During the holidays, the mood at our home was: a. frantic b. joyful c. stressful d. loving and meaningful Somewhere during the course of parenting, frequently during adolescence, and definitely during a student's introduction to psychology class in college, home life is rated. Nurturing skills, educational goals, even weaning and potty training, come under scrutiny.
I have long suspected that one of the questions on the list is about the mood in the house during the holidays. When I flip the calendar each year from November to December, I am haunted by a friend's remark that she always remembered her mother as frantic during the holidays--preparing meals, searching for presents, and making the home "just right."
As the one-winged angel gracing the top of our tree will attest, we have never come even close to "just right" during the holidays at our home.
Simplicity dominates in December. Several years ago I eliminated sending greeting cards when I could not document the rule that cards should be distributed during December. A note in February or July is appreciated, and I limit the December notes to six or seven friends or relatives. My limited list this year includes a very special childhood friend who is dying of AIDS. Another note will go to a friend in Dallas. Our now 16-year-old sons were once politely asked to leave a preschool gymnastics class "not because they were naughty," noted the instructor, "rather because several of the little girls were frightened of their overzealous behavior." My friend will appreciate a newspaper's account this fall of our son's tackle of a 250 pound fullback.
I do not worry about traditions. We have made a gingerbread house for several years. Some years we didn't. We have a house party for friends at Christmas. Some years we don't.
One year, when we learned that the mountains were filling with snow, we made a spur-of-the-moment trip three days before Christmas. After a wonderful time in the snow, we arrived home on Christmas Eve morning. Some gifts were never wrapped that year, and two boxes of house decorations were never touched.
Last week, a friend shared how she is celebrating Hanukkah with her daughters who are now young women. She individually took each of three daughters on a shopping trip and to lunch. Each chose eight gifts within a budget; this week, my friend will wrap them. Three daughters will receive their gifts at college. For the daughter in New York, she has sent gift certificates to favorite stores.
When her daughters were small and at home, lighting the candles of the menorah as a family, each night's gift was a surprise. It cannot be that way this year, but the holiday will still be special.
Even with more sophisticated postal service, my twin sisters' package for our family always arrives one week after Christmas. Her family operates a business which peaks this time of year. As a small child, our now 18-year-old would get into bed on Christmas night and say, "Well, it's not over yet, because I think we have one more package coming." She liked that.
Being one of seven children and having more than 30 nieces and nephews on one side of the family, we long ago eliminated exchanging individual gifts. I send each family a Tanta (a Scandinavian wooden Christmas elf) for collections I started for them 14 years ago. More importantly, we each make a donation of new clothing and food for a family in need.
Sometimes, one relative warrants a special gift. This summer while rummaging through Mother's boxes in Michigan, we came across a printing exercise of my brother's done when he was in second grade. Now a physics and chemistry teacher in Washington state, he printed in 1962, "We are listening to the journey of Col. John Glenn around the earth." He received a "B" for his printing and crayon drawing. Mother and I had it framed for him. It will be a special gift.
My mother spent her time with her children on Christmas Day, and not in the kitchen making an elaborate meal. I remember. I have perfected a wonderfully simple, regal meal for Christmas dinner, and pass the day with my family.
Five members of our family are musicians, and the holiday season means musical commitments. The calendar is saturated with entries of rehearsal and performance times. I emphasize vitamin C, orange juice, and sweaters, and do not allow any shorts to be worn in the month of December. I reflect on a conversation in 1967 that included the question, "Do you like music?"
My aspiration is to spend an afternoon making several different holiday cookies, but we may have to be satisfied with two favorites and of course, Rice Krispie treats--still a winner at this home.
I will attempt to give each family member at least one special gift. I will read the Christmas story to our children and hope that during some portion of the season they will experience the joy of sharing and the true meaning of the holiday. I will strive to be patient with every store clerk and not raise my voice in heavy traffic. I will endeavor to share the holiday with others.
Every home is ultimately evaluated by its constituents. My goal is to get a passing grade for making Christmas not "just right," but meaningful and joyful.