Around the holidays, Mommy's to-do list goes from a mile long to two thousand miles long jacked up on caffeine and candy canes. There is so much we want to do; so much we "have to" do, and so much our family will miss out on if we don't do it.
We are all so inoculated at this point with Christmas commercialism that we're almost immune to it. Or at least, we think we are. It's just when we think we've beat the system that it finds it's way again under our skin.
The sector of society this hits hardest is women. Throughout the entire holiday season, from October through December 25th, we are bombarded with images of perfect, magical Christmases that ad upon ad implores us to replicate in our own homes for our own families. The subliminal messaging is: you need to create this for your family. You need to make this happen.
If Mommy doesn't bake homemade Christmas cookies, no one will. If Mommy doesn't decorate the house, Christmastime will feel like just another ordinary day of the week, and who are we to betray our children's confidence and not make that happen?
Why are we as a society putting so much burden on the women of our households to stress themselves sick over the decorating, the baking, the gift shopping, the gift wrapping, the Christmas card sending!! The tradition of giving Christmas cards is slowly being replaced with the instant gratification of text messaging, email, and Facebook, but it isn't completely obsolete yet. Many women still feel obligated to design photo cards or purchase beautiful cards and write out the same "Merry
Christmas with love from the Mojicas xo" 50 times on 50 cards year after year after year. The only positive thing I see about this tedious tradition is that it forces me to update my address book, although with the majority of my friends being Army wives like myself, that task in itself is a chore.
Much can be said on the subject of Christmas cards. This year, for example, my mother has been sick and chose to skip a year of card writing in favor of visiting with old friends and baking a batch of cookies, but skipping this year means that she cannot skip next year, according to her brother, who believes that if you skip Christmas cards two years in a row, you will be removed from your sendees' card lists! I had to think about this for a minute, because at first I wanted to protest, but then I realized that he's right. Old friends of mine who I used to exchange Christmas cards with, I no longer do. If they had continued to send me cards, I would have sent cards back, but because they stopped sending, I stopped sending. And because my mother is skipping this year, she feels she does not deserve to receive cards unreciprocated. She says, "I feel guilty with every Christmas card I get. I am exhausted and it becomes a chore, to check off a list."
At this point of course my father starts caroling "...with every Christmas card I get!..."
So it's true that Christmas cards are an object of mutual exchange, and they can be wonderfully fun to make, send, and receive, however it's the point at which one feels obligated to accomplish them, the year they feel like a chore instead of a joyful holiday activity, that we ought, perhaps, to stop doing them.
I will attribute much of the inspiration for writing this article to my husband. My husband is one of those life-rebels who fiercely protests all feelings of obligation throughout the year. During Christmastime obligation hangs ripe in the air like the pungent aroma of fresh mistletoe, so of course during this time more than ever his grumbles get louder. Part of this is his frugality. He hates to spend money, especially on gifts given not out of a deep love and desire to give, but out of obligation. To him it is obvious that this is a supreme waste of money, and after years of
marital bliss harmonizing,
I have to agree with him.
I have to ask myself, when I'm out shopping alone on Christmas Eve instead of drinking mulled wine and watching an old Christmas movies marathon with my family at home, seriously why the hell am I here and is this really what I should be doing? At some moment every day of our lives we forget what the point is. What's the point? The point of life; the point of everything. Happiness. Mine. My families. (Hopefully they complement one another or I'm probably doing this family thing wrong). But you know. Happiness. Christmas happiness. Every day happiness.
Ever since I was a child old enough to collect coins in a piggy bank I have felt this familiar gift-giving pressure like a literal heaviness peeling my hard-earned pennies out of my palms. If this guilt affects even our children, should we really be perpetuating it amongst ourselves?
A good, old friend of mine once told me that instead of looking at birthday and holiday gift-giving as obligatory, I ought to look at it as an opportunity to remember and honor the loved one I am bestowing the gift(s) upon. This works for me. I can handle the pressure and the obligation if I do it in the name of love. However there is still something that bothers me at a bone-deep level, when I see my mother run-down with winter sickness and on top of that guilt over - what? – not having done Christmas cards? Then the commercials come on for all the big-box stores, with women singing "I've done everything you can see," surrounded by perfect Christmas trees and perfect platters of Christmas cookies with their children in perfect holiday attire while I look over at my little ragamuffins with their uncombed hair in their footie pajamas at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and I feel inadequate. Strangely, I also feel like running out to the store to remedy my failure. I feel that I MUST or else something won't be right with the world and I probably won't be able to sleep at night then I'll double the pressure on myself next December and all my hair will fall out and I'll lose 5 years off my life and PLEASE people. The madness has to stop.
If my husband doesn't receive a gift from me this year, will he feel scorned? Will I be ridden with guilt? No. He will probably kiss me under that pungent ball of obligation and thank me for saving our money instead of buying into commercialism and my own demanding guilt-complex. Perhaps this year, instead of buying him a gift, I'll dedicate this article to him instead.
It's enough. One branch of holly is enough. One batch of cookies. One string of lights. One gift. Coming from someone who lives in a tiny house (330 square feet for four people), let me tell you one of each thing is really, truly enough. Whatever you can do before 8 o'clock at night, that's enough. You are enough.
So let's send Christmas cards this Christmas. Let's give gifts. Let's decorate our houses and our cookies and ourselves in all the festive arraignment that only this season can afford us. But let's not send Christmas cards if we're tired or sick. Let's not give gifts if we can't afford them. Let's not decorate our house because we feel guilty for spending money on all that half-priced merch we picked up after Christmas last year. Let's not, feel obligated. Let's send out the Christmas cheer our pocket books and our health can afford. Let's send out the love in our hearts if that's all we have, and nothing more.
Merry Christmas with love from the Mojicas xo