Processing Christmas


I took my Christmas decorations down yesterday. It happened to be the day of Epiphany, or the twelfth day of Christmas, the day that commemorates the Wise Men (or Three Kings) coming to visit the baby Jesus. In Spain, Epiphany is the day when children receive toys and other gifts from the Three Kings, like how Santa Claus visits children in the US on the eve of Christmas Day.

Some people like to leave their holiday decorations out until after Epiphany, some like to take their decorations down the day after Christmas (unthinkable to me!), and some like to make sure everything is back to normal in the house before the new year strikes. Personally, I always keep my decorations up until New Year’s Day and then I take them down on any convenient day after.

I’m always sad to see our tree go and I especially loved our tree this year. It had a cute bulbous shape, round and heavy at the bottom, almost like a teardrop or squash. (My daughter called it “thiccc” with three C’s. Hah!) It was dangerous to keep in the house at this point, though. For some reason, it never took in much water, even though we had the stump freshly cut before we left the tree lot. By January, it had become so dry and brittle and even turned slightly brownish in spots.

I also became pretty dry and brittle by the end of the holiday season. I started off fresh and excited like I do every year, but I encountered so many changes and challenges this Christmas that I was just exhausted by the end of it and ready to move on, which was odd for me because I normally hate to see all the festivities end and the decorations come down.

One thing I like to do every Christmas is to jot down and keep three lists:

  • A list of the gifts I gave to each person
  • A list of the gifts I received from each person
  • A list of “lessons learned”

I start jotting these lists on my phone and/or in a notebook, then I type them up and save them on my computer, and then I print a copy of each and tape it into my journal. You could stop at the phone or paper notes, of course. I just like to have them in three places so I’m more likely to reencounter them again, plus something about the act of handwriting notes and then typing/formally writing them cements the information into my brain a bit better than using phone notes alone.

The two gift lists are handy from a practical and sentimental viewpoint. They serve as a reminder of what I’ve already purchased for someone so I won’t give the same thing twice, and they act as a little time capsule showing what each of us was interested in this year—so many gifts refer to current favorites in hobbies, movies, books, etc. Over the years, you’ll see your child’s gifts change from toys to things like makeup sets and Victoria’s Secret gift cards…and then, I’ve found, back to a few toys. As a high schooler, my daughter is past the middle-school embarrassment surrounding toys and is interested again in receiving a few toys and enjoying them in a quirky, playful way.

The lessons learned document is especially useful. Every good project management plan calls for the reflection and capture of what went well and what didn’t go so well during the project—and Christmas is definitely a project. I divide my lessons learned list into three categories: The good (what went well this year and what I particularly enjoyed), the bad (what caused some discomfort or friction, or what dampened my enjoyment a little bit), and the ugly (what caused serious stress and pain this year that I need to try to avoid next year).

This Christmas showed me that some traditions need to change, which is a bittersweet thought. We all grow and change over time…and then we start to decline and change over time, especially in regard to our health. My sisters and I, along with our families, always travel out-of-state to my parents’ house for Christmas each year. But my parents are getting older and cannot manage even the basics of all the holiday prep work—and there’s so much cleaning, shopping, planning, cooking, wrapping, and decorating to be done. We arrived to find very little ready to go, and with no prior notice, which triggered an avalanche of work and complicated emotions—anger, sadness, resentment, annoyance. We have also officially outgrown my childhood home—it’s tight squeeze with 9 adults, 3 bedrooms, and 1 bathroom—so we may need to stay in a hotel next year. It’s a sad thought not to wake up at home on Christmas morning, but we also need sufficient rest, space, and privacy to truly enjoy the holidays.

Christmas wasn’t all bad, of course. My sister and I started a new tradition in the vein of Iceland’s Jolabokaflod. We gave each other a new book from our wishlists and spent an entire evening in early December eating delicious snacks and reading by the glow of the Christmas tree. We also enjoy doing little crafts as a family each year—making ornaments or other bits of décor.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and are all rested, refreshed, and inspired for 2020. Happy New Year!

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