Happy Hellish Holidays

It’s already November isn’t it? My family is already staring at me with their tongues extended to the floor expecting a marvelous Thanksgiving feast and I haven’t saved nearly enough for Christmas sales, or presents for that matter. Everywhere I go some well-meaning doofus asks me if I’m ready for Thanksgiving. They say it with extra emphasis in the middle and a cheerleader’s gleam in their eyes. I guess I take a slight guilty pleasure in stomping all over their holiday mood with a flat, heavy footed “no.” I’m not ready. And if one more person talks about Black Friday deals I might just call the whole thing off. To make matters worse, I have all these Facebook friends posting each and every day what they are thankful for. Listen – you are appreciative for stuff, I get it, but stop rubbing it in. All you’re doing is making the pessimistic friends you have (like me) feel ungrateful.

I used to love the holidays. As a kid there was nothing better than pigging out on giant brown-sugar crusted hams, dry legs of overcooked turkey, piles of lumpy mashed potatoes doused with lumpier gravy, and my favorite, my grandmother’s deviled eggs. I don’t know how I managed to pack it all in, but I did. There was no clean-up involved, just the haze of Nat King Cole singing while adults got drunk in the dining room and I belched from my camel-hump stomach. Christmas was simply a Thanksgiving part two, with presents. I had no inkling of the amount of saving, planning, inquiring, list-making, line-waiting, wrapping, shipping, praying and crying the holidays involved. In my under twelve-year-old world, Christmas was a beautiful thing.
The stress wasn’t even there when my sons were little – when their tiny faces oozed that glowing faith in Santa Claus, like Ralphie in A Christmas Story who dreamed of his first BB gun. I happily shopped the sales for BPA-loaded plastic toys they could slam together or chew. I loved hiding Santa’s gifts in my closet, and on Christmas Eve bringing them out while my little ones slept. I’d even strung the tree with package upon package of silvery tinsel to make our house look as if St. Nick had really stopped by. A few times, I even typed up a note from the old man himself, addressed to my sons who listened as I read it back to them Christmas morning with open mouths and orbital, believing eyes.

It was fun until they learned to eat fast and talk little – and get more excited about playing in campaign mode on a video game than sitting around the table for a grand feast. It stopped being fun when they turned old enough to know Santa Claus made absolutely no sense and yet, they still expected the same amount of presents. It stopped being fun when they learned to pick the lock on my closet, or when they shut themselves in their rooms after gift giving was over to text their friends.

Now, with two teenagers, more nieces and nephews than I have fingers and toes, and a husband whose birthday is three days before Christmas, I find the whole Thanksgiving to Christmas countdown nothing more than an anxiety sandwich. My sons want gifts that exceed the hundred dollar mark a piece, my husband wants to take a trip, and my cats want a new playhouse to pee on. What if I don’t have enough money for all the gifts? What if I don’t get what everyone likes? What if I screw up Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner like I did fourteen years ago? That mistake resulted in our family avoiding turkey for almost a decade like it was salmonella itself. Then I wonder how I’ll manage to ship the gifts to every deserving distant family member, and while I’m stressing about that – I’ll curse under my breath at how small the rolls of wrapping paper keep getting while their price keeps getting higher. And yes – I even get anxious about having enough wrapping paper variety. No one wants a monochromatic Christmas morning.

The holidays are hell. For every Christmas cookie and Elf watching, there are a hundred stresses that make the festive mood more like an oak-aged fart. For every card that comes in the mail, there’s an hour spent unraveling tangled lights or trying to figure out which one burnt out and ruined the strand. For every remixed Christmas album there’s the sleepless nights spent reworking the bills in your head so you can come up with fifty more dollars to get that thing for a kid you’re not always sure deserves it. No wonder Scrooge was miser. No wonder the Grinch was so grumpy. No wonder good old George Bailey was ready to jump from the bridge and no wonder little Susan Walker’s mom Doris tried to say there was no such thing as Santa. The holidays put a cheerful, chapped-lip, cold-nosed cloud over the stark reality that celebrating and spending so much time and money is really – freaking – hard.

And yet – I’ll still do it. And so will you. We’re masochists aren’t we? I mean, what else could it be? I’ll throw down some Betty Crocker with the best of them, and my kids will tell you I still have the best hot cocoa in town. I’ll roast the turkey, and spend twelve hours in a hot kitchen so we can sit around the table and binge for fifteen minutes before crawling back to our respective corners. I’ll convince my husband get up at one a.m. with me to stand in line and buy things that are the same price a week later. Then I’ll beg him to sell something or take out a loan so we can give the kids everything we didn’t yet buy. I’ll sprout new grays and yet still feel like a little girl when I wake up and see the tree glimmering like a hooker in Paris. That’s what we do. That’s what I do. It’s hell – but isn’t that where all the fun is anyway?