To Wonderful, or Not to Wonderful

blogxmisfitxtoysStuff I don’t like about Christmas:

Conspicuous consumption at a time of year when many families are dealing with seasonal layoffs, high heating bills, childcare challenges, and the stress of holiday expectations.

Mall muzak. If I hear about grandma and that reindeer one more time…

The tsunami of sugar. I’m susceptible to sweets, and they are EVERYWHERE, and most of them have the audacity to be scrumptious.

blogxgingerbreadxhousePresents. I’m getting better about this, but receiving gifts is awkward for me, and I always worry that what I’ve gotten somebody isn’t right for them. I’m also haunted by that situation where somebody shows up with a gift for me, but I didn’t get them anything. Yikes!

Foster care meltdowns. The week between Christmas and New Year’s, foster kids fall apart, foster parents fall apart, even foster care social workers fall apart. The judges who have to hear the emergencies that week are often none too cheery, and who can blame them?

blogxthexmallDomestic violence. Christmas Eve is the second most domestically violent night of the year (after Superbowl Sunday in the city that wins). Combine financial stress, fatigue, high expectations, wassail, and for too many families, holiday punch takes on a miserable meaning.

Holiday shopping. Thanks be to the Almighty for websites, because the Mall is a non-starter.

blogxnewxfallenxsnowI’ll stop there, because there’s another side to the balance sheet. The winter holidays are also one of my favorite times of year, because…

Days and days of solitude and unstructured time. I get more writing done, more joyously, over the Christmas holidays than in any other two weeks of the year.

The theme of the great hope coming from humble, even unrecognizable beginnings, restores my perspective. Solutions to problems, conflicts, and miseries have germinated that we can’t yet see, but they’re coming our way, nonetheless.

blogxcandleFresh snow. Now there’s a metaphor to warm an author’s heart.

It’s a good time of year to be a stranger, no matter if you dress funny, ride a strange camel, or got stuck with a name like Belshazzar, Melchior or Caspar. The outcast, the extra guest, the uninvited visitor all get a place near the hearth ’cause CHRISTMAS.

Angels. I think of angels in terms of positive intentions, classic holiday tales, goodwill toward everybody, great memories, and other gratuitous goodness, but for other people, an angel is a handsome winged dude in a white bathrobe. Whatever your concept of free-form goodness is, it’s often in the air this time of year.

blogxtoysxwelcomeSo the holidays are a mixture for me, of the sublime and the challenging. I accept the challenges, while trying to focus on the sublime. What about you? How does the approach of the holidays sit with you? Do you look forward to them? Dread them? A little bit of both?

To one commenter, I’ll send an audio version of Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight.






Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

16 comments on “To Wonderful, or Not to Wonderful

  1. I love Christmas. I just can’t help myself. I do have some bad memories. You can’t have an alcoholic father and not have some bad memories. But I have soooo many good memories that there is just no room for the bad ones. Maybe it’s just how I look at life. I focus on the positive.

    And there is so much to be positive about. In spite of the gross commercialism. In spite of the Christmas music that starts even before Halloween now. I just do my best to ignore both of those things. I focus on the holiness of the season and the magic of Santa Claus is still in my seventy-two year old heart.

    I love that the family still gets together on Christmas Eve. I love the silly Rob Your Neighbor game that we play each year. For many year I hosted the Christmas Eve get together. I was ready to give it up when I turned sixty, but the “kids” who were then in their forties wouldn’t hear of it. Finally, one of my nieces took it over.

    I love all of the Christmas novellas that I read this time of year. Just finished you VIRTUES OF CHRISTMAS by the way. Loved it.

    • Mary, sounds like your family does a great job of doing Christmas, and you do a great job of focusing on what’s positive. My Christmas memories are largely good–no school!–and for a few years, my older siblings would come home at Christmas. That was wonderful, while it lasted.

  2. I have the Christmas Spirit this year!
    Yesterday, I decorated the tree and took two of the corgis to visit Santa. Looking at the ornaments brings back so many good memories! Molly and Celeste had fun sitting with Santa and over $400 was raised for a local animal shelter! I took an ornament from the giving tree at work this year- a first for me. I am working full time and my husband is working part time so why not help out?

    The holiday season has stressed me out in the past. Last year was a blur as I worked two jobs and tried to make it all work out. Eight years ago , when my husband was laid off was horrible. No red and green or Christmas carols here. Happy memories and the corgis get me through the tough times.

    My outlook on the holiday season has changed — we cut back on gift giving when my husband lost his job. It’s less stressful to take the gift giving/ money spending out of the equation. Then you can focus on what is important.

    It’s the holiday and the spirit of the holiday that’s important to me!

    • I was laid off twice, once shortly after my daughter was born and just after I’d bought my first house. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but I also think if more people went through that experience, we might have less of a gap in perspective between certain groups. I learned who really and truly had my back, and how little I needed to get by on in the short term.
      My holidays became very simple when my daughter moved out, and very peaceful. My best writing time is over the next eight weeks, and that is a huge gift right there.

  3. I am a professional church musician, or was, for many years. Yep, I’m a choral conductor but this year, I don’t have a gig. If I have a regular church gig, there would be no question that I would be busy. But not this year. I have not been hired as a soprano *ringer* for special music and my chamber choir isn’t engaged to do a corporate party and I’m not conducting a DIY Messiah. And I’m happier about it than I would have been in years past.

    I can do all those things I’ve wanted to do around Christmas like update my Christmas card list address labels and bake. I am going to lunch with two of my best friends (one from high school and one from grad school)downtown in a few days, something I’d never be able to take time to do if I had paying gigs. I’ve just finished wallpapering our powder room (something I would have done AFTER Christmas in years past)because it needed to be freshened up and I had time. I like the idea of the House being prepared for the coming of the Christ (Prepare Ye the way of the Lord) and this was my way of beginning it for my family.

    The whole *food thing* is a double edged sword for me. I have decided this year to splurge ONLY on treats which mean something to me. Those pecan crescent cookies (my Grandmas D & G both made them and so did Hubby’s Grandma A)are fair game as well as a cranberry upside down cake I’ve been making since I was first married. Other treats I might have a nibble or two but if it’s not meaningful to me, no more than a nibble. No Rum Balls because they’ve never been in my past!

    I think everyone gets swooped up with the general excitement of the masses (and media) and forget what the whole Christmas season is about. If religion is not your thing, its still about family and peace. And don’t we need a little Peace, this year especially?

    • I’ve done a few Christmas gigs, as either a Soprano 2 or accompanist, and it really does put a different, and not rosy, spin on the season. Then there’s “who signed us up to sing at the nursing home?” gig, and the “we’ll perform at the Mall for free” gig, and on and on it goes.

      I’m glad you’re getting a year to have Christmas on your terms, and will keep your notion of meaningful goodies in mind. A long time ago, I came across the idea that when we create something, a little bit of who we are at the time gets into it, and that goes for preparing food, too. What IS it with rum balls, anyway?

      • Rum balls are yummy and fattening. I am addicted and can’t stop eating them if they sit in front of me. I once ate a whole container, without thinking, one year. The person who makes them work for Hubby and gives them to us every year. I decided, if I’m going to gain weight for eating a goodie, it’s got to mean something to me! Hubby can indulge and I can avoid.

  4. Grace. I love your honesty and sensitivity which shines through in all your books. What I love about Christmas is the sensation of a quiet excitement that stirs me, the memories of long ago Christmas as a child and the challenge of getting just the right gift for each of those friends or family. I also like the glitter of ribbon and paper (although not particularly the actual wrapping part of it)
    The tree which has now shrunk to a pair of two and a half feet bedecked little ones, covered with anything from ornaments and lights to those glittery Champagne style earring in red crystal which look slightly garish and not age appropriate any longer.

    My pet peeves about the season are similar, the constant repetition of some of the most trite and silly music ever to be penned. Being retired I can at least skip the weekends of hot, overcrowded malls most of the time for the comfort of online shopping. The faux religious sentiments that seem to worry about words and never the people who are lonely and suffering.

    This year perhaps a chance to escape just for a moment the horror of entering a new world with a thin skinned, infantile, loose cannon narcissist at the helm of a deeply divided country. A wish that somehow people would realize the danger not just to the world of this man, but also to the endorsement of meaness and intolerance
    which rather makes a mockery of peace on earth by many of the very people who claim to be Christian.

    Its a new world, so I will cherish the last days of this year and shut out what the new year brings

    • Oh, Bertha… tell us how you really feel? I’m sure you were being polite, too. These are trying times, but what has struck me is how much we’re ALL worn out from the election, we’re all wishing things could settle down, we’re all tired of being yelled at by the people who don’t agree with us.

      I have faith in the fundamental resilience and ingenuity of the American people. We’re the gene pool who was willing to face the wilderness, the unknown, perilous travel, and a culture unlike any on earth to be able to realize our full potential or at least give it a good shot.

      We’ll get through this.

      And on the days when it feels like we might not, there are romance novels.

  5. Like you, I have mixed feelings about this time of year. We spend each Christmas hauling two kids, presents, and luggage on a cross-country trek to spend the holidays with my husband’s family. My kids enjoy the time with family, although extended visits test my resolve to keep an even temper around my in-laws. Every year, I wish that we could stay home and enjoy a quiet holiday at home, but the guilt trips from family members always make me concede.

    I dislike the fervor around “the war on Christmas” every year and the faux-religious sentiments from people who don’t espouse a true Christian attitude any other time of year.

    I dislike lying to kids about Santa and the elf on the shelf, but, luckily, I have two very reasonable, practical kids who figured it all out on their own.

    But, like you, I also enjoy the times that I see goodness and kindness in the world. I enjoy spoiling my loved ones. I love a good weekend snow storm. And let’s not forget egg nog lattes…

  6. For decades winter meant being sick, from Halloween to Easter, while still trying to keep up with the holiday expectations; and that’s a solid recipe for becoming a Scrooge about all of it.
    Reading your Christmas books, starting with Sophie’s tale, planted a seed in my brain to make efforts to acknowledge the season, participate in ways I want to and can, not by someone else’s standard. That perceptual shift has made the past three or four winters more enjoyable, even when I’ve done the ridiculously sick gig. No traditions or must-do items; gifts, cards, decorations, meals, and baking all don’t happen every year, but some do…which is more than none and I end up feeling grateful, included and decidedly un-Scrooge-like.
    The one tradition I do have is listening to my 2 CD set of Sir Patrick Stewart’s A Christmas Carol, at night by the fireplace with the lights out. Sick or healthy I can do that…and it is an amazing rendition.

    Thanks for instigating a positive shift, and the hours of comfort, particularly among the Windham family.

  7. I think expectations get too high at this time of year, and it leads to disappointment. I want to try my best to keep it doable – homemade cookies, and put the tree up, otherwise little decorating. Less emphasis on gifts.

    It’s not as if I still don’t have to work full time. I’m sending money to relatives with small children, and have requested gift lists from people under my roof, and the grands. I want to attend church events and listen to their live music, and watch a nativity play.

    I hope you enjoy the Christmas season.

  8. I confess I love Christmas. I love getting folks gifts and baking. I have two people close to me who hate Christmas, so I have to be careful. Last year, I made a batch of cookies and brought them to work, I didn’t put name tags on them, I just handed them out to people I saw and said “Merry Christmas”. One gentleman was blown away. I thought I did good. Unbeknownst to me he got fired in January, so he really needed a bit of cheer.

  9. You are right. Receiving is more difficult than giving. Giving the wrong thing is also horrible, most horrible. However, the opportunity/necessity of focussing on what my nearest and dearest might like or need is very good for me.

    And I love most Christmas music from Bach’s Christmas gig to that silly thing about the reindeer. (I don’t like the one about chestnut’s on the open fire.).

    Most Muzak is nerve wracking after awhile, especially on a 2 hour loop for a month when you’re working retail.

    I also have stories I read every year, including Rumer Godden’s “Holly and Ivy.”

    So, yes, it’s a mix. I’ll try to remember “joy and sorrow interwoven, love in all I see.”

  10. For me, this is the season of relief. I announced years ago that I would not be doing gift giving. It took a huge financial burden off my already overstretched income. I have no living family, so I’m not depriving anyone.

    Now I’m free to refresh my spirit, avoid all shopping except for food, dial back all the frenzy, and provide a serene haven in the madness for my friends to decompress as needed. Without the constant barrage of rest of the year interruptions, I get a lot done. And there are still the simple pleasures of piling into the car with my friends and insulated cups of cocoa to cruise the light displays while listening to a local radio station’s seasonal music marathon.