Thank god the holidays are over. Thank god. Am I a scrooge for feeling relieved that the most joyful time of the year has come to a close? It’s not that I hate the holidays. Not really. I get into the Christmas thing, actually. From December to early January, our house is full of lights and decorations, with Christmas music playing on the stereo while seventeen different kinds of cookies bake in the oven. We have parties, we wrap presents, we do our little Advent calendar with the kids. We play with the Nativity set under the tree and talk to the kids about how this is all for Baby Jesus’ birthday. I hang the stockings with care (and secretly fill them up — shhhh!) So why do I feel so depressed now that it’s all done?
I never used to feel this post-holiday blue bullshit. After-Christmas used to be like after-Thanksgiving, with full bellies and that sleepy, satisfied tiredness that comes with eating too much delicious food and sharing some holiday cheer. I used to love to sit by the fire, looking at the scraps of wrapping paper still in the carpet and smelling the over-ripe pine roping, nibbling leftovers out of the fridge all day and playing with the presents. Now, I look around the house and all I can think is, “TOO MUCH STUFF.”
And it’s got me really down.
I am a little angry with myself for feeling this way, a lot like I was angry with myself for feeling some of those post-partum blues after each DD was born. This is a happy thing, I remember thinking, as I held my new little bundles. I have no business feeling blah, when so many other people don’t have this opportunity. I have no right to feel sad. But I did anyway. And I do now, too.
As I look around our house, still infested with wriggly bits of ribbon and shreds of colored paper, I’m hardly reminded of the generous family and friends (– I mean, SANTA!–) who showered us with presents this year. Instead, I think of the resources wasted, the ridiculous amount of money spent, and the gluttony of gifts my kids were exposed to. I dwell on the toxic plastics used to package and ship and market our Christmas. I think about the horrible inequality of wealth in the world, and I’m certain the majority of people involved in the physical production of our holiday extravaganza didn’t have a single gift to open themselves, assuming they wanted to celebrate. God, I sound like a Democrat.
Anyway, it all started to hit home when I watched my kids open their presents on the Magic Morning. Not yet versed in the skill of efficient Gift-Receipt Processing, not knowing that they were supposed to tear into the entire pile of presents in a single hour, my DDs would open something and then sit and play with it. Gawd, the nerve! I caught myself wanting to snatch the offending toy away and shove another gift at them. Get on with it, I shamefully thought. There are more gifts to open! Hurry!! I’m so glad I restrained myself, though. I loved watching them explore the beautiful paper, searching for the name written on each package, delivering items to their proper recipients. I saw that it wasn’t the quantity – and yes, there was quite a quantity – of presents under the tree that was exciting for my children. It was the process. The girls just loved the whole thing. They were caught up in the bustle of a big family breakfast, the excitement of eating in the living room, the thrill of waking up to a crowd of relatives that they didn’t normally get to see. They danced to the neat music coming out of the stereo, and laughed at the twinkling tree lights glittering on the ribbons and wrapping paper underneath. It didn’t matter to them if there were two presents or two hundred.
But then it didn’t stop. There were bags and boxes and bundles of gifts trickling in from everywhere. Anytime someone came to visit, they brought presents. Distant relatives we saw once a year sent bags of stuff. And people didn’t curtail it to one gift, either. People gave gifts– three, four, or even five. To each kid. Christmas-present-opening dragged on for days. Then we had DD2’s birthday a week later, followed by Orthodox Christmas on January 7. Someone was constantly handing the kids something to unwrap, one more toy to open. I lost track of who gave what and to whom. Then, one morning, DD1 woke up, walked out into the living room, and said, “Where are the presents?”
I felt the tug of the anti-climax pulling me down, down, down. I dwelled on the excesses we had indulged ourselves in, with too many gifts and too much food and just too much stuff. I looked around our living room, bursting at the seams with toys, knowing that the kids couldn’t possibly play with every single one of them, let alone appreciate each one. I wanted to hide my head in the sand, to avoid the holiday season altogether. I didn’t want to ever wrap or open or even see another gift under the tree, if there even was a tree next year, because even that seemed like another symbol of our Western culture’s obsession with material things. Yuck.
And then, DH and I argued about Christmas. That was the final straw. To feel a little blue over the holidays seems plausible. But when you start fighting about it, well, things had gone too far.
So now, after a good cry and a heart-to-heart with DH, I’ve come back to center. A little excess is okay, I’ve realized. After all, it is a special season, whatever it means to your religious or secular sensibilities. Christmas should have traditions and ceremonies – and yes, even gifts – to set it apart from the rest of the year and every other ordinary day. And it’s not my DD’s fault that her birthday happens to fall in between our family’s two Christmas holidays. (I blame my DH entirely for that one.) But, in my quest for the perfect holiday season, I know for certain that two things must happen, at least for us. One, I need to un-produce the holiday. Put up the tree, bake some cookies, but definitely avoid lists of lists and piles of self-imposed tasks. And two, the whole family has to help Santa take a sedative. A few gifts is wonderful, but when there are so many presents that the kids take a week to open them all, he’s just gone too far. Because, as we learned this year, more is definitely less.