Oh Holy Night

Featured on Rita Wilson’s Huffington Post 50…

Every year at this time I meet the holidays with an Andy Rooney attack that comes on a lot like gout. It begins with the first Kay Jewelers ad. And expands with the Lexus sporting the big red bow in the driveway. Then it snowballs with the slender young mommies in cashmere V-neck sweaters sitting on the couch with their kids doing Fisher Price arts and crafts, and then the deal is sealed by Best Buy which manages to make me feel badly every year about my last Christmas present. And the anxiety ensues. Even if I boycott the TV…the anxiety ensues. Please don’t judge.

Only fifteen more shopping days til Christmas. Coughs up the same hairball as: It’s twelve o’clock– do you know where your children are? For some reason this year I’ve tossed change into every Salvation Army bucket I come across and managed to totally ignore the rest of the holidays. Call it over-compensation. I’m daunted. Dashed. Maybe even depressed. My children’s wish lists look like checklists for a Moon mission and everything begins with a lower case i. The only item I’ve had the stomach to purchase is a pair of Ellen underwear because I remember a friend of mine saying recently, “I would do anything for a pair of Ellen underwear.” I went on her website. And lo…they’re not just give-outs to movie-star guests. They’re actually for sale! So I bought her a pair. In red. Cost me twenty bucks. And didn’t do much in the way of assuaging holiday angst.

A long time ago, I used to revel and delight in this season. I used to make all my Christmas gifts. Ditto my wreaths and garlands. I’d lovingly tie raffia around jars of plum butter and tomato sauce; make homemade wrapping paper with potato-stamped designs from star and tree-shaped cookie cutters. Arrange sentimental photos in shadow boxes adorned with glue-gunned dried rose buds from my garden. There were collages I’d assemble using magazine cut-outs I’d collect for each loved one over the year in a box with their name on it, cuz that’s how thoughtful I was. Very very thoughtful. For years I hand-designed each Christmas card and wrote loving messages in each with a silver pen– three-four hundred of them. All addressed by hand. What the hell was my problem?

Oh I know…I wasn’t yet an embittered middle-aged woman. I was still in the spell, nay, the myth, of Christmas carrying me somehow into wintery wonderlandy bliss. Christmas trees hadn’t fallen yet and broken the antique ornaments. Prime ribs hadn’t come out grey and tough. Yorkshire puddings hadn’t fallen. Santa hadn’t had one too many glasses of nog the night before and woken up at three a.m. without the stockings attended to. Those were the pink pure days of dog-earing catalogues like L.L. Bean and Garnet Hill and Williams Sonoma and Land’s End and FAO Schwarz and systematically making sure that the usuals were under that tree Christmas morning– a pair of pj’s, slippers, monogrammed something-or-other, a puzzle, the hot new board game, a Breyer horse, a hard-back classic book, a Brio train, a stuffed turtle, a baby doll. One year my daughter asked for an orange baby from Santa Claus. “That’s all I want for Christmas. An orange baby doll.” And by gum…Santa found her a baby doll with orange hair and an orange dress that smelled like freaking oranges to boot. She named her Halloween. I don’t remember what she was for Halloween that year, but apparently it had an impact on her.

Here’s what I’d like to do for Christmas this year: convert to Judaism. The Jews have it right. Spread it out. Make it sacred day by day. They don’t blow it all in one heap of wrapping paper and Amazon boxes flung all over the living room. In our defense, however, at least our family opens the gifts one by one and ogles. At least the kids can’t come down the stairs until there are adults standing by at the bottom. Yes, with a video camera. Okay, and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas (that tradition ain’t going anywhere, even though they both roll their eyes the whole way down the stairs.) At least we’re not trying to impress anyone with our theme Christmas tree. No, each year our Christmas tree looks like a drag queen with dripping mascara because I’ve kept every single one of my ornaments from childhood, most of which have Snoopy on them somewhere, and every single one of the kids’ school project ornaments which means they sometimes catch fire. And because on principal I refuse to be “tasteful” and get dainty white lights anywhere near my tree. I like the big colored bulbs from my childhood– the kind that when you squint, the tree looks like it’s dancing. In Vegas.

I guess what I’m really saying is…I’m a sucker for Christmas. That’s the plain truth. And since my kids are growing up and will be off to college before I know it…and because they told me that they hope Santa has room on his Visa card this year wink wink…(and the truth is that Santa’s Visa card is in desperate need of some head room) Christmas hurts this year. It just plain hurts. Does anyone relate?

I don’t want it to hurt. I want to rally. I want to make a gingerbread house. I want to have a caroling party. I want to hang garlands over the breezeway door and adorn the mantle with cedar boughs and the staircase with drooping garlands and gold bows. I want to go to the Messiah and get chills and feel my heart explode during the Hallelujah chorus. I want to have Sees candy on the kitchen counter and I want to dare myself not to bite into one with a cherry in it. And smugly win. I want to force Paperwhite bulbs in my grandmother’s crystal bowl with tiny pebbles holding their roots and I want to smell them first thing Christmas morning when I start the tea kettle and everyone is still asleep and I want to feel grateful for the fact that I pulled it off another year. Everything magical. Dreams met. The baby Jesus safe in his olive wood creche being watched over by lambs and donkeys and shepherds and angels and loving parents and God. Traditions in tact. Still.

And yet, for some reason that’s beginning to sort of scare me…I’ve got my heels dug into the ground this year. It’s the 11th of December and I haven’t bought one present. Except for the underwear. I haven’t done Christmas cards. I haven’t even gotten the Christmas music out. Truth be told, there are still pumpkins on my front porch. Really rotten pumpkins. I guess it’s because I want a different kind of Christmas. I want a quiet little chapel in the woods where we go in, shake snow off our boots, and watch our breath merge as we sing Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel and Once in Royal David’s City and songs like that. Sacred songs.

How can I make Christmas sacred this year? I just don’t feel it. Maybe I need to have a Charlie Brown and It’s a Wonderul Life back-to-back all day marathon with toothpicks holding my eye-lids open like in Clockwork Orange. But even those good old standards (Clockwork Orange excluded) depress me. The sacred delivered by media. I want the holy to show this season. And yes, I’m sure that it will just when I least expect it. I’ll let you know when it does. And I’ll believe in it for now.


Filed under Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts

15 Responses to Oh Holy Night

  1. Pat Mungovan

    Thanks for posting what are my sentiments too. I have been procrastinating also getting started and you made me feel less guilty about it. What is it with this year? Fatigue over hearing about the fiscal cliff? Guilt about being financially successful in these tough economic times? Who knows! Thanks so much.

  2. This is so beautiful, Laura. It brought tears to my eyes. I hope that the sacred reveals itself to you this Christmas, and blesses you in its holiness.

  3. Danielle Sharp

    Come on woman, get your Christmas on!!! And by your, I mean YOUR. If I learned anything from reading your book and meeting you in person, it is that you are responsible for your own happiness. So, this year, do Christmas how YOU want to do Christmas. Not how it was done in the past. Not even how you did it in the past. (For Christ’s sake, excuse the pun, you made your own wrapping paper??!!!). Revel and delight in the season, YOUR WAY this year. Find the little chapel in the woods, make a gingerbread house, have a caroling party. You already know what you want to do, so do it! And, as for gifts, you should GIVE WHAT YOU WANT TO GIVE, and let those who want things buy them for themselves. I think alot of people would feel less stressed and more inspired at the holidays if they would just throw out other’s people’s expectations of what SHOULD be done, and instead focus on what they would like to do to make themselves (and ultimately others around them) happy. I’m hopeful you’ll find your holy this year!

  4. Kathy

    Today in an instant I garnered so many lessons from a young homeless man. I had spent $37.72 on two bags of “whatever” in Target, but it was the $5 that I gave to the him as he was holding the “Hunrgy and homeless, please help” sign at the exit ramp that snapped me back into reality.
    Gifts, true gifts do not arrive in fancy packages,nor are they wrapped with elaborate bows. They are delivered to and are reside within our hearts.
    Heart, yes true heart connections are where gifts are born. I am sending mine to you….

    As always, I love your insights and thoughts…

  5. Don Stifler

    I love you and I loved Andy. I have never liked the consumerism of Christmas. In lieu of cards I donate to the local food pantry. The best gifts that I remember most have been gifts of service to others or home made gifts. Louise Hay’s book on gratitude has been a hit in my life just as yours has been. Any special gift with love attached to it is sufficient I have already been blessed with enough. A simple I Love You both given and received is a wonderful gift. Just love what is. God bless and Merry Christmas.
    Don (Dad)

  6. cindy Pitre

    Hi Laura,

    It has been a while since you just wrote to share your “etat d’ame”
    Nice to hear from you. I am actually looking forward to Christmas this year because for the first time in a while I was able to buy some gifts for my “adult” children that will thrill them (I Hope) instead of getting them things they need, so a little of what they want this year instead of what they need…… almost feels like when they were young. I plan on enjoying it! AND since I will be a my sister in laws for Christmas this year I get off light on the entertaining…. and I have 2 weeks off…. everything is coming together for a nice 2 weeks and I will appreciate it this year because I have been stressed the last few years at Christmas…. I truly hope and I do believe that you will find a way to make it memorable, I have a feeling that you always do

  7. If you want HOLY, go looking for it. Get yourself to advent services at your local church. Phylis (sp!) Tickle has readings that I think are called Prayers for Advent and Christmas. Think about waiting for the light. Think about the end of the world.And how the looked for deliverer came in a totally surprising way.

    At any rate this is a beautiful post you’ve written. I know I shouldn’t be bossy about such things. But that HOLY stuff is right there in front of your nose.

  8. Elizabeth Pascarelli

    My God….you’ve taken my thoughts right out of my head and put them down on paper……I can’t even go near a mall anymore….I cant walk down the decorations aisle at CVS……I haven’t got one present yet……I can’t hear another Christmas Carol on an intercom sound system on a city sidewalk……All that stimulus reminds me of so many years of frenzied buying….trying to “get it right”……finding the “right” outfit for Midnight Mass…..the best breakfast with candles as we all think fondly of the presents we just unwrapped…….the disappointment around 2:00 pm Christmas Day when my mind reviews what I’ve received and how grateful everyone else should be that I was so darn clever in my individual gift giving……BUT the worst thing just happened when I discovered this year one child is going to Maui with MY grandkids……one wants a peaceful holiday in rural Vermont …….the other is going to her boyfriends in Connecticut……WTF……so I’m left with a peaceful ……see -if -I -care- attitude……I’m sticking with Cindy Lou Who……and letting Christmas come to me……

  9. Alison Bolshoi

    Hey Laura,

    I did everything the opposite of you this year. I got our Christmas cards together in the summer, had them addressed and ready to mail by end of September. I cooked all the food I could that could be frozen, like applesauce and cranberry sauce and Italian tarts my extended family loves on Christmas. All my presents were purchased over months and wrapped at the beginning of November. All this so that I could enjoy the season this year.

    And I’m not feeling it one tiny bit either!

    But I am very fortunate that I sing, and that I get a group together every year to carol in the local hospital. It’s not a tiny hospital, yet we are the ONLY carolers who go there, every year. The staff sighs and smiles when they see us coming down the hall because they appreciate us so much, and feel so overworked during the holidays. They always send us a letter filled with personal thanks for how we lifted their spirits.

    And I know I have sung to people for the past seven years, during their last Christmas season. I cannot explain what it is like to go into the ICU and see a family holding onto each other and they say, “Could you sing O Holy Night?” while their dad is lying there not moving, with his oxygen mask on.

    I know that no matter how f—ed up my season is going, and how disconnected I feel from the reason for the holiday, all it’s going to take is one Silent Night, to a little old lady in her bed, smiling at us, for me to feel it.

    Can you sing? Maybe ask at a local hospital or nursing home if there are singers coming and if you can join them. Or fly here on the 23rd and come with us! It’s not depressing. It’s beautiful and incredible, and the most important singing I do all year. Elderly people get it. They’ve slowed down and they get it. People who are looking at checking out of here also get it. And I’m not giving them anything. They’re giving me my Christmas every year. And I feel like my life depends on it, especially this year.


  10. A couple of thoughts: First, I agree with Katie in the comment above and it’s what I was thinking as I read your post–sometimes you just gotta go looking for the holy. I find it in still moments within, or looking into my grandson’s eye, or, yes, singing joyfully in church. Second, a few years ago our family sat down and really discussed what kind of Christmas we wanted. Turns out what everyone most desired was to spend time together. And so now we focus on that much more than spending tons of money on presents. One way or another, Laura, I’m betting you’ll find your Christmas this year.

  11. You buy underwear every year as gifts, too…?! Sounds like you may already be feelin’ the season. Maybe it’s creeping in sideways this year. ;-)

  12. Mary Kay Ross

    I know how you feel. When the very things that used to lift your spirits in anticipation of Christmas pull you in the opposite way you have The December Blues. I think we get worn out being head cheerleader year after year. Even my own mother with nine kids, a relentless spirit and maker of scores of homemade cookies gave into the mental/spiritual exhaustion one year. I was still a teenager and unaware of how she single-handedly brought about the holidays for us. My father was a police officer and, though he tried to help, he worked shifts and wasn’t always home. She gave into tears once and believe me she’s tough. Anyway, here’s how I handled it this year: 1. Enjoy the late days of fall. Here in Maryland the ads with snow, outdoor skating etc. don’t ring true. 2. Buy a gift or two for a child. My own are past the toy stage so I bought for a nephew and a “giving tree” at our church. It helps get you into the gift-giving mood. 3. Since you have teenagers also, light a few candles or make a bonfire some early evening. They will come around and if you’re lucky they will bring their guitar. That’s a celebration.

    I am not going to force it but I know I have to do my bit and only have twelve days left. Sometimes you just have to go through the motions, while trying to invoke brotherly love, and you will end up with a gratifying holiday.

    Merry Christmas! Your book and blog made a difference in my life this year.

  13. Dixie Babcock

    Oh Holy Night…When I was a young mother with young children, I thought I had to do it all…decorate, bake, shop, etc. etc. Then I cam across a book about keeping Christmas holy and bright and everything changed for me. I was so inspired, I taught the book in a class at my church and my children’s school a few times, hoping others would be released from the psychic pain that trying to do it all had brought upon my tiny head.

    That was a long, long time ago. In between then and now my children have grown up and one of them has brought 3 children of her own to my life and especially to my Oh Holy Nights. I’m packing as I write this to visit them and in my bag is a vintage book, The Christ Child, As Told By Matthew and Luke with lovely illustrations “made my Maud and Miska Petersham which I intend to read (at least partly) to them. Yes, we will go to church with the rest of their large clan Christmas day. And we’ll have the video running before they’re allowed to run to the tree with mostly non-breakable ornaments. The table will be festive and bountiful. That and more, and it will ALL be holy to me, as it has been, since I gave up on having the “Christmas Spirit” quite some time ago. Instead, I’ve adopted the “Living Spirit Lifestyle” which includes forgiving myself for those times when I’m not so holy-minded about all the extra work that women in particular feel pressured by (mostly self pressured) at this time of year.
    Here’s a good example: yesterday, while making yet another trip-for my husband-to the PO and even though MY posting was done already, a man in the self-mail station line behind me asked about buying stamps. And then about how much OUT OF STATE stamps cost! I laughed and told him how surprising it was he that he didn’t even know that it was the same for anywhere in the country as I explained that I was there on my husband’s behalf and to please look at how many men vs women were in the line :) He shrugged and said “We’re not all so bad” and I smiled and said, “no, you’re not bad at all, just lucky ducks”. We wished each other Merry Christmas and that was one of the holiest moments of Christmas 2012 for me…especially since the earth was still spinning on it’s orbit at the end of the Mayan calendar day.

    Your Christmas IS sacred and you do feel it. I know you do…I’ve heard you sing and the chapel in the woods is beating in that big heart of yours…all the time. And there’s nothing more sacred than that. And thank you for that funny story you just told…with Such Great Love.

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