I’m writing this on January 2, 2018. I started writing this in my head right after Thanksgiving 2017. And I’m saving it to post right after Thanksgiving 2018, because it wouldn’t be very helpful now that most of the holiday dust has settled. Timing is important. Triage, this time of year, is everything.
[Ed. note: this went up on the first day (Sunday) of Advent 2018; close enough and Thanksgiving was early. Also, when this was written the author was not contemplating full-time graduate school, and now she’s in the thick of it. I find the symmetry entertaining.]
A was born in the month of August. Somewhere in early November that year, I started musing about the upcoming holiday season. I don’t know whether other new mothers think this way—Pinterest would indicate they do—but I saw that I’d now be defining what the whole season meant. Little people think the way things happen in their homes is The Only Way; it’s a big responsibility, I think.
I decided that the Christmas holidays would not be a traveling season for me and my little one(s). Prior to her birth, we’d flown each Boxing Day from Austin to Raleigh to spend time with the boys. I loved (love!) spending time with my guys, but I’d gotten increasingly weary of the artificiality of My Sweetie’s Dad-ness being defined by hotel rooms, kid-attractions, and restaurants. As perennial visitors, we were pushed into a Party Parent space; active kids don’t hang out well in a hotel room for more than an hour, tops. Plus I hadn’t before realized that much of my holiday rhythm was formed by my parents’ introverted ebb and flow. Over winter break, we Lawrences mostly read, and only occasionally go out. I found the Party Parent lifestyle exhausting. So when A was born, I had my socially acceptable exit strategy, and I took it. People could visit us, but we would go nowhere (meaning me & A, then me+A+B… My Sweetie still went to Raleigh).
I figured the baby was a good draw.
But for me the season has a lot more components than travel/not-travel. As a working-for-hire parent, I’d already figured out that I wanted to be mindful of what I did and didn’t do—to choose rather than fall into choices. I have always had a limited amount of energy. Add to that the old adage, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” on top of my inherent tendency to strategize, and you can see how I ended up with a list, and a schedule.
- If holiday cards are going out, the day after Thanksgiving is the time they’re planned/purchased.
If hitting the Thanksgiving sales brings peace and gift-list satisfaction, go for it. Otherwise, that’s it for Thanksgiving weekend.
- Buy a cut tree the following weekend. Prepare it according to the time-honored Lawrence tradition, soaking up a special solution in the backyard for a week. Get the wreath while you’re at it; hang it on the door. Bring down All The Christmas-Related Boxes from the attic. There are many!
- Outdoor decoration responsibilities belong to My Sweetie. He’s a grown human; he’ll work it out.
- Indoor decoration kicks in the next weekend and week that follows. Tree comes in and is decorated, eventually. An angel hangs from the foyer light fixture. (They’re supposed to greet the entrant but they always face inwards. Twenty years, and they persist in hanging backwards no matter what I do!) Year-round mantel decorations are removed, maybe even dusted, and a few Christmas items are added. The rest of the mantel holds cards. Stockings are hung. For the longest time, Santaman and Frosty—two palm-sized terrycloth toys that began life as ornaments—hung out on the coffee table with a nativity crèche. Our first crèche was from Fisher-Price; the second from Playmobil. Everyone can play with my nativity scenes.
- Weekend Three of Christmas Prep: baking begins.
By my second Christmas season, I had two babies. By my third, I had grad school. So from year two onward, baking became the most modular element. The full list, as developed over two decades, is this:
Dreambars, lemon-lime butter wafers, gingerbread cutouts, jam-filled thumbprints, spiced Parmesan puff-pastry twists, cardamom and ginger pecans, chili-spiced pecans
and that, too, is the order of manufacturing priority. Some years we had only Dreambars.
But really, the whole list is modular.
Holiday cards, for example, were the first things to be cut when things got too hectic for me. There were a few years where I ordered big stacks from Shutterfly only to throw them away January 10th. There were plenty of other years where the cards went out December 30. In fact, my current practice of desktop-publishing card designs and printing them at home stemmed from the wastefulness of those big, abandoned Shutterfly orders. This way I could print-on-demand however many cards we could manage.
Indoor decorating, too. Some years it took two, three weeks.
I’m leaving out the events we would go to, the dear friends we would gather with, the performances I would sing in. Though those were intentional choices also, picked for celebration and culled as much as possible in the years we were tired. (Elementary-school life was hard on My Sweetie, with all its pageants and concerts!)
Now that I’ve followed this rhythm for over twenty years, I look back and am glad. Glad I wrote down what worked for me and what didn’t each year. Glad I scribbled a schedule each Thanksgiving, to remind myself how what I wanted to do might be more smoothly done. Glad I spent time thinking, so that when My Sweetie and I argued about the hectic-ness of the season (which I think we did for many of them), I knew what I chose, why I chose it, and roughly how unhappy I’d be if I didn’t follow through.
Any family ritual time, as it progresses through the years, involves triage.
I feel fortunate that I acted on that from the beginning.