I don’t know how it goes down in your neck of the woods, but the Polar Express has a habit of showing up around here nearly two months ahead of schedule. It tends to barrel into me around the first of November, all twinkle lights and full steam ahead, which is patently unfair. After all, autumn only recently got herself settled in. Mr. Skinnybones, our happy Halloween skeleton, is still hanging in the doorway with whatever accessories the girls have draped over him for the day. I’m only just beginning to turn my mind toward turkey and communal gratitude. You can’t stop a locomotive though, and once it hits, I’m along for the slap-dash race toward Christmas.
It knocks the breath out of me every dang year.
I still haven’t entirely reconciled with the fact that I’m a designated magic-maker now. Nine Christmases into parenting, and I still feel like some elf somewhere should be assigned to help me turn craft supplies and cookie dough and toys encased in bulletproof plastic into a holiday experience greater than the sum of its parts. All Santa sends, however, is his train, which flips calendar pages wildly in its wake and reminds me how few shopping days are left if I want free shipping. Which of course I do. Who wouldn’t?
The thing is, I ache every year for Christmas to be both bigger and smaller than it is, and shopping is without question the part I wish were smaller. Giving, on the other hand, is my favorite. It’s the one thing about the holidays that needs no manufactured fairy dust at all in order to thrill and fulfill. There’s always a significant disconnect for me though between spending and giving, and that’s where the source of my holiday angst lies.
I realize that at this point I’m in danger of sounding like one of those soapbox speakers railing against the consumerism in our society and shaming people for buying so much as a stocking stuffer, and oh goodness no. Watching my girls open their presents on Christmas morning turns on every twinkle light in my soul. I suspect however that I am not the only parent who goes into January with far more thoughts on the money she shelled out for those gifts than on the joy of watching them opened.
My giving feels stilted by the need to accumulate. I feel trapped each year into spending however much it takes for the pile of gifts under our tree to look sufficiently impressive, and that sense of rush and scarcity and helpless forward motion starts… well, approximately a week and a half ago. I’m on the train already, but the difference this year is that I’m brainstorming an escape plan.
I’m thinking of how the girls literally skip around the grocery store when we’re filling a bag for our Nigerian friend begging outside, how they can’t wait to hand over the bread and oranges and chocolate and soup mix and wish him a happy afternoon. What if we included him in our Christmas plans? Asked him what other kinds of needs he and his roommates have and tried to meet some of them as a family?
I’m thinking of how Krista Smith is going to do daily acts of kindness with her children in December instead of going with a traditional toy- or chocolate-stuffed advent calendar. In the interest of full disclosure, we already have an advent calendar tucked in the back of the closet (both Dan and I have a weakness for all things Lego), but I love the idea of adding on an advent action as well. Mailing cards to people who might be feeling lonely, taking a plate of muffins to the single mom in our building, choosing a few toys or clothes to give away, helping babysit our friends’ newborn so they can go out for an hour on their own, checking out Momastery’s Holiday Hands listings for anything we might be able to contribute… None of it would take much time or money. Just intention.
I’m thinking of how my homegirl Erika is gifting her sons with Help One Now child sponsorships because it is going to make her boys’ hearts glow wonderland-style to know that three more Haitian children are going to have food on their tables and parents by their sides this Christmas. I know that there are so many charitable opportunities this time of year that you can’t massage your overwhelmed temples without your elbows knocking into one. In fact, I wrote several years ago about how all the needs brought to my attention every day on social media were paralyzing me, and how do you care for one cause without caring for them all and coming unhinged in the process? The truce I’ve struck since with my conscience if that one need particularly grabs me and I can do something about it, I have the freedom to do so without guilt or second-guessing. Child sponsorships are especially dear to my heart, and if we can commit the funds, I’d love to add one of these sweet faces to our Christmas morning lineup.
I’m thinking of simplicity this year. Fewer homemade cookies (sorry, local friends!) so that we can have more time to open our home to people. Fewer purchased presents so that we can have more resources for giving and less stress overall. Fewer commitments so that we can spend more time together as a family (Lego play day, anyone?). Fewer concessions to obligation so that we can make this year about celebration instead.
Any of you up for jumping the track with me?