Friday, December 18, 2009

A Perfect Christmas

In Canada, this is the weekend that most people traditionally put up their Christmas trees. When I was a little girl, my father and I would look around all year for a Christmas tree -- "There's a good one...!" -- and a week before Christmas we would go into the forest, cut down the tree and bring it home. My mother would haul out the Christmas lights and decorations and we would decorate the tree. I still cannot get used to the idea of putting up a Christmas tree at the beginning of December, or even the end of November. It doesn't seem like Christmas to me until a week or so before Christmas, when the season begins, and it ends on January 6th, the Epiphany. There is something magical about seeing the familiar old Christmas decorations, and the colored lights reflected in the glass ornaments, and the whole world is transformed into Christmas. And every year, after the tree is decorated, someone always has the special task of placing the Christmas Angel in her location of honor atop the tree. I was so excited the year I was old enough to do it.

Christmas is a lovely time of the year, but it can also be very stressful. Expectations are high, and often folks find it difficult to live up to them. Every year, Christmas is expected to be more perfect than ever, and every year the reality of life intervenes for many of us. I have been reading through the blogs lately, and everyone seems to be having such a perfect Christmas, I wonder how I can possibly measure up. Everyone's tree is perfect, you all have perfect families, perfect homes, perfect Christmas trees, perfect Christmas cards. How do you do it? You're a hard act to follow. All your Christmas baking is done, with your recipes and photos of your perfect Christmas cookies posted on your blogs. Your presents are all wrapped, and I am still trying to figure out what to buy people for gifts. I feel a bit like a deer in the headlights of a car. Christmas is only a week away, and I am still thinking.

Last night I received the sad news that my family has lost their beloved family pet, one week before Christmas. Everyone is heartbroken. Losing a family pet is never easy, but a week before Christmas is just awful. Through sobs, my daughter said, "How can I celebrate Christmas when my children have lost something they love just a few days before?" I have no answer for that. I guess there is no answer. It's very unfair, to be sure. All I can tell her is that she has a beautiful home, a husband who is a Rock of Gibraltar, two beautiful children, and so much else to be thankful for, even if it doesn't seem that way right now. So I wonder, how many folks' lives are filled with ups and downs, joys and sorrows? Is everything really so perfect? Christmas is not just a few days -- or in some people's cases a few weeks -- it is a spirit. It is the time of year when we turn on the lights against the winter darkness. We gather with the people we love, or the crazy sister-in-law, brother-in-law, (fill-in-the-blanks) we tolerate, and for a little while everything is okay -- better than okay -- maybe even perfect.


The Bug said...

Jo - how did you know my sister-in-law is crazy? It's one of the things I dread about going home for Christmas this year - do I have to hang out with the woman who yelled at my husband at Thanksgiving? I'm betting that's a house I miss this year...

You must have a different blog roll than I do - all of my bloggy friends have been struggling to find the Christmas spirit this year. I know that I have - it's hard because Dr. M is so sad about his mother. And I ALWAYS miss my mother at Christmas - it was "her" holiday...

Jo said...

The Bug, yes, I know what you mean. It can be a horribly sad time of the year, that's why I get sort of impatient with all the folks who paint it as "perfect". But it can also be as special as we want to make it. I'm so sorry about your husband's mother, and about your mother too. I miss my mother at Christmas as well.

Kathryn said...

Hi Jo,
Just to reassure you:
I may post a picture of something christmassy in my blog this week, but I am by no means ready for Christmas. What you see in the blogs is the cleaned up, edited version of people's lives. My tree is up (got my adult kids to decorate it), SOME gifts are bought, but none are wrapped. SOME baking is done, but there's more to do. (and I ate some...).
Yesterday I had my parents over to "shop" at my house. I bought extra gifts for my kids so my parents wouldn't have to brave the stores looking for obscure CDs, DVDs, video games, etc. My mom has a type of dementia that makes it hard to remember what you've just told her. So, I wrote everything down, repeated it several times, gave her the note to put in her purse, and when she left I cried and cried, knowing that it's only going to get worse. I DO love Christmas; as you said, the day is "perfect", but please don't assume it's all joy and perfection in every other household. My toilets need cleaning!
...and this is NOT a segue, but:
I enjoy your blog immensely!
Kathryn : )

TomCat said...

Josie, you misspelled the last word. It's purrrfect! ;-)

Pam Dyson, MA, PLPC said...

I agree with your comments about a perfect Christmas.

When you set your sights so high there is absolutely no way to achieve them so you end up feeling disappointed and defeated which leads to overlooking the small things that really make Christmas special.


Hi - enjoyed your post. Sorry about the death of the pet.

My daughter's dog died also; one week earlier, my oldest son's dog died, so they're both looking for new little puppies to bring 'new joy' to them for Christmas.

The saddest Christmas I ever had was when my aunt and uncle were killed in a car accident on Christmas eve; they left two young sons - 10 and 7 (I was 12 at the time).

It was a blur on Christmas Day; the next day, a double funeral - very difficult for everyone indeed.

Since I'm usually sick with some kind of flu' or pneumonia during the holidays, I buy my Christmas cards after Christmas; I keep a gift closet that I fill throughout the year, and I wrap Christmas gifts in July/August/September, so they're ready to be given even if I've got the sniffles.

I do all my baking and freezing in October, so there's always food that can be defrosted and served.

I keep all of the things to do for Christmas on my computer, and check them off throughout the year.

Before computers, I kept a spiral-bound book for this same thing; it's served me well over these 50+ years that I've had children and 'full charge' of playing Santa.

Have a wonderful holiday - stay warm; stay safe.


Alissa said...

My heart goes out to you and your daughter's family. I have a cat who has been ill for awhile, and though she was in a sort of remission for several months (which I am thankful for) she is getting worse by the day, and I know that she doesn't have long. It's hard to feel super festive, even though I generally love Christmas.

Russell said...

It is best to be realistic about Christmas, birthdays or any other life event. Simple is usually best.

I see people this time of year knocking themselves out buying presents, baking, going to receptions, and so forth. In reality the best gift is always time with another person.

Think about it. What do you remember most about really big days in your life? Most likely you remember being with another person.

You mentioned going with your father to pick out the Christmas tree. That is a memory that is precious and one that could never have been purchased.

Leslie Avon Miller said...

Any more, I do the parts I like the best. I don't do the rest. I seldom send cards. I make granola but no baking. We give hand made gifts, always our home grown apples dried with cinnamon. Young people get a little cash. I don't go to visit all branches of the family. I do some people pleasing, but try to keep it to a minimum. Sometimes we stay home by ourselves, which I love. I put my energy where I want to, and let the rest go. I shed a few tears every year when I pull out a little decoration from my Gram and one my Mom gave me. And its all okay. Wishing you all the best and most relaxed holiday possible.

Country Girl said...

Well, welcome to my world where there is never any perfection. My tree this year was built by my husband out of branches. Crazy, yes but beautiful in its own way. I posted photos of it because it was so hard to believe when I came home and saw this tree!
Last year was a really bad year, so I'm hoping this one is much better.
Loved your heartfelt post and totally agree with you on the tree. We always put ours up about a week before Christmas. And I still do this. Any longer seems wrong to me.

Book pusher said...

So sorry about the death of a pet, always hard for children especially at christmas, we lost a beloved cat at this time last year but at least it was at the end of a long age related illness so everyone was prepared for the loss. I know what you mean about Christmas, I now expect the obligatory family argument of some kind, mine is a crazy brother, but over the years I have learnt to just let things go and accept that perfection just does not happen. I do not enjoy the stress of Christmas shopping but have discovered the joys of shopping online, no crowds. I enjoyed reading that you also take the tree down on Epiphany, I tend to make that a family night where we take it down together, I think of it as the night where you store up the Christmas spirit for the year to come, a little bit of the magic rubs off. We put it up twelve days before Christmas also, that seems long enough. Hope everyone has a relaxing and happy Christmas despite recent events.

Canarybird said...

Jo you reminded me of going out in knee deep snow with my mom and dad to pick a tree from the woods, then finding one and dad chopping it down, then driving home, tree strapped to the roof, where it had to sit in the basement a day to dry off. Yes there are wonderful memories. I'm so glad that my family in Canada keep up the large family gatherings for 3 days of carol singing and dinners. They have already received my parcels of gifts so I'm relieved.
This year hubby and I will be alone but going out for Christmas dinner so for once I don't have to cook and can enjoy the day out of the kitchen.

Still have to put up the tree but looking forward to no stress. Take care Jo and enjoy some music and a nice hot chocolate with a drop of brandy!

Deb said...

Jo, I don't know who's blogs you have been reading but I am not done with anything! Christmas is a beautiful time of the year but it is so very stressful. Only part of the decorations are out and the others will live yet another year in the box. The carpeting needs to be cleaned and there's a 50-50 chance that it will get done. My husband has to work on Christmas. We don't even know what time yet so the kids are on hold until his schedule comes out.
Oh well, I could go on and on but I won't. I just have one question for you.
Where is all the snow for the Winter Olympics? Are you hiding it until the big reveal?

Shaista said...

It is funny that everyone's reaction has been the same - whose blogs are you reading?!! I just read your post and yelled out to Mom, "When are we getting the tree?" and she yelled back, "Tomorrow?" in a hopeful sort of voice ;)
I love the memory of your childhood tree and the year when you got to put the angel on...

susie said...

I'm so sorry about the pet. I have the old Newfoundland that is on her last legs. But I think she's going to make it thru Christmas anyway.

My to do list keeps getting longer, and the time keeps getting shorter.
Nothing is wrapped, I still have to make wardrobes for two dolls. I still have some shopping to do, and baking too. No tree up, we haven't even bought it yet (we were going to cut one down, but I haven't been out to find the perfect tree yet).
But the husband and I are going to have a quiet Christmas, just the two of us and I am so looking forward to it. Everyone will descend upon us on the 26th.

Marguerite said...

I whipped out the "perfect Martha Stewart Christmas", for 30 years!! But that was BEFORE I worked 60 hours a week and had 3 websites and a blog! I'm with you on this one, Jo! Cheers! Love all of the vintage cards.

Cloudia said...

That last line showed your mastery!

Aloha, Friend

Comfort Spiral

Mia said...

You won't read about Christmas preparations on my blog. And my family's far from perfect.

It seems to me that the purpose of Christmas is supposed to be for people to set aside all their anger and fear and live in peace for a little while. That should take away stress, not cause it.

Christmas should be the best time for pets and family to die. Who doesn't want to die at a time of peace?

Beth said...

First i saw the photo i whispered wow then read your article and thought how sad, you lost your family pet. I love pets very much. beth

heartinsanfrancisco said...

My life is anything but perfect. Our current place is too small and crowded with houseplants for a tree, but I always liked to put ours up on Christmas Eve and take it down New Year's Day.

I haven't done most of my gift shopping, nothing is wrapped, and I didn't even send cards this year, although I did buy Christmas stamps. The menu is still to be decided. My hope was to minimize stress for myself since I am already dealing with so much, but I will probably whip into action at the very last minute and try to accomplish what should have taken weeks. And then we will have a brand new year in which to do and be better.

John Atkinson said...

Thanks Jo. Please visit my blog and read a Christmas I had in 1955. Best, John

CarlaHR said...

Hi Jo, I'm with you on this one - I will only put the tree up on Sunday but put off lighting it until Christmas eve (unless my husband convinces me otherwise). When I was a child growing up in Germany the Christmas tree was only put up on Christmas eve (real tree with real candles) and taken down after the new year. Our family is scattered so it will only be the two of us this year, hence no stress for perfection. Like you I miss my mother especially at Christmas - we always made it a point to go be with her. Glad you were able to go to the concert but sorry to hear about the dog's demise.

Charles Gramlich said...

Merry Christmas. I don't guess we'll be putting up a tree this year. I don't have the energy.

Jo said...

Thank you, everyone, for all your lovely, thoughtful comments. I have been feeling quite sad about my family's beloved pet. It turns out another cat very close by also disappeared on the same day, and a coyote is the suspect. The Lower Mainland of Greater Vancouver is overrun by the little creatures. I think something needs to be done. In Nova Scotia a few weeks ago, a 19 year-old girl was killed by coyotes.

I think my family has come to terms with their loss, but it's a horrible thing to have to go through, especially a week from Christmas.

I hope you are all having a fabulous, wonderful weekend.


jeannette stgermain said...

Actually, I haven't sent out One Christmas card yet, and there will be no Christmas tree this year in my house, because we are going up to our daughters.
From my work as a therapist I know that Dec. is the most difficult and stressful month of the year - but maybe these people don't write blogs!

Pauline said...

"we tolerate"

Christmas is anytime we put another's needs on a par with ours and make sure they are cared for. And we tolerate - well, said, Jo

I just read this quote on another blog and it fits here, too:

"Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There's a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in..."
L. Cohen

Paula Slade said...

I'm so sorry about your family's loss. Losing a pet anytime of year is devastating to say the least- beloved pets are often like a family member. Any type of loss, pet or human around the holidays carries a much deeper hurt.