How I Get December Wrong (and You Might, Too)

My childhood memories of December are surrounded by a glowing film of nostalgia, probably brought on by the fact that I was a kid and didn't have any sort of responsibility to get things done or make other people happy over the holidays.

I would spend all school break reading by the fire while it snowed outside, and on weekends, I'd help out with the only baking my mom did all year. It felt a little like magic in the middle of the regular year.

And then you grow up, and December is far from magical.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, it's all buying gifts and swearing at the burned-out Christmas lights and last-minute runs to the store for that ingredient you forgot for the cookies you promised you'd bring to the party. You play Christmas music in the background and hope to all heaven that your kids are somehow experiencing some sort of Christmas spirit, because there's flour in your hair and you forgot a hostess gift for tonight's party and how is it already a week until Christmas? 

Then we smack into December 25, and BAM. It's over. You're exhausted and surrounded by a floor full of pine needles and wrapping paper scraps, feeling relieved and let down all at the same time. As an adult, it feels like December never lives up to the hazy, snow-filled memories of my childhood.

Christmas mug

My biggest source of stress in December is the feeling that it's my job to make this season magical for my kids, and that I'm not doing enough to make it happen.

Sledding, snowmen and snow angels, hot cocoa, baking cookies, crafting ornaments, watching classic movies in the glow of the Christmas tree . . . it feels like there's not enough time for any of it. I can't shake the feeling that if they're going to have cherished Christmas memories, it's my job to manufacture them.

The pressure I put on myself is enormous, never mind that, at 3 and 1, my kids are too young to appreciate any of those things right now anyway. 

Less than ten days before Christmas, I'm making time for the first Christmasy experiences my family has had this year: baking cookies with the preschooler, then sitting by the tree and watching Frozen with both kids after lunch. (No, Frozen is not officially a Christmas movie, but there's snow, so it counts. It also seemed more child appropriate than Love Actually.)

As I watch Elsa have her Jessica Simpson moment on the screen, I'm hit with my own realization of why Christmas stresses me out so much: I'm trying to elevate ordinary moments into something special, when their everydayness is the thing that makes them so memorable in the first place. 

Not only that, I don't need to cram in all the fun Christmasy things before December 25. This season isn't meant to be celebrated according to the sales calendar of retail executives. In the liturgical calendar, we're still in Advent, the four weeks of waiting, reflection, and repentance that comes before the birth of Christ and the celebration of Christmas. 

If some of that ordinary Christmas magic gets pushed until after the 25th, during the actual Christmas season, then so much the better. My kids have no expectations for what December should look like, so why should I?

My favorite memories of Christmas are nothing extraordinary. Reading by the fire is (still) one of the best ways I spend my time all winter long, not just in December. The magic is made up of the simplest, best things, and the harder I try to make that happen, the less I'll be able to enjoy it. 

The Christmas season will always be at its best when we get out of our own way and let the memories happen on their own.

Cheers to an ordinary, magical December.