The year I moved solo into a nearby hotel on the night of December 23rd to guarantee a good night sleep, was the year I realized that it was time to deal with Christmas stress.
But it didn’t happen quickly. Like many families, it was my kids who pushed me into it as they grew up and moved out.
The year before I chose to sleep at a hotel in desperation, I went to bed on the 23rd at my usual 10:30 bedtime. I was awakened by my husband an hour later when he came to bed, and then three times after that as each of my university aged children crawled in from their respective parties. The next morning I felt like a wet rag, wondering how I would organize a Christmas Eve party for 22 members of my extended family, clean up, stuff stockings and prepare the turkey for the next day’s feast.
Last year, I ate Christmas Day Dinner at a Chinese Restaurant with my husband and son. Obviously, things had changed.
And while the changes were good, they didn’t come easily to me. I hung on to Christmas traditions like a toddler hangs on to a favourite blanket. I felt responsible for everyone’s happiness and I thought I could ensure it through the cards, the gifts, the turkey, the party, the stockings, the decorations, the clean house, and the singing of “Bring Me a Figgie Pudding” to the rum soaked flaming dessert based on my mother’s recipe.
And then my kids grew up. Everyone realized that Christmas was getting out of hand.
I wanted to eliminate the burden of finding 70 or more imaginative and inexpensive Christmas gifts for what was now seven stockings, including those for our two sons-in-laws. But I was told that they, the stockings that is, were sacrosanct. My kids decided that each of us would buy a gift or gifts totaling no more than $20 for each stocking, other than their own. That sounded good to me.
Then they decided that each person would buy only one $50 gift for the person whose name they picked out of a hat. This meant that nobody was spending more than $170 on family gifts, including the stockings. I could live with this too.
And now that the kids were married, we had to deal with the matter of where they would spend Christmas.
Like most families, we are happy to share our own children with their in-laws. Last year both my daughters spent Christmas with their husband’s families, so my husband, son and I were on own. While the family who lives in the same city as we do thoughtfully invited us to their Christmas Day dinner, my son, who was working during the day, wanted to spend the evening quietly.
And that is how we came to spend Christmas Day at a Chinese Restaurant. The restaurant was full of cheer, the cacophony of many melded languages bouncing off the ceiling. Young couples arrived in their jeans, hugging each other with snowflakes still on their pea jackets and in their hair. It felt neither awkward, lonely nor sad.
Hardly a Norman Rockwell Christmas, but it was lovely.
And besides, the Sunday before Christmas, my husband and I celebrated with our five kids with turkey, the reduced number of gifts, a decorated tree and lots of laughs. We spent Christmas Eve at a friend’s.
This year, we will have all our children with us on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and then one couple will leave to visit their other set of parents. The rest of us will hang around in our pj’s in front of the fire eating leftovers or going for walks or reading the books we received as gifts.
It took a long time to get to this relaxed pace, with my kids leading the way. But, whew, it sure is wonderful. And on December 23rd, I will be in my own bed, with my husband by my side.
This article first appeared in the December issue of the Glebe Report.
How do you deal with Christmas stress? Is it getting better or worse? Please leave your comments in the reply box below.