I am tempted to over-do things in December both with and for my boys. I'm sure part of it is because my parents always provided us with such an amazing holiday experience. As a parent myself now, I'm sure it wasn't perfect and that we likely drove my parents crazy, but I have hazy, shiny, angels-singing, tinsel-covered memories about Christmas with my family. Another part is because I feel that if I don't keep busy, I'll succumb to the sadness of my loss, and so I keep moving, keep doing. It's exhausting. I wonder what the holidays would be like if I just sat down.
And colored in a coloring book.
Or instead of filling the Advent calendar with 24 family-togetherness activities, we just sat down together and played a game. Or made hot chocolate because we wanted to, not because the piece of paper I stuffed in there that morning said that's what we were supposed to do. Or instead of baking eight kinds of cookies, making them gift-giving perfect, we just baked some messy, favorite cookies. And ate them ourselves.
I'm always torn: Where's the balance between creating traditions and memories and simply doing stuff for the sake of doing stuff? Do we really need to cut out little paper trees and decorate them with glitter paint? Probably not, and there's the possibility that my sons, who once loved that particular Advent activity, are growing out of it. Do we need to drive around and look at Christmas lights one night? Probably not, but my sons finally enjoy this activity after years of enduring it simply because they had to as captive victims in their car seats. Do we need to make ornaments or cut out snowflakes or have a Christmas music dance party or make a gingerbread house? Probably not. Will we do all of those? I still don't know.
I almost didn't hang up our Advent calendar this year -- 24 little handmade envelopes on a string, filled with things to do for 24 days. I wrapped those Christmas books, sloppily, but feeling already overwhelmed by a month of birthdays and birthday parties and 50 cupcakes and two cakes and Thanksgiving and turkey and omg, I was going to forgo the calendar. Sure, it was a tradition but only for three years. Surely it wasn't a big deal.
And then my husband said, "It's almost time to hang the Advent calendar, isn't it?" He had a goofy smile on his face. I tilted my head to look at him, wondering when this thing that I started to do in hopes of fostering a tradition and a family feeling actually worked. I nodded noncommittally, still not 100% sold on the idea this year. I battled internally: My work schedule is hectic this time of year. Friends want to have date nights. There are parties to attend. I couldn't make a decision. So I asked my kids.
"Do you want to do the envelope Advent calendar this year?" I asked over lunch the day we decorated the rest of the house. "Well yeah, Mom. Why wouldn't we?" And off they went, chattering to one another about their favorite things to do on the list and how they couldn't wait to look at the lights and on and on and on.
I sat munching on my own lunch, realizing that my priorities were a bit off. Yes, it does take a little bit of work and planning on my part to come up with 24 activities and make them happen. But is it really so hard to make hot chocolate with peppermint marshmallows? Is it really putting me out to snuggle on the couch and watch a Christmas movie? Is it too much work to bake with them -- if I let go of the need for the cookies to be perfect? Do I need to go to every work Christmas party, every church party, every date night? Wasn't my original intent with this calendar of activities to make sure we were focusing on family during this hectic time of year?
I swallowed my bite slowly, feeling like the Grinch when his heart grew or Charlie Brown when he saw how his friends decorated his little tree. Sometimes the "doing less and loving more" of the holidays means re-prioritizing your time, your other commitments and spending a little more time making holiday traditions and memories with your own kids. I'm glad my husband and kids helped me realize this one before it was too late.
What traditions do you do that help you focus on family during the holiday season? How do you find your balance?