It goes without saying that really bad things can put the holiday stress into perspective. Find the perfect gift doesn’t seem all that important when you compare it to feeling assured that your kids will make it home from school at the end of the day.But it’s perhaps less often observed that really good things can put the holiday stress into perspective too. Though I wouldn’t use the term “stress” to describe it, I was feeling a little overwhelmed with To Do items yesterday. I had two articles to file, three batches of candy to make, eight co-worker gifts and six teachers’ gifts (of the aforementioned homemade candy) to assemble, a Christmas Eve menu to plan, a few Christmas cards still to address and mail, and a handful of holiday-related errands left to complete.
And no matter how many times I told myself none of this really mattered, I wasn’t convinced. We wanted to give all those gifts of candy. We wanted to be sure the kids’ stockings were filled. We wanted to drop off the donation at the toy drive. And I didn’t think the oncoming holidays were any excuse for missing work deadlines, with their compelling incentive at this time of year of the paychecks that follow the deadlines.
Still, I was aware that I was starting to lose sight of the Christmas spirit. I wasn’t irritable, just frazzled. It was only two days ago that I mailed the last of the forty letters I was obliged to write on behalf of Carlisle Santa, and a bad cold earlier in the week set me back a little bit as well.
But late Wednesday night, my sister and her kids arrived at my parents’ house for a pre-Christmas visit. Holly and Tim played with their cousins all Thursday afternoon; after dinner we brought the cousins back here for still more fun.
I set to work packing candy gift boxes with the sounds of the four cousins laughing, singing, wrestling and dancing in the background, and that, more than anything else, reminded me of what the focus of Christmas should be: happy times together. Recipients always appreciate our homemade candy, but no one was actually going to notice or care whether there were four different kinds in their box or only three. Christmas Eve guests wouldn’t check under the dining room table to see how thoroughly I vacuumed. And my kids don’t even really keep track anymore to see if they have the same number of gifts in their stockings.
In short, none of the bustling around mattered all that much, but not until the house was filled with the sounds of kids playing together – long-distance cousins who don’t see enough of each other throughout the year but always fall immediately into the same joyous hilarity when they get together – was it absolutely clear to me what mattered. This: their silliness, their clamor. Never mind the housecleaning or the dessert-making or ensuring that every card is mailed in time to arrive by Christmas. The cousins were playing together and being loud and silly, and so at our house, Christmas had begun.