Approaching Christmas

“Are you ready for Christmas?” the clerk asked as he passed my assorted groceries over the scanner. It was a perfunctory question, asked merely to fill the quiet of these few minutes while we stood facing each other over a transaction. He had no time to be interested in my answer; the line behind me stretched long. It was okay. I had not time to give a full answer. My To-Do list pulled me forward into the rest of the day.
“No.” I said with a brief smile as I swiped my card. Papers exchanged, I pushed my full cart from the store.

I used to be the person who bought all her Christmas presents before Thanksgiving. The tree was up and gifts under it during the first week of December. I planned it all carefully, balancing to make sure each child would be delighted. I made sure that Christmas came to a perfectly orchestrated climax on the appointed day. The day itself was a work of art with times of excitement punctuated by good meals and pauses. I loved doing it and the process made me happy. Mostly. I stopped being that uber-organized Christmas planner because of a spectacular Christmas Day emotional crash. I’d created the perfect day and in the process completely obliterated my own experience of it. I arrived at five pm so exhausted that I could not believe it had been a good day for anyone. The Christmas process which had functioned so well when I was the mother of toddlers with lots of hands-busy-brain-free time fell apart when applied by a working mother with a mix of teenage and grade school kids. I had to change my approach to the holiday.

To approach, as a verb, means to draw near to something. An approach, as a noun, is the entryway into something else; like the front walk to a house. I had been hitting the holiday season with a huge list of things to get done before Christmas. When they were done, I could enjoy the holiday. When I switched it around in my head, I realized that all of my preparations needed to be treated as a noun, not a verb. Any architect or real estate agent can tell you that the approach to a building has a huge effect upon the people who enter it. It sets expectations for everything which will come after. All of December is an approach to Christmas. The tree decorating, shopping, gift wrapping, and concert attending are not just the overture, they are a part of the performance. When I pause to savor the doing of these things, I discover which ones I enjoy doing for their own sake, and which should probably be evicted from my holiday traditions. When Christmas day arrives, it becomes part of a larger event rather than the sole receptacle of all our expectations.

So, no, I am not ready for Christmas. I’m in the middle of it, still with a huge list of things To-Do. I am harried and hurried. I’m often overwhelmed by the things which I need to accomplish in order to not disappoint people around me. I ship packages to worried customers who need the contents for Christmas gifts. I attend school concerts and make treats for class parties. I realize that in all my shipping, I still need to acquire and send gifts to my own friends and relatives. It is a crazy, awkward approach to the holiday. And yet sometimes I watch my fingers as they carefully tape down wrapping paper. Then I know that this small act is part of the gift. I (finally) open the box containing our nativity set and look closely at the porcelain baby Jesus’ face. I light the advent candle and pause a moment to watch smoke curl off the match after I shake it out. These are all pieces of the holiday. I get half a dozen tiny moments like that in a day and I know that Christmas is all it should be.