Forcing Christmas

Christmas this year in our house is feeling a little forced. It’s like a runaway train that’s gaining speed, and I can’t find the brakes. And it’s been like this for weeks. I grew up Episcopalian, with a big Advent tradition of waiting in joyful expectation for Christmas. Now we go to a Presbyterian church, which we really like, but they had two 20-foot-tall Christmas trees up in the sanctuary weeks ago.

It started when we put up our Christmas tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It felt ridiculously early. It wasn’t even December yet! But we were having the neighbors over for a holiday party the next Saturday, and I’ve been married long enough to know that putting up your Christmas tree the day of your holiday party is A Bad Idea. And putting it up on a weeknight is equally foolhardy. Picking a tree in the dark one year, with cold-tired-hungry preschoolers in tow, we got a tree with a big bald patch we didn’t see until we got home. And then the kids’ bedtimes were all screwed up. Waaaah.

So up went the tree on November 27.

The next week, I shopped for presents online and congratulated myself for being so smart. No rush fees and time-crunch worries for me!

But then there’s writing the darn Christmas letter. I love receiving them, and I usually like writing them. During the year, I think, “Oh, that was funny. I should put it in the Christmas letter.” Then I promptly don’t.

We used to write a two-page, single-spaced letter, blathering on about I don’t know what. After kids came, we decided nobody wanted to hear that much from us. (I still can’t forget friends who prattled on about taking their preschoolers snorkeling in Belize.) So we scaled it down to a half-page front and back. This year, we’re chucking the whole thing and sending photo cards I ordered during my smarty online shopping week. Print the labels. Get the kids to stuff envelopes. I give up. Done.

Better luck next year.

Then came the problem of when to swap presents with my parents, who live 100 miles away. We’ll be in Atlanta with my in-laws on Christmas, so we’ll open their presents with them. But would we take gifts from my parents there, too? And when to open presents among my Lovely Bride and the children and me?

Starting to feel Grinchy.

We had already figured out that Santa Claus would not be stopping for our kiddos in Baltimore and Atlanta.

“How does he know?” asked one of the kids.

“He just does. He’s Santa,” I said. “And just in case, we’ll leave him a little note.” (We have already developed fairly advanced Santa-logistics explanations, because we don’t have a fireplace, so the kids seemed to buy that.)

So we invited my parents to spend the night this Saturday, and we would open presents then. But that’s an entire week early. Christmas will seem over before it even arrived. On the other hand, waiting until we get back from Atlanta on the 3rd would moosh Christmas presents into my daughter Carla’s 5th birthday on the 4th. (Augh! Gotta send party invitations before we leave for Christmas!)

Where’s the gentle feeling of quiet expectation? You know, the waiting for the joy part?

So, last night we decided to open only selected essential presents (like the dual-screen portable DVD player – which we need for the drive to the in-laws on the 23rd – Sears.com darn well better get it to me before then) and bring the rest with us to open on Christmas proper.

All this fretting will be a distant memory before long, as my Lovely Bride and I are parking the kiddos with the in-laws for a few days after Christmas and jetting to an undisclosed Caribbean island. We never did anything for our 10th anniversary (in 2008) because my wife had just gotten promoted — as the Big Boss Lady, she couldn’t skip town two weeks into a new job. Then she got a really good review and a bonus this year – for the first time ever – and we opted for some marriage maintenance and R&R.

So we jet back to Atlanta on New Year’s Day, pack up on the 2nd and drive back to Baltimore on the 3rd. On Tuesday the 4th, it’s straight back to work and school. It’s going to feel like ripping off a band-aid.

With no post-travel recovery day (I guess we’ll pick up milk on the way home from the airport), that day’s gonna stink. Happy Birthday, Carla.

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