Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Crunch Time

Positive: I got all of my Christmas shopping done, most of it in one fell swoop at Costco, and stayed within budget (I even managed to prevent myself from going too zany on the autogifting); my tree is up and decorated, the decorations boxes stowed back in the attic, and the living and dining rooms reasonably tidy; we finished all the grocery-shopping and even have everything put away where it goes.

Negative: I haven't wrapped any of my presents, nor Grandmother's presents, which add up to about thirty objects, not counting the children's stockings; my tree is listing dangerously to the right (as things seem to do in this house), the wood of the trunk is too soft and the pins holding it in place simply dug into the trunk; though the rooms are tidy, they need to be actually clean within the next twenty-four hours, as well as the table settings and other physical arrangements that need to be performed; Grandmother hasn't made one pie-crust yet, and we have to go from zero to eight pies in the next twenty-four hours, and I suck at crust-rolling so I can't help her; Grandmother and I both have colds, not bad colds but colds nonetheless, so we're firing at fifty-percent efficiency; I am sorely lacking in Christmas Spirit and would simply rather not do any of this; and, not to put too fine a point on it, it's now Christmas Eve and I have twenty four hours before my entire family descends upon me. Actually, twenty seven, because they never show up on time. But then, I hope to subtract the hours that I will have to sleep. Basically, not enough time to do everything that needs to be done.

I am trying to stay focused on the positive and deal with the negative in a reasonable and calm manner. It's kind of like hiding an elephant under a rug. I have thought of a solution to return the tree to its necessary erect state, by reinforcing the trunk with empty tin cans (if I can find the tin snips, and if I can get my nephew to hold the tree up while I futz with the base), and I know from past experience that I can get the cleaning and setting done in rather less time than I tend to think I can, and present-wrapping isn't as big of a deal as I always make it. Everything always goes haywire at the last minute, but everything always works out in the end (see my Christmas-time entries last year and the year before). Still, I'm feeling a little trepidatious about the whole thing... how would you feel if you had an elephant hidden under your living room rug?

This is the time where I start envying my friends who don't have a massive and labor-intensive family tradition to contend with. At my home-group meeting last night, I listened with longing to people discussing what they planned to do with their Christmases, spending time with friends and going to movies and hanging out with their lovers or partners or what-have-yous. None of them had to decorate a house to someone else's specifications and produce an immense meal to a menu written in stone long before they were born and basically work their fingers to the bone for a bunch of people that they like okay but not quite that well.

I wonder sometimes what it would be like. What would I do on Christmas if I didn't have all of this? For the first couple of years I'd probably enjoy it, revel in the quiet and the ease; but then I'd probably miss it.

The thing is, I know that one day this tradition will come to an end. When Grandmother is gone, this house will most likely be sold, and though the family may very well stay together and continue to meet at holidays, it won't be like this. Pies will more likely be purchased. Trees will be at someone else's house, smaller and endowed with different ornaments. Dinner will have the same menu, maybe at the same table, but in a different room and with a different feel. And I won't be at the center of it.

So I try to keep that in mind as I labor away... I try to enjoy it while I have it, because one day it will be gone and I'm pretty sure I'll miss it then. I don't want to be one of those people who take things for granted and then misses them when they're gone. I want, instead, to be able to appreciate the luxury of choosing my own Christmas day activities, the freedom to make my own plans and to do things as I wish instead of as others wish. To be free is to be alone, in many ways; but at the same time, to be alone is to be free. I'll drink my fill of family now, and when I am free I will look back with nostalgia for times gone by but not with regret for chances missed.

But in the meantime, I have to go reinforce my right-leaning tree and vacuum my sofa. Have a very merry Christmas... and if you don't celebrate Christmas, be very merry anyway.

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