My 12-year-old had invited ten friends over for a pre-vacation Christmas party that she had planned herself. It sounded like such an empowering idea at the time – she’s almost a teenager; if she wants to have a party, leave the planning up to her.
And yet there I was, putting the gifts the girls were handing me at the door into a basket for their gift exchange, baking one last batch of snowflake-shaped cookies, mixing up white frosting for decorating the cookies, sweeping a drift of flour off the kitchen floor, moving a pile of boots and shoes from the front doorway to the mudroom as fast as the girls could take them off, and assuring Holly that yes, the hot chocolate would definitely be made by the time she was ready to serve refreshments -- even though I hadn’t started making it yet. Holly was rushing around trying to light candles as her guests shrieked and hugged as if they hadn’t seen each other in six months rather than the four hours it had actually been since school let out.
In short, I was frazzled. And not just everyday-frazzled, but holiday-frazzled, which seems to come with a sticky powdered sugar glaze covering every possible surface.
And then the doorbell rang and another young guest arrived, walking in along with her mother, Elizabeth.
“Everything looks so cozy and Christmas-y!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “And the cookies smell so good! I haven’t even started holiday preparations yet.”
Like slipping on ice – or, perhaps more relevantly, on spilled flour – her words jolted me into a different perspective. Through her eyes, and because of her words, I noticed not the spills on the floor and the dishes in the sink but the smell of cookies baking and candles burning. Not the pile of boots the girls had left in the entrance but their joyful voices as they exchanged gifts and guessed who had given each one. Not the sound of the dishwasher beeping to signal it was ready to be unloaded – again! – but the Christmas carols Holly had pulled up on her iPod before the guests arrived.
This, I now understand, is what Christmas season is like. Not perfect and magical, but not solely chaotic and stressful either. It’s both, because that’s what it means to be an adult during the holidays, at least to be an adult responsible for children’s or other people’s holiday fun. Yes, it’s true that I don’t remember any stress whatsoever during the Christmases of my childhood, but that’s because I was just that, a child. Someone else was in charge. I remember thick snowdrifts, a hot fire, a tall decorated Christmas tree, the smell of a delicious dinner cooking. But I didn’t have to shovel the snow, or refill the firewood, or arrange for the arrival of the Christmas tree, or check the temperature of the roast.
Now it’s my turn to re-create this kind of carefree holiday for my children. Holly will remember this party for the cookie-decorating, the snow-globe-making, the general hilarity of ten girls who are just a few days from being on Christmas vacation. They won’t notice that the hot chocolate wasn’t ready until hour two of the party.
Elizabeth’s words were simple but eye-opening. Walk into someone else’s house, and you don’t see mess or frazzle; you see a lovely holiday ambience. I would probably feel the same way if I went to her house at this moment.
But I’m at my house, and so I should just enjoy the aroma of my own cookies baking. There will always be more dishes to wash, but Christmas week won’t last long at all. Best to enjoy every moment of it while it’s here.