I'm dreaming of a low-key Christmas.
Just like the ones I never had.
One Christmas when my children were young and my then-husband had worked them into a let's-see-who-has-the-most-presents-under-the-tree-frenzy I committed what I still think of as a parenting mortal sin. I looked them straight in the eye and broke the news that Santa would not be coming. He'd had a heart attack and wasn't expected to live. I didn't say the elves had gone on strike, or Mrs. Clause wanted a tropical vacation. Nope, I said with more than a bit of glee, "Santa's heart has stopped working." In my defense, that was the Christmas I'd hosted two holiday parties, attended two others, helped first graders make gingerbread houses, and tried to keep the number of beautifully wrapped gifts even steven. I didn't have the time or energy to help Santa too. If ever I needed a low-key Christmas that was the year.
For all my talk about down-sizing Christmas, I have yet to make it happen. Instead I complain a lot, which is about as unmerry as one can get. This year, like so many years before, I announced over the Thanksgiving turkey, things were going to be different.
"Yeh, Yeh," nodded my family as they inhaled gravy smothered potatoes.
Even I was a little surprised when my annual prophecy came true. But not because of anything I did. This year, I got sick. Some killer virus knocked me to the ground. Even when I stopped coughing and sneezing, my energy level could be measured just below the red line on one of those strong man meters at a carnival. You know the one where you hit a board with an oversized sledge hammer and it sends some kind of indicator up to ring a bell. For a few days, I was sick enough to think I'd been hit with a sledge hammer.
Suddenly low key Christmas took on new meaning. Early on I realized I was going to have to tell my inner Martha Stewart to get lost. If I survived until Christmas it would be due to antibiotics, sleep and following the advice given in magazine articles and blog posts on how to have a stress free holiday - do what you can and let the rest go. I had no choice. I didn't have enough energy to feel stressed. Instead of shopping and baking and sending cards, I sat in my grandmother's recliner and watched Christmas movies on the Lifetime channel. No matter the problem at the beginning of the show everything turned out all right by the end. By all right, I mean the house was decorated from top to bottom with twinkling lights, packages were wrapped and neatly placed put under the tree, the kitchen smelled of cinnamon and nutmeg and glistened like the Bethlehem star, costumes for the school play did not look homemade. In just two hours (minus the repeated commercials for Charmin toilet paper and Dance Moms) misbehaving hooligans became Christmas angels, while love was kindled, or rekindled, between a man and a woman who didn't look at all harried when they kissed under the mistletoe. Part delirium, part fantasy, I convinced myself the same would take place in my home, with no intervention on my part. As December 25th approached, however, and no miracles were in sight, I realized if Christmas was going to happen, it would need to be quick, easy, and low-key.
A low-key Christmas starts with the idea. Like the chorus from Whoville the Grinch thought he'd silenced, it takes awhile for the idea to pierce through the standards of Christmas past. Then I had to accept the fact that only so much could possibly be accomplished. I knew I couldn't manage all the things I'd done before. If someone else didn't do it, it flat out wasn't going to get done. My Sweetie was a willing partner. He'd do what I asked or forgo the traditional fare, my call. That meant I had let go of any guilt feelings, and words like, "my way." By Christmas eve, as we sang Silent Night in a candlelit sanctuary, I could feel the miracle that Christmas is meant to be. A newborn baby, lying in a cattle trough. No tree wrapped in tinsel, no gingerbread cookies, no XBox or remote control car. Just weary parents looking at their baby the way all new parents do, with hopes and dreams for a peaceful world. Talk about low-key. Okay, the angels and magi jazzed it up a bit, but what's a miracle without a little jazz?
At home, by the twinkling lights on my $10.00 tree, I read a note from my daughter tucked inside her Christmas care. "We did it, Mamacita, we had a low key Christmas." I think we may be on to something, preferrably without the virus to ensure it happens.
Here's what my low-key Christmas looked like:
- Seeing the look of wonder on children's faces as they sit on Santa's, aka Sweetie, lap.
- Sharing blessings with strangers on the street, and a child's drawing of the peace symbol.
- The smile on Bella's face when she saw me for the first time in two weeks, and dancing to Christmas carols with Sweet Caroline.
- Seeing 25 foster kids get a home for Christmas
- Letting Sweetie vacuum to his heart's content and not saying anything about the new living room arrangement.
- Giving up deadlines.
- Laughing and crying and laughing some more with my Chat Noir buds, aka "belly-dancing, wine-drinking, writer chicks."
- A picture and story of "My Dog Pop" by Eden Rewa
- Gift cards could be stuffed in stockings eliminating the need for ribbons and bows.
- Buying Pepperidge Farm ginger cookies eliminating the work of home baked and decorated gingerbread men.
- Cranberry and cinnamon candles make the house smell good.
- Buying the roast and letting your sister cook it.
- Passing up the Christmas tree lots advertising six-foot trees for $39.99 all month, then, in a burst of holiday spirit picking up a four-foot beauty for only ten dollars.
- Leaving all the pine needles in the car to give it a woodsy smell you can't get out of a Glade room freshener.
- Driving through a light-filled neighborhood (and feeling grateful that it wasn't mine)
- A simple garland of photo greeting cards
- Decorating the tree with two strands of lights, glass ornaments that have lost their their luster but sparkle with memories, and figuring out how to make the angel sit atop a tree without the benefit of a branch.
- Being okay with the cat knocking low-hanging ornaments off tree faster than I put them on, and an antlered dogs chasing the cat.
- Leaving a $20 tip on a $20 bill.
- A feeling of peaceful surrender
- Sweetie, aka Santa, who normally doesn't like to be photographed smile again and again so moms and grandmoms can get the perfect picture
- Not freaking out when my computer appeared to have a power cord malfunction and taking a full week to finish this blog post.
- The ulitmate low-key Christmas gift - movie tickets
- Listening to Sweetie record "The Night Before Christmas" for Amy
- Being a part of someone else's surprise
- A man and his dog
- Sitting with my own personal Santa, aka Sweetie, looking at the tree and feeling like we belong in a Lifetime movie.