“Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go,” went the old song. Merry, merry. No worries. The horse knows the way, the sleigh is heated. Grandma is perfect and nobody ever gets grumpy.
Not so in my world. The grandmas were all lovely and worth visiting. It did seem, however, that getting there could be a challenge. Or getting back home. Or getting ready. And I was often the one who was grumpy.
I remember a drive into the city for Christmas one year when our kids were small with my husband at the wheel and me putting the finishing touches on Christmas stockings I’d decided to make for my godparents. We hit a bump in the road and I stabbed myself with the needle. I didn’t say, “God bless us, everyone,” I can tell you that, right now.
Those stockings should have been done before we even hit the road. Why weren’t they? It wasn’t like I didn’t have advance warning since Christmas comes at the same time every year. But I still wasn’t ready because I had this nasty habit of biting off more than I could chew, of thinking I was Christmas Superwoman, able to leap piled up obligations and projects in a single bound.
Then there was the year we were leaving my brother’s house after a perfect Christmas Eve gathering and realized our car was stuck in second gear. Do you know how long it takes to drive twenty-five miles in second gear? I’ll tell you. About a million years. Our children were still little and happily clueless as we avoided the freeway and took back roads home. My husband tried to make a game out of the holiday disaster. “Look kids, a half-lit neon sign.” Meanwhile, Mrs. Grump sat in the front passenger seat, thinking of all the things she still had to do to help Santa and muttering, “Bah, humbug.” We got in around two a.m.
Every holiday cloud has a silver lining though. It was the only year our children ever slept late on Christmas morning.
Yes, it’s the getting to Christmas that often stresses us, whether we’re making a road trip with small children or someone who acts like a child or whether we’re trying to get through a long to-do list. I think it’s a given that making it to this special day takes some doing. We’re are busy, we all have budgets, we all have challenges.
So what to do? Well, here’s what I’ve learned. Plan ahead for the “journey” and as you get closer to the big day plan to slow down so you can savor the celebration.
I start my Christmas shopping with after-Christmas sales, when goodies like jewelry and winter clothes are on sale. I have picked up many a fine present for 50 % off. I buy throughout the year, picking up interesting goodies that catch my eye and that I think a family member or friend would like. That’s easier on my budget and, come December, I’m ready to go. (If I waited until November or December to do my Christmas shopping, there would be a lot of IOU’s given out.)
And I try not to do as much, limiting the number of labor intensive gifts I give and the baking I do. Time, like money, has a way of running out before I want it to.
As I get older I’m also realizing that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. If a car breaks down, oh, well. Look at that half-lit neon sign. If someone gets sick, that’s life. If that someone is me, there will some mourning because I live for the holidays and all the joy they entail, but oh, well. Time for FaceTime and a Hallmark movie. But the thing about plans not going perfectly is that it gives us an opportunity to be thankful for what is right, thankful for each other.
I can remember another non-perfect Christmas. Three out of five of us got stomach flu… on Christmas Day with the presents barely opened. Fa-la-la. Our son wound up taking care of all of us. (And yes, the kids were older, thank God.) We made it through, and many times we’ve looked back and laughed over that gross misadventure.
There are also Christmases where I’ve felt the loss of loved ones. Those have been hard, my family’s holiday meal salted with tears. But in spite of the tears we’ve reminded ourselves of the reason we’re celebrating in the first place. We sing “Joy to the World” and realize there’s still joy to be had. We sing of Angelic choirs and like to envision our family members getting to sing in such a choir. We go on and we carry on.
Those stupid, imperfect moments, those road trips where things slide sideways, those detours and plans that didn’t unfold beautifully, they get woven into the tapestry of our lives and come back as memories that may inspire us or make us laugh… or make us determined to do things differently in the future.
Like not trying to finish a sewing project in the car on Christmas Eve Day. I may not always “get there” with everything checked off my list, but I do want to “be there,” in the moment, appreciating the great gift of God’s love.
Wherever the holidays take you this year, I hope when you reach the end of the road you’ll be unpacking a smile along with those presents and cookies.
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