By Shelley Murphy
I might not be ready for the holidays, but Costco certainly is—it decked its halls with Christmas displays well before we celebrated the first day of fall.
It’s mid-October, but many retailers have already signaled the start of yet another holiday season; and while it may be the most wonderful time of year, it’s also one of the most stressful.
According to a survey by the American Psychiatric Association, 31% of people anticipate being more stressed this holiday season than last year.
I know my seasonal stress is self-inflicted. I am the queen of party planning in my family. I’m the one who decorates, facilitates and translates all our milestones into merriment.
Each December, I work harder than the elves at the North Pole to pull off a near-perfect yuletide season.
Once I became a mom, I went into holiday overdrive. Every October, instead of shopping for costumes and candy, I’d start planning for Santa’s arrival.
When my boys were little, they’d take turns with the Toys “R” Us catalog and use a crayon to circle the toys they hoped to find under the tree Christmas morning.
Then, with said catalog in hand, I’d drive to the ends of the Earth to find their coveted items. Without Amazon or the internet, holiday shopping was a competitive sport. Anyone remember the Tickle Me Elmo craze in 1996? I’m still traumatized.
When my boys were middle school and high school students, I’d often add to the hectic holiday calendar and squeeze in a quick trip. After the presents and parties, we’d take off for a weeklong vacation during their school recess.
Nothing says happy holidays like flight delays, lost luggage and traffic jams.
Fast-forward to when my kids were in college, every December, I’d hang their stockings by the chimney with care, stock the pantry with their favorite festive foods, and use my Advent calendar to count down the days until their return.
At long last, they’d walk through the door—and drop a large laundry bag on the floor before turning and walking out the door to catch up with friends.
I’ve always enjoyed the holiday hoopla, but last year, planning for the holidays felt like climbing Mount Everest—without a Sherpa.
For decades, I’ve painstakingly planned menus and parties to make the season bright. But last year felt different, and I’m putting the blame on the pandemic. After pared-back celebrations, it was a struggle to deliver an old-fashioned Holly Jolly Christmas once again.
As it turns out, I’m not alone. A couple days into the New Year, I ran into my neighbor at the mailbox. I said, “I see you survived the holidays.” She replied that, indeed, she had, but added, “I had no joy.”
We commiserated about the tremendous amount of time and effort it takes to make everyone’s holiday merry and bright. We talked about future holidays plans and the possibility of waving the white flag and surrendering to the holiday stress.
But I still enjoy our seasonal family celebrations, our festive traditions and the many memories they provide.
Although, the thought of skipping Christmas is tempting—I’d avoid shopping in crowded malls, unpacking dusty boxes from the attic, and spending days decorating the house.
What if Christmas came without packages, boxes or bags?
It’s a thought-provoking question, but I don’t think it’s one I’ll be able to answer.
In the end, the days spent toiling in the kitchen baking yuletide favorites, trimming the tree with weathered decorations, and wrapping gifts with colorful bows is still what I want for Christmas.
For me, the holidays, albeit stressful, are still the most wonderful time of the year.
I’m not ready to wave the white flag … yet.
For more than 20 years, Shelley Murphy and her husband have lived in San Clemente, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to Picket Fence Media since 2006.