My son asked me the other day, “Mom, what’s your favorite day of the year?” And without hesitation, I responded, “Christmas.” Not my birthday, not Mother’s Day, not any other day. Christmas is hands down my favorite, but to be honest, it’s about far more than simply December 25. It’s about making magic for my family.
If you’re the magic-maker, that means you never stop; I get it. I know the feeling, the pressure, the personal obligation we put on ourselves to do everything. I mean, what kind of moms are we if we don’t? What memories of the holiday season will our kids grow up with if we skip out on baking cookies, seeing Santa, dragging a real tree through the house, and dropping pine needles everywhere that will stay embedded in our carpet until they leave for college?
We must do it all, right?
Except maybe we don’t. Perhaps we give ourselves grace this holiday season, mama.
Love for Christmas Comes from Mom
I grew up in a household that cherished the holiday season. My mother’s decorating process was extensive, you could say. Bin after bin, box after box, bag after bag came down from the attic in November. Childhood staples included the endless sheets of window clings we decorated our big dining room window with every year. My favorite was the big star we’d always put high over the rest as if it shone light upon the snowman and Santa and the clings of carolers below. There were Santas and snowmen in every corner of our house, including the bathroom where Frosty would watch you pee.
And then there were the cookies. Oh, could my mom bake cookies. How she did it all in her tiny kitchen, I have no idea, but trays were everywhere. She put trays on the counters, the refrigerator and cabinets, and every inch of the dining room table. There was a plate made for everyone she knew: every neighbor, friend, family member, and teacher. Even the mail carrier got a batch of cookies tied with a ribbon.
Because that’s what you do when you love Christmas as much as my mother does. As her daughter, I have that same passion, that same feeling of joy and nostalgia and excitement as November nears. I, too, start playing Christmas music in early November, as she did. I, too, start putting up Santas and reindeer and bells and garland before Thanksgiving. Why? One, because it makes me happy, and two, because there’s not enough time between Thanksgiving and Christmas in the few short weeks to enjoy it all.
Today It’s a Different World
It was a gift to grow up with someone who loved Christmas so much, and I hope to pass on this nostalgia to my kids. But it’s getting harder for me to maintain that magical merry ambiance I remember feeling as a child.
Because, honestly, the expectations are different today than in the 1980s. Life is different. Christmas then didn’t seem nearly as commercialized. It seems like my mom had time to do all the magical stuff, time that escapes me more each year. Or maybe she was better at it. Perhaps she was drop-dead tired by December 25, just like I am but hid it better. I know one thing: she didn’t have the pressure to hide that damn Elf on the Shelf every night!
Regardless of who had it harder or easier—today’s moms or 1980s moms—I think it’s time that moms everywhere give themselves some grace if they don’t make all the magic and sprinkle all the fairy dust on Christmas. Or if they save a morsel of energy for themselves, they aren’t pale-green zombies fighting an inevitable flu-like virus brought on by sheer exhaustion by Christmas Day.
You Can Do All the Things This Holiday Season If You Want
Listen, if you want to do all the things: the holiday train, the caroling, the baking of 986 batches of cookies, the driving around and looking at Christmas lights, the neighborhood Secret Santa gift exchange, give yourself some grace this holiday season, mama. If you want to volunteer to be a room parent and run the class holiday party and put pressure on yourself to find the perfect matching pajama set for a family photo and stress about getting your child that one hard-to-find gift he really wants but will probably only play with for 3 hours, it’s okay.
If you need to bake cookies for every friend, family member, and mail delivery person and feel like a giant failure if your kids don’t make homemade Christmas ornaments for grandma, go ahead. Or if you insist on hosting a big dinner with a 20-pound roast, a half-dozen cherry pies, and freshly baked bread, it’s perfectly fine.
Or if it just doesn’t seem like the holiday season unless you wait in line for 4 ½ hours to put your crying child on the lap of a stranger with an itchy, synthetic beard and bribe that child with candy to “smile” for a picture that you will treasure, you should do it!
But Maybe There’s Another Way to Enjoy the Holidays
Maybe it’s okay if the memory our kids take with them as they grow up is one of a well-rested mom who danced around the kitchen on Christmas Day in her favorite, comfiest sweats and not new matching PJs. Maybe it’s okay if Christmas dinner is frozen appetizers from Costco and the tree is a fake one she bought on clearance last January, vowing never to vacuum up another pine needle again as long as she lives. Maybe mom says you’re skipping the holiday train this year, and the kids are just sending Santa a letter in the mail and catching him on YouTube. Because maybe Mom realized the pile of annual Santa photos sits ignored in a drawer somewhere, and Christmas is still Christmas if she skips that wretched line and grabs Starbucks instead.
Moms, maybe we don’t have to run ourselves into the ground every Christmas season. What do you think?
If you’re worn out, can you dial down your Elf on the Shelf display? Like, he doesn’t need to have “gotten into the hot chocolate and marshmallows during the night,” and you don’t have to set him up with a toothbrush in the morning and have toothpaste squirted everywhere. (That you must clean up!) Or can you ditch the elf this year? Maybe he writes a goodbye note and flies away to keep an eye on another family this year. Imagine the freedom!
Some of us have realized it’s all too much. I want to enjoy the holiday, and I began resenting all the pressure to be and do eleventy million things. It was ruining the season’s spirit for me. By trying to ensure my kids’ Christmas is magical, I found that mine was anything but.
And it was time to make a change.
A Change Helped Re-Brighten the Season
I decided a couple of years ago to prioritize the things that are of utmost importance to me, and if we had time for more, great. If not, that’s okay. That means we play holiday music and drive around town looking at lights every year. Or we bake cookies. We don’t have time for both.
I take my time putting out all my holiday decorations and placing everything where I want it because it makes me happy, and I deserve to feel the magic too. We still move the elf, while my last child seems to believe in his magic. But that’s it—he moves. He doesn’t do, hold, or “get into” anything. And I enlist my older kids to help me move him, too.
We dress “nicely” on Christmas Eve and take a family picture, but we wear clothes we already own and feel good in. We wear comfortable clothes to eat all the yummy pie we want all day. Our outfits are not coordinated other than they hopefully aren’t coming directly from the dirty laundry pile.
Some years I help with the class party. Some years I don’t. I send in teachers’ gifts, but they’re gift cards that I buy in a batch. If there’s a neighborhood gift swap and I’m feeling overwhelmed, I skip it.
I started focusing on the few things that best fit our family. These are the things I hope my kids take with them as memories. Because come December 25, I want to dance in my kitchen, in sweats, with joy and energy as I blast Christmas music on Spotify and put frozen apps into the oven. And I want my children to see me happy, knowing this is my favorite day of the year.