by Julia Buckley
The holidays create a yearly paradox for me: I anticipate their arrival with both happiness and dread.
There's no doubt that the holidays bring many good things, starting with Thanksgiving and the chance it offers to gather with family, to share a fine meal, to catch one's breath and relax after stepping off of the work-a-day treadmill.
Christmas, too, brings the beauty of tradition and the comfort of family, as well as many pleasing sights and sounds. If someone tried to make me stop celebrating Christmas, I would protest heartily for a variety of reasons.
However, the holidays are like any other time of year in respect to the rapidity of life these days. Is it my middle-aged perspective, or were holidays once celebrated at a slower pace, one that allowed for all of the preparations and festivities without the mandatory nervous breakdown?
Perhaps part of the pressure I feel is that my mother always created beautiful holidays. The house was perfect and she baked German breads, cakes and cookies for weeks beforehand so that they could all be put out on festive trays on Christmas Eve and given to guests and neighbors on Christmas Day. There was always time to go cut our own Christmas tree and eat cherry cobbler and drink hot chocolate at a little diner on the way home--one of our family traditions. There was time to decorate and to wrap presents for our whole seven-member family. There was time to attend Midnight Mass in our best attire. There was even time to sit and watch the snow fall.
Perhaps the biggest difference between then and now was that my mother did not work, and I do. Eight hours of my day is spent outside of the home (nine-and-a-half, if you count all of the dropping off and picking up), and yet I still want to create the same sort of Thanksgiving, the same sort of Christmas for my children that my parents created for me. This, I have found, is a mighty tall order.
When my children were young I would actually take the day off on St. Nicholas' Day (December 6th), so that I could wrap little presents and fill tiny boots with candy, and then watch my sons' faces when they stumbled downstairs in their footy pajamas and saw that St. Nick had been there. One year my husband and I actually stayed up late trying to create authentic St. Nick footprints on the floor (which should have been rather terrifying, but always ended up being wonderful instead).
These were some of my successes, but I often find that I have failed to live up to my own image of what the holidays should be, perhaps because my image of holidays past is rooted in illusion. Or perhaps things were just different then.
My sister and I often commiserate about our failure to create near-perfect holidays. We'll find ourselves on the phone after a long workday (she is a teacher, too), contemplating our messy houses with their big cat-hair tumbleweeds and the kid handprints on the glass, saying "Mom would have had the house sparkling; she would have done the floors and had us get to work polishing the silverware." Yes, polishing the silverware! My mother also ironed things--something I've rarely done in twenty-one years of married life.
In any case, the holidays are coming whether I'm ready or not. I'll have my yearly compromise of time off with family, but a bag of research papers hidden under a side table, casting a pall of obligation over my fun.
I think the key will be to do something differently this year: to start a new tradition that our family will look forward to for every winter holiday to come. Perhaps you'll share some with me so that I can embrace this holiday season, its joys and its obligations, as the best ever.