The first time the holidays radically changed for me was around age nine. Remember the live-action version of The Grinch, with Jim Carey? I recently tried to re-watch it in a fit of nostalgia, and literally couldn’t get through it. But when I was nine, that movie spoke to me. Cindy Lou Who’s song “Where Are You Christmas?” resonated the sort of empty feeling I had when making my Christmas list that year. What did I want? I was starting to outgrow the kids toys, but I wasn’t to the age where I thought clothes were a proper Christmas gift.
I struggled, staring at an empty page for several nights, trying to get something written down. I think I wrote things like “world peace” alongside “a basket for my bike.” I am trying to see that as cute and not horribly cringe-y. Once I found out my parents were really Santa, making my list got even harder. What did I feel comfortable asking my parents for? I could ask a magical being for anything, even world peace, but I thought asking my parents for that might just make them feel bad.
For a few years there, Christmas felt different, and because the best part of the holiday season is all the traditions, that felt very strange and uncomfortable. But eventually I got used to the idea of my parents as Santa, became an “elf” who got to eat the cookies and keep my younger siblings believing in the magic, and grew into a teenage identity full of new interests, meaning new gift ideas.
For a few years, I had a new Christmas normal, but recently, the holidays have started shifting again. I’ve started to notice that the anxious flutter in my stomach when I think of Christmas and gifts and carols and family parties has transformed from nervous excitement to just plain nervousness. My husband and I have six Christmas parties to attend, and until recently five of those six took place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Now we only have four to squeeze into a 48-hour period. What a relief.
We also have approximately 25 people to buy presents for now. In previous years, my siblings and I would draw names out of a hat so we only had to buy one present for one person, and we all went in together to get something for my parents. That was it. Now I have to find 25 gifts for 25 people, all while making sure one of the other 23 people isn’t buying the same thing for each person. To be honest, a huge part of me loves it. I ascribe to Leslie Knope’s view of gift-giving: “Giving Christmas gifts is like a sport to me, finding or making that perfect something.” But it’s also just one more major change that affects my time, my money, and my emotional stress because I really want to get everyone something they absolutely love.
On top of it all, my husband and I are still living with his parents. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m eternally grateful for our situation. Instead of living in a tiny apartment for several years scrimping and saving for a house, we’ve managed to pay off our student loans and get halfway to our house savings goal in just a few months. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make the holidays more stressful.
I’m just as uncomfortable with this shift in my holiday spirit as I was when I was nine. I’ve always loved the simple things about the holidays: rolling out Christmas cookies, listening to my favorite Christmas CDs, driving around in the evenings leading up to Christmas to look at everyone’s lights. But in the last few years, it’s been harder and harder to focus on those things because I’m so busy planning logistics and budgets and trying not to step on anyone’s toes.
Is this like when I was nine? Should I accept these new feelings? Find a new role in the holidays again? Go from elf to Christmas Coordinator? Or should I fight these feelings and find my way back to a simplistic appreciation of the holidays? Do I simply need to accept that this is adulthood and the holidays feel different on this side of 20? Or am I losing a magic worth fighting to save?
I don’t know the answers yet. As always, it’s probably a combination of both. I probably need to accept that part of being an adult is having to coordinate everything yourself, but I don’t think I need to let go of my Christmas innocence to do that. I can’t do all those little traditions anymore because I simply don’t have the time or mental energy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do any of them.
*sigh* As usual, I’m searching for balance. For some reason, part of me still expects life to fall into clear categories: yes or no, kid or adult, fun or boring. Both, Megan. Both.
I hope you all have a lovely holiday season, full of old traditions and new traditions and a sense of contentment in the face of endless holiday obligations.