: my mom didn’t make it magic by doing all of the possible holiday things. What felt like magic to me as a child was simply a mother’s joy in doing the things she loved.
In the ten years that I’ve been running the holiday show as a mama, I’ve seen the stakes rise annually. By the time I had my first child in 2004, photo cards were practically obligatory. If your new baby wasn’t stuffed precariously in a stocking, wrapped in Christmas lights and wearing a Santa hat, it was pretty obvious you never loved him in the first place. Then came the Elf on the Shelf, requiring parents to remember to move the elf every single night and simultaneously the advent of social media provided you a place to chronicle these adventures (I begrudgingly present my own Instagram circa 2012 as Exhibit A). Next up was Pinterest, the holy grail of holiday inspiration, where mamas learned that their hiding spots for their elf were the definition of lame, strawberries must be shaped like Santa Claus, and you should really have at least three advent calendars (one with fun Christmas activities, one with community service ideas, and one with a wrapped present for every day in December).
Circa 2012, which was clearly a banner year for me and hustling for the holiday magic.
It’s no wonder we see a litany of bloggers rise up this time of year in protest (I’d like to offer a shout out to my personal favorite: Let’s Bring the Holidays Down a Notch). Some of these mamas advocate for ditching these rituals altogether while others defend their decking of the halls but I think that somewhere in all the viewpoints lies the question and the answer for all of us Holiday CEO’s: Where do you find your joy?
My mom didn’t make a million cookies in the month of December because she wanted to make sure her kids experienced the joy of holiday baking. I remember being in the kitchen for some of the preparations (and more clearly remember foraging the cabinets to sneak the extra Hersey Kisses when she was done) but really, my mom baked the cookies because she loved to bake the cookies. She’s sixty years old now and lives half a country away from her grand kids and she still bakes the cookies.
So, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed this holiday season by the enormous responsibility of making Christmas magic for your kids, I’d like to offer this litmus test. Imagine yourself immersed in one of your chosen holiday activities. Maybe you are making dough ornaments or baking cookies for your neighbors or singing carols around the piano. Now imagine that your kiddos decide they are done with this activity and disappear into the next room to play with their Legos or their baby dolls or to build a castle in Minecraft. How do you feel right now? Are you feeling frustrated? Do you want to yell, “Hey, I’m doing this for you, you ingrate?” Or are you so excited to be baking the cookies or singing the songs that you didn’t really notice that someone left your personal holiday party? If you find yourself in the first camp, it might be time to rethink the activity in the first place.
The reality is, living in the age of Pinterest can be a blessing. Yes, it offers up a smorgasbord of options and you have to choose. But think of it like an all-you-can-eat buffet. No one goes to the all-you-can-eat buffet expecting to eat everything that is offered (well, almost no one…I’m pretty sure my husband would be the exception to this rule). When it comes to food, most adults know what they like and are unapologetic in declaring their preferences. Be unapologetic in declaring your holiday preferences and then scour the far corners of Pinterest to inspire you in your chosen areas of joy. Leave the rest for someone else to put on her plate. Yours is already full. As the very wise Amy Poehler says, “Good for her! Not for me.” (P.S. – this piece of advice is applicable in many, many areas of life even after we leave the holiday season.)
For me, this has meant trying some things on for size. Some fit beautifully (many of the cookies my mom baked still grace our home with an appearance, the photo card is a mainstay for our family, I can’t imagine Christmas in Missouri without attending Christmas Traditions, and Elf is the first movie we watch every holiday season) and some had to be cast aside (no daily advent calendars that require us to do any pre-determined activity as we prefer spontaneity, the Elf on the Shelf has been subcontracted to my kids who love the excitement of hiding and finding it far more than I do, and minimal if any outdoor decorations because it’s cold and we are lazy). My list is going to look different than yours. I know women who are so creative with their elves that my heart swells for their kids, it is unbearably sweet. My brother-in-law hangs outdoor lights with my niece every year, rain or shine. I have friends who don’t like Will Ferrell (I know, I know, but forgiveness is a virtue).
The joy factor is the key. Where do we find our joy? Because when your kids are grown, they may not remember all the details of all the things that happened during Christmastime, but they will remember how Christmastime felt. Joy is contagious, and if you take the time to cultivate your own, your family will notice and they’ll carry it with them.