No Need to Panic… Christmas Can Happen Without Me

Posted by dianne on Dec 10, 2010 in Blog | | 1 comment

Even though the Christmas decorations were in the stores waaay too early this year, as usual; I no longer start to panic the way I did in years past.

Beginning in her 50’s my mother began saying that she and all her contemporaries had become “Generals with no armies.” She said it a lot, and I didn’t pay too much attention. But as is often the case with “mom-wisdom,” it means more now.

Fifty-something moms are accustomed to leading the troops, planning the maneuvers, taking responsibility for those in their command. Once their troops have grown up, gone off to college, married, moved to an apartment or simply mutinied; the general can stumble around rattling her saber but it’s a pretty empty gesture.

What does all this have to do with Christmas? Well, I was the Christmas general of my family. The first of my siblings acquire a spouse, a house and offspring – an army if you will – I became the Holiday Hostess. It really was easier that way. We didn’t have to drag highchairs, playpens, and the bazillion other baby necessities to other houses.

Add to this the fact that I am a plan-ahead list-maker and my husband is a go-with-the-flow Christmas Eve shopper, it is easy to see why I took over all the planning and maneuvering involved in celebrating Christmas.

For years I made lists, planned the budget, did the shopping, hiding, wrapping, decorating, baking, cooking, entertaining. I planned and shopped for the Christmas outfits the children would wear to holiday festivities and school and church programs. I addressed the cards, and arranged for the family photos to enclose.

Not wanting to focus only on the secular celebration, I made sure we lit advent candles, prayed and sang advent songs preparing for the holy day. We planned works of charity, and shopped for needy.

Then there was the balancing act of making sure I had spent the same amount of money on each of the kids, and that they each had the same number of packages to open. And I had all that angst about “Is it enough? Is it too much? Am I spoiling the kids? Are they getting as much as their friends? Am I being too materialistic?” I was driving myself crazy, but I couldn’t stop.

Two decades later I still felt compelled to do it all, in spite of the fact that our family had grown to include in-laws, nieces and nephews, in spite of the fact that my siblings and their gracious spouses had hosted delightful holiday celebrations. Years of practice convinced me that if I didn’t perfectly execute an every-growing list of holiday-related tasks, Christmas wouldn’t happen. After all, I AM THE MOM.

Then, it happened: Christmas 2006. I just didn’t feel the holiday mood. Our youngest, Kit, was a senior in college. She wouldn’t be home until a few days before Christmas. Our older daughter, Eva, and our son, Sam, were busy with their careers and their own lives. They too would be arriving home a day or two before Christmas.

When the kids were young, we all put the tree up together a couple of weeks before Christmas. Later, there were a few times, Phil and I did it together, a few times I did it alone. In 2006, I told Phil, “I just don’t have the Christmas spirit. You’re on your own this time.” Without complaint Phil put up the tree, and it looked just fine!

Little by little as the children became adults, I finally gave up compulsively counting packages and pennies. I still have a budget for Christmas shopping that allots the same amount to each of the family members, but I no longer compare the stacks of presents. I try to choose something that is meaningful to each. So one small step at a time I began relinquishing control of the holiday.

Finally in 2007, I figured it out. I had finally dialed down my expectations of myself for Christmas. As I observed my family preparing for Christmas, I finally realized – they were making Christmas Happen.

From the kitchen, I could hear their excitement as they ran upstairs and downstairs, retrieving gift bags, wrapping paper, tape, and bows, carrying presents from cars or bedrooms to the family room to wrap, to the living room to place them under the tree. They had the “White Christmas” video on television, and they were laughing and conspiring to surprise and delight parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and each other.

They arranged that we would all be able to go to church together on Christmas Eve.

It was such a relief to realize that I had passed the baton (or possibly my saber). I no longer have to single-handedly cause holidays to happen. I’m still THE MOM, but I no longer have to be the Christmas general. I can no more make the holiday happen than the Grinch can prevent it. It seems that Christmas is bigger than the Grinch, bigger than the Christmas general, and even bigger than THE MOM.

Originally published on the 50-Something Moms Blog.

One Response to No Need to Panic… Christmas Can Happen Without Me

  1. Celeste says:

    Dianne, you're giving me permission to tell my husband he can do our holiday letter this year. Thanks!