Sunday, January 2, 2011

Deconstructing Christmas

I am what you might call a Holiday Whore (Wholiday Whore? Holiday Hore?).

As the end of September starts rolling around, my fingers get itchy for pumpkin carving... and pumpkin lattes, pumpkin pie, decorating with pumpkins, visiting pumpkin patches, etc. And while Thanksgiving is wonderful and has it's special place in my heart, the second the dishes are cleared from turkey dinner, I'm ready to rush out and buy a (2ft tall) Christmas tree, and crank up the carols. The baking, the shopping, the wrapping, the family chaos-- all of it-- warms my heart and puts a smile on my chocolate smeared face.

And yet, it seems that sometime around Christmas morning, that chocolaty smile turns tear-stained as I crash & burn into a pile of presents and family obligations.

I am beginning to realize that not everyone does Christmas the way that our family does Christmas. To many of my friends, Christmas looks like lounging around in sweats after the orgy of presents, and having Grandma over for honey baked ham later that night. For me, Christmas has always meant running relays across Southern California: cookie decorating contests, a giant party with 100 of my closest Guatemalan relatives, church at 10pm, presents with the in-laws, breakfast with Dad, dinner with Mom, and all the while a house full of out-of-state relatives strewn on every piece of furniture.

Now, let me re-iterate: I am CRAZY about Christmas. I love decorating cookies. I love buying presents. I love Christmas breakfast... and Christmas dinner... and Christmas Eve dinner... and Christmas Eve breakfast... but I also can't deny that somewhere in the mess of all that Christmas revelry, I have a complete melt down. And poor Chris usually ends up sitting on the floor next to me, trying to help pull it together so I can make it to the next family celebration (and the next, and the next).

But this year, as I was nursing Nolan to sleep in a forced moment of quiet reflection, I started to wonder how much of Christmas was simply celebrating Christmas, and how much was celebrating the coming of my Messiah. What is the relationship between a gingerbread man, or a Christmas tree, or the sweater I bought for my Mom and Jesus' birth? I don't mean that in a critical or judgmental way-- I really wanted to know.

When I got married, I questioned every tradition. What is the meaning behind a veil, or throwing the bouquet, or a wedding cake (wait, scratch that last one. You never need a reason for cake)? The traditions I liked, I kept-- and those that didn't seem to mean much to me, I tossed out.

Now, I realize that with Christmas, no man is an island. If I were to decide to boycott Christmas in order to practice spirituality, it would affect the rest of my family's Christmas celebrations, since each of them involve spending time together as a family. I don't want to be the pious humbug praying in the other room while everyone else decorates cookies or opens presents. And I also don't want to tell my extended family (most of whom are not "religious") that they have to change their traditions.

So what's a girl to do? Stay in San Francisco to celebrate my own way? Not when we have a conference in San Diego every year right after Christmas. Or is there some way to still be a part of the festivities, but scale back a bit?

The great thing about traditions is not necessarily the tradition itself, but the why behind it. I have started wondering if I asked myself "Why?" with every Christmas tradition, perhaps it would help me sort through the ones that were worth keeping, and the ones that simply brought clutter.

I would love, as well, to make my own family traditions of talking through why we are celebrating the way we do: "We are getting a Christmas tree right now because..." (I actually had to look that one up! It's a pretty great tradition that I've never really thought about!), or "We are opening presents right now because...", or "I am eating my weight in cookies right now because..."

I had thought that reclaiming Christmas might take a total overhaul, or that I might have to fast from Christmas for a few years just to purge all the excess from my system and start from scratch. But as I think through it, I wonder if Christmas just needs a little deconstructing-- examining each of the individual building blocks to decide what fits & what is just adding weight (literally & figuratively).

I realize this sounds like a simple Jesus is the Reason for the Season pin, or any number of Made for TV Holiday Specials where everyone discovers "the real meaning of Christmas". I also realize that by mid-January, no one wants to hear another speech on what Christmas is all about. But I have noticed that all the commercials about New Year's resolutions & hitting the gym come from a bloated feeling of regret that we feel not only in the fit of our jeans, but somewhere in our souls.

So maybe I'll leave a little post-it note with my Christmas decorations to remind myself next year that it's time to deconstruct the Holidays.

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