Every Christmas we rush around madly shopping for presents, going to parties and spending those few remaining moments decorating the house. This season, the most anticipated time of the year, is also a time of enormous stress.
Harriet, my better half, is also an attorney. She has been handling divorce cases since 1978. Over the years she has seen that a great many divorces happen over the holidays. The stress involved in the activities and events can overwhelm marriages that were weak. Holidays are supposed to be joyous times when families pull together. Sadly real life isn't like that for some.
You can blame Hollywood in part for the myth that family Christmases are always wonderful. For my generation (I'm 55) the steady diet of holiday movies always taught that family Christmases were a magical cure all for life's problems.
Hollywood for decades failed to mention the huge amount of work that it took to get that family banquet and holiday together. This helped to create the myth of the super "Wife," who cleaned, cooked and then ran around supporting everyone else and never expected thanks for doing it.
Feminists led a rebellion against such stereotypes (with some justification) in the '60s. Yet they over reacted in rejecting the work involved in building a family as menial and degrading, when in fact this work it is a vital part of keeping families whole and healthy. The trick is to be certain that everyone shares in the work, kids included. In the end, it isn't the perfect meal, the perfect tree or the perfect present that gets remembered, it is the sharing of the celebration.
How many of your best memories are from preparing food for family meals? We have a tradition of making the James Beard recipe for "Parker House rolls." It is a huge amount of work but the rolls are so special and wonderful that we do it again every year. A warning here if you make them:
A: You may gain weight just by smelling them.
B. Be forever after disappointed that there are no bakeries, restaurants or food stores that make anything nearly as good.
C. Make more than you think you can possibly use, because they have a habit of evaporating before your eyes.
D. Realize that they are addictive and will probably result in a demand for baking again next year - or even sooner.
Good advice to survive the season is to cheer up and just slow down. Simplify and do not make promises that your budget and body can not keep. Share the work. The real magic of the season comes from sharing the time with family. Your five year old might not have a clue about putting up lawn decorations, but let them help, even if it takes twice as long to do.
Toss political correctness out the window and say "Merry Christmas." Spend the time sharing with family, friends and if you can help those less fortunate than yourself, by all means do so. Those activities are true to the spirit of the season and when you help those needier than you, you also help yourself.
After all the holiday is really Christ Mass; this is a religious holiday that our culture has also claimed. Actually the Catholic Church cleverly co-opted other traditional celebrations and holidays that preceded the birth of Jesus Christ.
For those non-Christians who feel left out and traumatized, I say they should just smile and celebrate what they believe while appreciating what others are enjoying. One can simply appreciate the time of year.
Many of my high school friends were Jewish. They often celebrated both Hanukah and then Christmas complete with trees and presents.
How did they do this without inflicting lifelong trauma on themselves? They just enjoyed the holiday. They accepted the traditions unlinked to the religious aspects. Christian purists may look down their noses at such activities, but I fail to see any harm when non-believers embrace the celebration (without accepting the reasons for the celebration).
Celebrate the holiday, celebrate family and learn to laugh instead of getting upset or angry. Take the time to appreciate each other and that rare time of sharing. Each and every Christmas is special, so take the time and energy to enjoy it and each other.
Soon the icy winds of January will be here, so it is important to treasure the warmth of the holiday and keep it with you through the New Year.
My best wishes to all for a wonderful and memorable Christmas.
P.S. If you email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I will send you directions on how to get James Beard's recipe for Parker House Rolls.