Sam Davies wonders what the fuss is about. Make your own traditions! Do what you want! #waronstress
Photo by: outdoorPDK
December is upon us. With Santa closing out the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the turkey chilling in the fridge, we’ve officially ended the time period where people complain about how it’s too early for Christmastime on Facebook. Now begins the next phase of the year, in which people complain about how crazy the holidays are once you have kids and your life isn’t a relaxing string of cocktail parties anymore.
I have two young daughters and things…aren’t crazy?
The kids aren’t bouncing off the walls (any more than usual), and the grown-ups aren’t stressing out about gift-buying, travel, or meeting some platonic ideal of a perfect Decemberween. It is winter time, so we’re going outside less because it’s cold and dark out there. Inside we are playing more video games and snuggling under more blankets because we can. But, none of it is particularly Christmasy.
It’s not that my wife, Kat, and I aren’t filled with Christmas cheer. We like cheer. We aren’t scoffing at Christmas, and we haven’t got a single humbug1 between us. But, we aren’t the most type-a, red-energy, folks on the planet and don’t feel any compulsion to try and do everything. We’ll do things like put up a few decorations, but we probably won’t even get around to that stuff until December 20th or so.
Two Christmases ago, we stopped getting trees. A good friend was getting married far away, and we had to travel on December 26th. The kids stayed with their grandparents, while Kat and I flew to Florida for the wedding. No one would be around to water the giant dead conifer in our house, so we decided to not get one that year. It was so nice not having to buy, care for, and dispose of a tree-corpse that we didn’t buy one the following year either2. The kids’ reaction to not getting a tree this year was only a mild “Aaaaw,” more or less the same reaction we get when we tell them they can’t have candy for breakfast.
It also helps that we have an arrangement with some of the extended family: Only the kids get traditional presents. Grown-ups are allowed give food or drink to each other, but don’t have to worry about buying “stuff” for each other. Don’t get me wrong, I love stuff, but we all seem to have mutually agreed that we don’t necessarily need more. Giving and receiving gifts is great, but no one could argue that it doesn’t take a lot of work.
Our little family gets to come up with traditions that we like. The family’ll watch The Nightmare Before Christmas. The grownups’ll watch Love Actually. I’ll watch Die Hard alone after everyone else is asleep. Christmas morning, we’ll eat cinnamon rolls and force the children to wait until after coffee is made before they open presents.
We’ll probably decorate the house a little bit. Stockings will hang from the mantle. We’ll put out a nativity scene that looks enough like toys that the girls will want to play with it, but is delicate enough that they’ll have to be supervised while they do. I imagine paper snowflakes will make their way to our front window.
And Kat and I will make an effort to not be complete homebodies during the holiday season. We’ll probably go to the GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter. We’ll probably take the kids downtown to look at the lights around the James Center. We may even take a drive to look at the two Tacky Lights houses in our neighborhood (but feel no particular need to see more).
Traditions are great because you don’t have to think about what to do, but are less great because you feel obliged to do them. One of the best parts of having a young family is that you can pick and choose. We get to set what those expectations are for our kids (for now, at least), and I think we’ve struck a nice fit for our particular family. Only those traditions that don’t feel burdensome make the cut. You get all of the benefits of not having to make a decision, without any of the worry that you won’t meet expectations.
I can think of no better fit for my family than a cozy, low-stress December, and feel fortunate that we seem to have figured out how to get there.