Holiday High Jinx

Dec 16, 2009 by

By Lisa Campion

“Do we have to do Christmas this year?” my husband asked. He was really serious and fairly whiney about it.  I could relate to his obvious holiday distress, as I have been struggling mightily with finding my “Christmas Spirit” this year.

It’s just felt more like a chore that requires me to spend time and money I don’t have on stuff that is not really in line with my ideals.  Too much money on stuff no one needs.  Too much food that I shouldn’t eat anyways and don’t get me started on too much family.  It all rolls together into an unpleasant hangover waiting to happen. UGH!

Bah Humbug. Just call me Ebenezer Scrooge and hand me the Alka Seltzer.

Usually, I love Christmas but this year there are complications contributing to my bad attitude. My husband has been out of work since March and money is tight.

I don’t think of myself as a materialistic person. (Oh boy!  Ok I am not an INSANELY materialistic person. Not like the steal the coins from the dead person’s eyes in this year’s Scrooge movie.  Sheesh…)   But pulling off a Christmas for four teenagers takes some cash or at least some collateral.  Right now I am pretty psyched to be paying the bills every month, so the additional Christmas expenses had me in a tizzy.

It’s tough when the kids get older. When they were really small they were happy with anything. Little plastic toys would rock their world. When they were really tiny, they were  psyched about just the box and the wrapping paper, never mind what was in it. Legos, Fisher Price, Transformers and tea sets all made Christmas magic. You could pull off an impressive looking Christmas morning for not a lot of dough.  Those were the days!

Now that they are older, they want more expensive things.  They want pricey toys  like mobile phones, computers, gaming systems, MP3 players, actual REAL ponies, motor vehicles, trips to Disney and college educations. Crikey!

Their wish lists this year had me cringing.  I had a long talk with my husband about what we could really do, how much we could really spend and it was a bit sobering. Certainly not in the actual ponies ballpark.

Ok, I cried. I admit it. I was feeling this desperate mom-angst about not being able to make a “good” Christmas for my kids.   Aghhh.  Failure as a mother. And so mad that this stupid recession could ruin something for me and my kids.

But then I started really thinking about it. What is it that I love about Christmas anyway?  Do I even remember any presents from my childhood?  There a few real standouts in my mind, but mostly what I remember about my happy childhood Christmases are how I FELT about it.

My mom loved Christmas too and she made it fun for us by doing stuff. We did craft projects and made ornaments and decorations. She always had on beautiful Holiday music and her homemade (spiked with rum for the grown-ups) eggnog is a family favorite.

We ordered out for pizza on Christmas eve, probably from sheer parental exhaustion, but it was fun. For a couple of years we went through a well remembered phase of wrapping our presents with white shelf paper and then painting on them for decoration. When I was a teenager, I loved how my friends (Mostly Jewish and done with Hanukkah by then.) would come over to my house and we’d all go to the movies in the afternoon.

There was always way too much wonderful food.  (I have a weakness for Godiva Chocolates that stems from my childhood.) And I remember spending time with my totally wacky and fun extended family. Lots of Aunties and Uncles and the cousins who were a blast to play with.  (And still are!)

My revelation was that maybe there are things we can do together to help us feel Christmasy that aren’t about presents. We could be like the Who’s in Whoville who sang for Christmas even after the Grinch stole everything.

I felt hope!  I felt resolve.  It was time for a family meeting.

“A family meeting?  What are you pregnant?” said one of them. ACK! (Nope!)

“No, we just need to talk about Christmas.”  I took a deep breath and prepared myself to feel like the Grinch, out to steal Christmas from all the cute little Who’s.  I explained that it was financially irresponsible to spend money that we don’t have on Christmas and so there was going to be a limit on presents.  It was going to be a light year.

I expected frowns and tears. Or at least heavy complaining. What I got brought tears to my eyes. Not one of them batted an eyelash.

“Don’t worry about presents Mom, we always have what we need,” said one of them. “I know you have been working real hard.”  He is thinking about college and is more into saving money for that, then spending on presents.

“It’s ok mom, it’s nice just to be together, we don’t need presents,” said my 13 year old son. He’s been looking for a job to help out, but it’s hard to find a job at 13.

“I am just glad we can all be together, maybe we can make cookies!” said my food-is-love daughter.   The other daughter chimed in with some of her creative money saving ideas.

Wow.  Just like the Grinch, my heart swelled three sizes in that moment. Here was my Christmas miracle, four sweet, loving kids who truly made my whole holiday season.  We made a list of ideas, wants and needs of things we can do to make it feel like Christmas without spending a lot of cabbage.

“I need everyone to continue to perform admirably,” said my 15 year old, which cracked me up for about 10 minutes. He is a geek, like me. (Star Trek reference.)

What they wanted to do were all the same things that made me feel in love with the season when I was a kid. And here is the same list for you too, since I know I am not the only one in this situation this season.

  • Make cookies
  • Decorate the house
  • Have a holiday dinner with our extended family. (Thanks Auntie Sara, your hospitality was at the top of their list, and your pies!)
  • Have a good tree
  • Play holiday music
  • Play in the snow
  • Make hot cocoa
  • Watch Christmas specials together
  • Drive around and look at Christmas lights
  • Make ornaments and decorations
  • Give to a charity instead of getting presents for ourselves.

This was my husband’s idea.  He found a charity that encourages you to “adopt” a family for the holidays and they provide a wish list of needs. And I am talking needs here, not wants. It has stuff like food, money to turn back on the utilities, blankets, coats and shoes for little kids.

This was my favorite idea. And it melted the final icy straw in my Scrooge heart this year. What made me feel the happiest, the most Christmasy was the thought of giving to a family that is really in need.

I don’t think our pal Ebenezer had four teenagers, but he sure saw a lot of poverty around him.  So do I. When I did some research on local charities, it really saddened me to see how many people are in desperate need right in  my neighborhood and all across the country. Their stories are so sad, heartbreaking really and I felt a surge of gratitude for all that I really DO have, which is a lot.  In my family, no one is sick, we all have food on our tables, a roof over our heads and hope in our hearts. And we all love each like crazy and even mostly get along.

Charity, gratitude and love are the real ingredients for Christmas Spirit!  I felt just like Ebenezer at the end of the story as he runs out into the snow in his jammies to buy the biggest turkey in town for the Cratchetts. God Bless us, everyone!

I know I am not the only person in this situation right now, so maybe you can relate.  How do you pull off the Holidays when money is tight? Are they really about money anyways?  Or can we like, Ebenezer find a deeper meaning to the Holidays through the spirit of giving and love? Where  is your Christmas spirit and what does it move you to do?

I wish you all a joyous holiday season, may you find love in your hearts, warmth on your hearth and a circle of arms to hold you.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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