The mom who killed Christmas (almost)

I heard on NPR today that Charles Dickens was the man who invented Christmas after A Christmas Carol encouraged people to celebrate with family and goodwill and Rizzo the Rat. Apparently the Puritans and Protestant Reformerators had banned Christmas celebrations in both England and the U.S. at various times because it was too commercial. (and hedonistic and pagan and such, but still! How materialistic can you be without indoor plumbing?)

I love Christmas. The lights, the smells, the excitement in my children’s faces. Susan(4) is hoping for a lot of candy in her stocking (Halloween made a big impression this year). Sally(7) has asked for a stuffed animal now that Flower, her favorite purple bunny, has been loved into an early Velveteen grave. Spot(2) hasn’t asked for anything yet, but she has learned to shout a defensive “mine!” whenever Susan eyes her favorite pony.

When we lived in Cairo, our Christmases were sweet and simple. There were no extended family dinners or office parties or lights on the house or presents to ship. Our trees were bushy juniper shrubs. Our nativity sets were made of clay or wood by native Coptic Christians. Celebrating Christmas seemed like a deliberate choice. A Christian commemoration in a Muslim country that signified our belief, our hope in Christ.

The second year we were in Egypt I miscarried on December 23rd. It was an even quieter Christmas.

Every year since then, I’ve wished that our Christmas could be simpler, quieter. Of course, when we were in Cairo I wished for a large Noble Fir, and a ham for Christmas dinner, and I longed to see my own parents and eat rot kohl with my sisters and brothers. We only had one child in Cairo, so of course it was quieter, and simpler.

Now we have three kids, and I’m glad for the family parties and the friendly neighbors who bring treats. And the lights that deck the houses we drive by and the carols on the radio and the big tree that stands in the corner.

I even like the Christmas cards that I swore this year I wouldn’t do.

I think the problem is that I do honestly want a smaller Christmas, a Christmas on the inside, so I say, This year I won’t buy ANY presents or do any sort of craft or send any kind of card. I won’t go to any parties or decorate the house or bake the Allen’s special almond pastry. And then I get a little bit stressed as I add all these things back in, one by one, a month too late, where a little bit stressed means I yell and say the f-word during our family activity EVEN THOUGH I’ve realized I LIKE cards, and crafts (easy ones), and little teacher presents that the kids can wrap, and decorations, and I ESPECIALLY LIKE the special almond pastry, even if it does take two pounds of butter and four hours to make.

There must be a way to reconcile the simple Christ-full Christmas on the inside with all the little family traditions that do make the season sweeter. And I think a big part of that will be making plans starting in October April?

Tonight we delivered Christmas Clementines to our neighbors. I’d found cute Chinese-takeout-style treat cartons at Costco and Dick looked online for a suitably-cheesy tagline (Orange you glad it’s Christmas?). Susan wore her Rambo headband and Spot refused to wear her coat. Sally herded her sisters from van to doorstep. Dick and I giggled like teenagers as the girls clomped along in their snowboots.

I think I better figure out the Christmas of details and presents and church parties and ornaments. The Christmas of stockings and family dinners and advent calendars and tinsel — without all the yelling.

Unless we move to India.


What works for you for simplifying the holidays while keeping all your favorite traditions?


Maybe it’s just all advertising

Thanks to the great cultural advancement that is the DVR, I can watch plenty of mind-numbing TV without commercial interruption. But sometimes, as I’m fast-forwarding to the next diagnosis on House, I catch a spot that looks intriguing.

Lexus has their annual December to Remember campaign going on. The ads start with a little boy or little girl speaking directly into the camera, a voice from the past, reminding you how excited you were to get that Atari or that pony, and how you thought that was the best Christmas ever.

Parents and siblings interact with each other in the semi-sepia tinted background while self-centered, spoiled Johnny or Sarah is childishly unaware that Christmas is about something bigger than expensive toys.

The commercial ends, of course, with the little child from your past taking you aside and saying SPEND SOME TIME WITH YOUR FAMILY THIS YEAR, NUMB NUT, AND REMEMBER THE REASON FOR THE SEASON, YA BIG DOPE.

No, shockingly, the commercial ends with the stunning revelation that the best Christmas ever would be one in which you get a Lexus.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that school kids are often introduced to logical fallacies and critical thinking by exploring advertisements. Check out this lesson plan for a quick review of logical fallacies (or this site for a comprehensive list) and how they show up in everything from magazine ads to infomercials to Super Bowl commercials to blogs.

Which isn’t to say that all logical fallacies are bad. Grampa sent us the dog house commercial last week. Dick thought it was hilarious, and I think he learned a lot from watching it.

Why are some ads so grating, and others, every bit as commercial and fake and obvious, turn out to be just plain entertaining? Are you willing to forgive a multitude of logical fallacies as long as something is also funny and clever? And at what age do you start pointing out the logical fallacies to your children?


Last Christmas I wa-a-sn’t strong

Christmas is always more stressful than it should be, and now that we live in a fancy neighborhood, with Trick-r-Treating and streetlamps and such, I fear the neighbors will be distributing competitive baked goods and hand-stenciled holiday cards beginning next week.

I’ve been experimenting with simple-but-stunning hand-dipped candies, and nothing is as easy or cheap as it seems, and even the Pioneer Woman’s cake balls were a disappointment in the taste department. (More on that later.)

It’s enough to make me wish I could follow Suzy’s pre-emptive Halloween strategy. She tapes a You’ve Been Booed ghost to her window in late September so the Angels-of-Chain-Dessert-Death pass over her loved ones in search of cooperative chumps.

A Bah! Humbug sign probably won’t fly with the kids, but I am going to declare my independence from guilt and rushing and last-minute reciprocating. I won’t be mailing out Christmas cards — I know I always say that and then on December twelfth I drag the entire family to the classy photo-art place (Sears) for a spontaneous, captivating photo shoot, and then I frantically assemble cards for only 100 of my closest friends and family members.

Well, this year I’m really not going to do cards. REALLY. Which doesn’t mean I won’t be writing a cheerily whitewashed and exaggerated (rhyming) epic poem about our “accomplishments” and “achievements” and how cute it is that Spot likes purple sippy cups. (Note: Remember to sign one of the girls up for music lessons this month to round out our “interests”). I’ll just post that letter here for all of you to glance at, set on the mantle, and then chuck in the trash.

Also, I’m thinking of skipping our traditional tree. Maybe we should go green and do something like this:

Isn’t it fantastic? Check out the original at Mountain Dew Christmas Tree.

Are there any Christmas traditions you could do without? Anything on your to-do list that kills your Trans-Siberian Orchestra buzz even before Thanksgiving? Tell me. Maybe if we each cross off each others’ least favorite Christmas customs, we’ll all end up with manageable schedules and a true feeling of peace.