I blame it on the seasonal advertising of luxury cars, coffee, grocery and jewelry stores. They paint the holidays with such strokes of happiness and magic, it is impossible to live up to such perfection.
The tree is always magnificently lit and not one needle has hit the floor. A light snow is always falling outside as well-behaved children make perfectly shaped Santa and snowmen sugar cookies for their grandpas without even creating a mess or caring if they get presents from Santa. The turkey is moist and golden and ready to be cut and placed on the exquisitely set table.
Women wake up on Christmas morning with perfect hair and make-up and like they might be about to go horseback riding or cheering on a rousing game of touch football between teams of male models in the backyard. Husbands are gracefully draping diamond necklaces around their wives’ necks at 3 a.m. College kids are coming home from school and acting like they actually want to see their parents more than their friends — even bringing them coffee. “Oh Peter, you’re home!” Entire families dressed in cashmere sweaters are always together and smiling and laughing and everyone’s life is perfect.
But in reality, the tree is balding and the kids and/or cat and/or dog have “rearranged” the lights and/or ornaments a dozen times at this point. Snow? Around here? Please. We are more likely to be hit by a tornado. Oh wait.
The cookies always turn out to look more like red and green sugar-coated amoebas and parameciums rather than Santa and Frosty. The turkey is dry. Moms wake up looking like strung-out junkies with bedhead wearing 10-year-old tattered flannel pajamas who desperately need a cup of Peter’s coffee, but he is still asleep because he stayed out all night long.
Your husband is more likely to hand you any one of the following items than a diamond anything or a Lexus with a big red bow on it: (A) a dirty diaper to throw away (B) a dust pan with a broken ornament swept into it (C) a tiny shirt covered in red and/or green icing (D) his phone so you can tell his mom you will not be coming there for Christmas this year (E) All of the above
No one in your family is wearing cashmere sweaters and some branch of the family tree is definitely not smiling or laughing or happy with you at all because you’ve hurt their feelings so badly once again because you just can’t make it to their holiday gathering because you are already over with that other branch of the family who you ALWAYS spend Christmas with and you care, but you just can’t do anything about it because you are so over-scheduled that your kids aren’t even going to have time to play with their toys and at some point you have to run into work for a bit and then go see a friend who you haven’t seen in years and who is only going to be here for one hour and you have to make three casseroles and a pot of gumbo and find a partridge in a pear tree. Deep breath.
And when you do finally sit down around the table with said family, decades of past hurts and jealousies hover right under the surface and the only thing passed around the table with the dry turkey is the aggression.
And this is if you are lucky. Yep, as exhausting as it all is, I have to remind myself such chaos is a beautiful thing to have in your life — something I absolutely physically craved when I didn’t have it.
We all go through periods in our lives when we are lonelier than others — and that feeling is exacerbated at Christmas.
I remember sitting with my mother in the hospital one Christmas. It would be her last and we both knew it. I remember driving home that night feeling so sad and alone. I didn’t have any siblings; I wasn’t dating anyone; I didn’t have any children and I knew I was about to be without the only parent I had ever had. As I drove past driveway after driveway full of cars, I imagined all of those cashmere-clad families with perfect teeth and hair, drinking eggnog out of punch bowl glasses and talking about raises and football and new houses and babies and other things that seemed nice to talk about. I walked into my empty apartment and felt really sorry for myself, thinking this is just the way Christmas would be from now on. It’s really hard to see beyond our present situation. But one thing is for certain, change always comes.
A few months later, I started dating the man who would become my husband and by the next Christmas I was pregnant with our first child and trying to figure out how to go to all of our family gatherings. It’s crazy what a difference a year makes.
For those of you out there who may be feeling a little lost or alone, just know it can all change on a dime. And it will. I promise.
And for those of you who like me have started to resent just how busy and how much is required of you during this time of year, take a moment to relish in the chaos and think about the alternative. And know the whole holiday isn’t going to be as perfect as a Lexus or Publix ad, but there will be some pretty spectacular moments in between the messy ones.