Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fighting with my inner Grinch

Christmas has changed for me in these last few years.

As a typical youth, I looked forward to the gifts Santa left under the tree, stockings filled to the brim, presents piled high in a mountain of toys, clothes and technology. But even then, I understood tradition - and our family had many of them.

Like the annual "tree lot" hunt, where Mom always had the last say. Watching the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Mom's favourite holiday movie. Scrubbing the kitchen down as though we expected a visit from the Centre for Disease Control in anticipation of Nona's two-week visit. Playing Scrabble with my sister on Christmas Eve and then staying up all night for last-minute wrapping. Champagne and orange juice morning toasts and mouthwatering waits for the biggest, most moist turkey in the universe - well, at least in Calgary.

Those were good Christmases. Surrounded by family. Minimal stress. Tons of fun.

It's different now.

It isn't just that the family dynamics have changed - my sister lives across the world (okay, just across Canada, but it feels so much further), my Mom and stepdad are no longer together, and I have a family of my own.

Granted, it's a small family. Last year, my (now) husband and I celebrated the holiday with our dogs. Just the four of us, waking up when we felt like it, stumbling into the kitchen for coffee and champagne. Opening gifts and fielding phone calls from loved ones. Watching movies all day in our new pyjamas, and throwing together a last minute dinner before crawling back into bed. Different, but no less enjoyable.

Things are changing again this year. Last year, Mom sent a Christmas "box" filled with stuff that looked suspiciously like the items one might find in a stocking. She isn't doing that this year, though as she tells me this her throat constricts with emotion. And while my husband and I will stay home with the dogs again, we also have his daughter with us.

With her comes a whole set of expectations. Back home, she'd be surrounded by family and presents. Here, there is just my husband and I, the dogs - and her mouse. Finances are tight and while we'll do the best we can, I suspect it will look more like Present Hill rather than Gift Mountain.

It shouldn't matter.

I of all people know that. Regardless of our financial situation, Mom gave us the best Christmases, not with gifts, but with enthusiasm. The kind of sheer joy that radiated from her and filled our hearts. Sure, we got Cabbage Patch Kids (I sacrificed mine for Rikki Rockett, but that's a whole other story...Jess, stop laughing!), but sharing Nono's After Eights while playing Italian card games as Mom and Sy laboured over turkey evokes a much more vivid - and emotional - memory.

Those are the kinds of memories I want with my new family - but I seem to be lacking a bit of holiday spirit this year. I'm stressed about what my stepdaughter WON'T find under the tree (even as my heart and mind tell me it shouldn't matter), and I'm missing some of those old traditions. Who else will play Scrabble with me over a couple of beer? We don't even own a copy of the Grinch.

I know I need to let go and create NEW traditions - and we've started, really. This past weekend marked a second successful annual tree hunt. And it did, indeed, take my handsome hubby several hours to string the lights. We decorated as a family - he directed placement from the floor while his daughter and I hung the pink hearts and brown balls with care. Jeff says we will indulge in champagne and orange juice Christmas morning too, and spend the day in our pyjamas watching movies.

But I can't help but feel a twinge of sadness as I continue my search for some of that old Christmas spirit - the kind my Mom could magically evoke with a simple smile.


  1. Dawn, you're a brilliant writer who might take what she knows of creativity on the page and apply it to your Christmas. This is a first draft year, baby! You don't have to get it right the first time. I 100% guarantee you that your mom had a flop or two on her way to finding the traditions that stuck.

    Also, a question I learned to ask from my hope work is, "What's the single smallest thing I can do to feel hopeful in this moment?" Sounds to me like you've already settled on it: the Grinch. So buy or borrow a copy of it, or tape it from TV. (It's on at least once every year.)

    Lastly, it's in the nature of most Western teenagers to wish for more material gifts than they are given. In other words, you have no chance of meeting your step-daughter's expectations anyway. Welcome to life as parent of a teen. :) You are supposed to disappoint her. You wouldn't be fulfilling your contractual obligation if you didn't. What's key is that you don't disappoint yourself.

  2. Hope - really great advice and I've already started the ball rolling (great analogy, btw - I especially like the "brilliant part"). My friend dropped by with a copy of the Grinch last night.

    And today, I spent the day wrapping gifts at Santa's Anonymous - surely the cure for any "material" gift blues. Jeff and I will be working there this weekend, and Aydra will be joining in delivering next weekend. I believe this is an awesome family tradition we can start.

    I'll still stress a little - that's just part of who I am. But since writing this blog post I've had some time to reflect and reconsider. And this afternoon, I was overwhelmed with a whole lot of spirit.

  3. Good. You sound more grounded and Christmas-y already.