I’m about to take a stand on a CONTROVERSIAL ISSUE, friends. Because I, apparently, have no sense of self-preservation. That coupled with Big Opinions means we’re doing this.
We’re talking about the fact that it is the very dawn of November, but Christmas starts NOW, and why that’s actually a good thing and you should let us do it.
Confession: Holidays have, in the past, stressed me out. Which is not much of a confession since it’s most people’s experience. It’s like saying CONFESSION: I sneak Oreos when my children aren’t looking. Tell you something you don’t know, right? Holidays have, in the past, stressed me out. NO SURPRISE. Except, of course, there’s an expectation that holidays are JOYFUL, dammit. OUR CULTURE DEMANDS IT. And it especially demands that mothers Make It So. Culture demands we make it so, AND we’re overjoyed by it ourselves. We are, in other words, supposed to be the Opposite Of Stressed Out by the holidays — we’re supposed to be CELEBRATORY and SERENE — or we’re somehow doing it wrong.
That’s a lot of pressure, friends. To be stressed out but to be told it’s not supposed to be stressful while carrying the weight of All the Expectations. WHEEEEEEE! Free fun for mamas this season.
But I’ve been doing this mama gig for 21 years now, and I’ve figured a few things out in that time. Namely, how not to lose my entire mind during the whirlwind that is October through December.
My main problem is this: Halloween comes, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then New Year’s Day. THAT IS NOT ENOUGH TIME. It’s too much, I tell you. Too much to cram four separate holidays — each of which requires separate thought, planning, activities, decorations, and family time — into a 62-day window.
And that’s why I begin celebrating Christmas at the tail end of October.
Halloween is but the first event of Christmas season. We half-ass our costumes, we listen to Christmas music, and we put up Halloween Christmas lights which other people call just “Christmas lights.” Followed by the second event of Christmas which is Thanksgiving (unless you’re Canadian, in which case you’re allowed by law to flip those), by which we usually have the tree up and twinkling; yes, before we cook the turkey. Followed by the third event of Christmas which is Christmas Itself, where we minimize gifts as much as possible. Followed by the final, wrap-up event of Christmas which is the New Year.
It is ALL Christmas. Unless you’re from another tradition, in which case you’re welcome to make it all Kwanza or all Hanukkah or all I Don’t Worship at the Feet of Dominant Culture So Back Off, Lady, and Quit Telling Me What to Do. If that’s true for you, then fine. Really, it’s my whole point anyway. Quit telling us what to do.
Today in America — November 1st — we began that Holiest of Modern Holidays in America. No, not All Saints Day, although it’s coincidentally the same day. I’m talking about the other November 1st holiday, a day I lovingly refer to as Loudly Complain All the Christmas Stuff Is Up in Stores Day. Alternatively called NOTHING FOR CHRISTMAS SHOULD BE UP ‘TIL AFTER THANKSGIVING Day.
So, in case you, like me, feel pressured to Wait for Christmas and then cram All The Christmas Stuff into Not Enough Time, I’m going to explain why and how I gave that whole idea the finger and started doing Christmas my way…. October 31-January 1.
Here’s what I finally figured out:
1. It is Very Weird that Americans think our national Thanksgiving holiday — which is celebrated nowhere other than our country — should be the universally accepted marker for when Christmas season is allowed to begin. I mean, HOW WILL OTHER COUNTRIES KNOW THEY’RE ALLOWED TO DECORATE FOR JESUS’ BIRTH? It’s bizarre that we’ve established the first Friday after the fourth Thursday of November as the Universal Starting Line for the Great Race that Christmas has become. Right? It’s odd. “ON YOUR MARKS… GET SET… G—… OH NO, FOLKS! We’ve had a FALSE START! Someone tried to buy peppermint bark TOO SOON. Someone jumped the gun on Pentatonix Silent Night. Now EVERYONE GO BACK. Linda ruined it for all of us by putting up her lights mid-November.” So down with that. I mean, YOU are welcome to wait until American Thanksgiving is over. Go for it! But you are not welcome to tell me I should wait, too. Because no. Nope. Uh uh.
2. It is Very Weird there are people in this world WHO CARE about restricting other humans to a narrow window of when they’re allowed to celebrate anything. Who have made themselves the Arbiters of When Christmas May Begin. Who are morally incensed by seeing Christmas ornaments in mall stores before we’ve handed out Halloween candy. Who take time to lament on social media and ask What the World Has Come To that they can purchase candy canes before turkey and cranberry sauce have even touched our lips. I am baffled. I do not know what’s really bothering them that they take time out of their lives to both grieve the loss of store shelf space to red and green wrapping paper and chastise humans who grab egg nog from the dairy case while leaves are still falling from the trees. Is it symbolic of their frustration that People Refuse to Follow the Rules? Is it a specific expression of the more general Kids These Days frustration? Someone please help me understand why anyone is troubled by this. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
3. Insisting that Christmas season with all its trappings (family gatherings, celebratory meals, Advent Sundays, wrapped presents under a decorated tree sourced tromping through the mud in the forest, lights and candles, hot cocoa, stockings and related stuffings, sitting on a red suited stranger’s lap, sucking on candy canes, and Christmas goddamn cheer), for which the vast majority of the organizational, physical, and emotional labor falls to women, be shoehorned into a 4-week window that cannot start until the crack of the gun on midnight following American Thanksgiving is pure madness. Madness, I tell you. Madness.
And, really, it’s that third point I wanted to get to. Yes, the arbitrary start of Christmas season makes no sense. And yes, it’s strange that folks assign themselves to police the timeline. But mostly it’s not OK that women are simultaneously expected to pull off All That Is Expected of Christmas in order to Make Their Children’s Memories Magical while also being told — explicitly and implicitly — by the dominant culture that they ought to be happy and unstressed while doing it in an artificially small timeframe, neither thinking about nor purchasing the supplies they’ll need while they’re supposed to be focused solely on the joy and non-stress of Thanksgiving.
That’s what I want to say.
Now, OBVIOUSLY I’ve seen all the articles and admonitions that we just need to SIMPLIFY the holiday. That we need to MINIMIZE. That we need to FOCUS on the REASON FOR THE SEASON. That modern society is too focused on STUFF. That we’ve commercialized JESUS.
But guess what? WE ALSO EXPECT WOMEN TO DO THE EMOTIONAL LABOR OF RETHINKING THE HOLIDAY. Rethinking which things to simplify. Prioritizing what stays and what goes. Communicating our New Plan and New Expectations to our children and extended families. And you know what? I HAVE. I HAVE simplified. I HAVE minimized. I HAVE focused —> which is why Christmas begins on Halloween now <— but it turns out I still have children and parents and in-laws and church and “secret Santas” for every school group and extracurricular activity. It turns out I still have to use brain space to think about literally dozens… probably hundreds… of details including thoughtful gifts; stocking stuffers that won’t break the bank; menus for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas breakfast, Christmas dinner, and additional family get-togethers; activities like tree-trimming and seeing Santa and playing together in the snow — activities that build our family and create memories and make this season one that’s not reduced to just checking items off my To Do List.
The truth is, I want to do these things. This season is joyful. And I love the work of making magic happen.
I love the anticipation.
I love sitting in the dark with idea that Love takes the form of a baby and grows and walks among us in flesh.
I love cozy slippers and hot tea and fire in the fire place.
I love giving my kids their childhood and making tiny dreams come true.
I love thinking about what each person on my list might truly enjoy.
I love brown paper packages tied up with string which are the only kind I wrap anymore because a) they make me happy and b) it’s SO MUCH EASIER to just keep a roll of butcher paper on hand than it is to manage wrapping paper and bows.
I love all of it. Truly. Especially once I figured out I could reach inside the Enormous Bag of Expectations and pull out only those that serve me and my people well.
And that’s just it.
The crux of the whole thing.
I love all of the bits I choose to do. I just don’t love folks trying to force me into a tiny timeframe in which to do it.
So it’s November now. HOORAY! Christmas has begun! And I’m prepared to apologize for that 0%.
Waving in the dark, friends — or, actually, waving by the light of my Halloween Christmas lights,