This time of year is perfect for reminding me just how insidious the false promises of our workaholic, materialistic, keeping-up-with-the-Jones culture is, despite my best intentions. A pull to be the perfect wife, woman, friend, daughter, aunt, employee, writer, with a perfect Better Homes and Gardens house decked out in artfully arranged centerpieces, trays laden with beautiful cookies, a mulled wine simmering on the stove and a table laid with a gorgeous feast.
Every year I buy into the image, the glossy magazine pages and advertisements of a beaming family surrounded by swags of green and glitter. I plunge into a determined whirl of activity and by Christmas I am exhausted, bed-ridden, and bitter. My holiday is not perfect. A stack of cards still wait to be written. The house shimmers beautifully at the expense of actually having the energy to fill its walls with friends and family. The cats and I enjoy the decor alone. I’m lucky if my husband even notices as he mows through the cookies.
What makes all of this even more ridiculously foolish is my coexistence with fibromyalgia. I should know better. I write a blog about traveling with a chronic medical condition, for pete’s sake! How many times have I reminded others like me to pace themselves? To insist on periods of rest? To completely change how they approach life and travel? To reshuffle their priorities?
Why is this so much easier to do when I’m traveling, but not during the most stressful month of the year?
Where has my common sense fled to?
This year has started much the same. Determined to put thoughtfulness and meaning back into the holiday, I vowed to hand-write every Christmas card, even if I write out the exact same letter I would have typed up in years past. The personal touch, the time and effort, I decided, matter more.
Brilliant plan. My hand hates me. I have 90 cards to write and at a pace of 3 to 4 a night, I should be finished by the time the snow melts into grey slush (which frankly has yet to fall in frigid Wisconsin, where it is usually a sure bet for a white Christmas). After a couple of marathon sessions of card writing that left me actually icing my hand, I made a vow – if it’s no longer enjoyable, don’t do it. This is not what Christmas is about.
I will still hand-write a few lucky cards, but on December 15, any yet to be written cards will get the tacky, but ubiquitous typed mass letter and a few lines in the card. I will bake cookies when I feel like baking, with Nat King Cole crooning Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas in the background. If I never get around to decking the mantel with boughs of fir and ornaments, no one will know but me. My new rule – Christmas is fun. Christmas is about the birth of a baby in a manager, a time for spiritual reflection, and a time for having fun with my family and friends. Anything that clashes with this mantra is out. No regrets, no guilt.
Tuesday night was my first test. My husband and I decided to actually spend time together in the crazy rush of work and obligations. We put on our old friend Nat, I set the gluhwein to simmer, laid out the two varieties of cookies I’ve baked so far, and we decorated the tree with all of our childhood ornaments, savoring the magic of unwrapping each ornament’s story. It was relaxed and fun. We laughed and shared. I fell asleep that night content and unfrazzled, with a beautiful tree.
Did I neglect to mention I didn’t cook dinner that night? Our dinner was apples, cheese, crackers, and cookies.
And I don’t feel a bit guilty.