Fa la la la la, it’s that time again. And let me preface my “bah humbug” by saying I really do love Christmas. The sentimental memories, the cheer, the celebration of God’s greatest gift to man…all reasons to feel gratitude and joy. But on the other hand… bah humbug.
Before the days of social media (and I know I just got eye rolls from most of you) Christmas and all its marvelous, chaotic trappings was perfectly imperfect. The shiny glass ornaments hung alongside the popsicle stick creations, and the tree was a kaleidoscope of colors. The pile of gifts beneath the tree was a jumble of printed wrap that could include snowmen, Santas and poinsettia, all in (gasp) different color schemes! The family Christmas photo, if there even was one, was pretty much just everyone standing in front of the fireplace or Christmas tree. Sometimes we would wear coordinated colors, but more often it was just whatever festive outfit we had.
Now I have Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook to let me know just how low my standards must have been. For over thirty years, I’ve simply been baking Christmas cookies with the same favorite recipes my family loves and expects on the tray. I do take some pride in baking nearly 20 varieties and I do try to make them attractive. But now Facebook videos are showing me time-lapse creations of marshmallow mice, gingerbread trains, and pretzel/caramel reindeer. Never mind that the process actually takes 6 hours and costs $80 to make a dozen of these perfect little treats—the 30 second video makes it look like child’s play. Suddenly my tray of cookies seems so old fashioned.
And then there’s the “décor”. Christmas is no longer about pulling out the box that stores the plastic Santa and painted pine cone wreath. We used to simply add the holiday decorations by putting away the Thanksgiving centerpiece and replacing it with a poinsettia. Or tucking a reindeer among the mantel items. Now, according to most homestyle magazines, I’m supposed to redecorate my entire house for the season. Change out the pillows, add the nubby throws, cover the chairs, switch out all the towels and bedding…and don’t forget to decorate each room with its own tree.
As for the tree, I am guilty of being a bit controlling when it comes to the trees. The living room tree is decorated in silver/natural/bronze, and the dining room tree is filled entirely with vintage ornaments. The spare bedroom gets a tree, too, and the color scheme depends on my mood that year. My family used to tease me about playing “Mother Christmas” because I accept no help with the tree decorating and place each ornament very strategically. But after seeing online photos of elaborately themed trees with hand crafted ornaments of feathers and jewels, I am starting to feel like an under-achiever. And apparently each lushly decorated tree must have coordinating wrapped gifts arranged attractively on the matching tree skirt. My dining room tree skirt is a blanket held in place with a binder clip; the cats make it their daily priority to turn that “tree skirt” into a slip-and-slide.
Photo shoot? Well of course the children need to have new hats, boots, something plaid and be surrounded by woodland creatures (real or plush). The one year I tried to stage a Christmas card photo we ended up with daughter #1 dressed like an elf, stringing lights on daughter #2. It was not pretty. High-end department stores now have Ugly Sweaters on display – wasn’t the whole point to find a tacky sweater that someone once thought was tasteful? So instead of our $3 Goodwill sweaters we now have $40 designer ugly sweaters. Sigh.
If you’re like me, you’ve been mesmerized and inspired by the thousands of ideas on Pinterest—mason jar luminaries, pallet trees, Elves doing everything BUT sitting on shelves and outdoor light shows that make Chevy Chase’s seem blasé. You may feel that you’re not meeting the standards set by the staged scenes and filtered photos we’re bombarded with every time we go online. I’m here to tell you – I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re all okay doing Christmas in just the way that brings us the most joy.
If your tree is filled with lopsided ornaments made by tiny hands, consider yourself lucky. If it takes a Christmas miracle just to get your family in one place at the same time, snap a photo and go with it. So what if your son is making rabbit ears behind Grandma’s head, that’s your family and you just made a memory. If baking brings you satisfaction as it does me, then turn on the holiday tunes and spend an afternoon baking. But if your schedule and stress level can’t handle such a project, order some cookies from a bakery or peel open some festive looking Oreos. I guarantee they’ll still be enjoyed. Or create your own specialty, that one cookie or treat that you do so well. Make that your signature sweet, enlist the kids’ help and create a tradition while you’re at it. If you play your cards right, you can exchange with other bakers and still end up with an assortment.
As for the décor, do whatever makes you smile, whatever makes your house feel warm and welcoming and joyous. Plastic reindeer? Why not? Color coordinated garland and bows? Sure, if that’s your thing. The key is making your own Christmas memories and holiday traditions without adding stress to an already stressful time of year. We need to remember we aren’t “doing” Christmas for an online audience, or Facebook friends we’ll never meet in person, or even our own extended families and in-laws. We are “doing” it because celebrating God’s grace among family and friends is reason enough to be joyous. And joyous it will be, whether you nibble on Oreos or pizzellas, whether your tree is Balsam Hill or Big Lots clearance. Merry Christmas from my imperfect home to yours!