Good morning, parents! Class projects are due just before the holiday break and are 300% of your child’s grade. They will need a PowerPoint, three Pinterest-worthy visual aids, five puppies and 89 fireworks. Each. And don’t forget the Christmas Program you agreed to build all the sets for back in August when life was easy! Just a reminder: we have a class holiday party you will need to donate supplies for, and you signed up to bring 500 home-baked cookies so your teachers can eat away all the stress your child has inflicted upon them this semester. Yes, 500. Don’t you think teaching them all day is worth AT LEAST 500 cookies?
We have the box in the hall for your toy donations – participate or murder Santa Claus, your choice. Don’t forget to Venmo funds for your teacher gifts! Classroom supplies! Staff presents! Staff pet presents! Oh, and parents, we hope you have taken your kids to see lights, decorated cookies, hung ornaments, done all your Christmas shopping, made Christmas crafts and special traditions, hired a private elf, hand-carved and wired a wooden train set and planned a special ice skating trip at the actual North Pole because 1,000% of your child’s emotional needs depend on your ability to make their lives aneverlovingmothernutcracking Winter Wonderland this time of year!
Parents, we all have some version of this email in our inboxes right now. All of us. We have all had that night where we utterly broke down and cried, scrolling through our Facebook feeds full of perfect, magical holiday card pictures and single friends going to glamorous parties – or just simply people who have brushed their hair in the last nine days – and wondered how it all went wrong.
And let’s not even talk about all the work parties, church parties, ugly sweater parties, charity fundraisers, Painting with a Twists, Secret Santas, cookie exchanges, community volunteering and other ADULT activities you are supposed to be doing in between gluing sticks and string together with your five-year-old every night.
But we don’t talk about that this time of year. Everyone else is living the dream, sleigh bells and candy canes and fairy ballerinas, and you don’t want to be the Grinch. Or Scrooge. Or Charlie Brown. Or a Hallmark Movie heroine. Or any other vague, redeemable yet somewhat villainous archetype who doesn’t understand the True Meaning of Christmas. You just want to fulfill your Pinterest #goals and help your kids with those perfect memories that will bring them and your future grandchildren home for decades to come. No pressure.
It’s not unattainable. You remember Christmas with your family growing up. It was amazing! So special! You all gathered around the tree and sang Christmas carols like friggin’ Whos, ran down the stairs on Christmas morning like Ralphie, baked the most incredible cookies with your grandparents and cousins, had snowball fights, sledded – and no, you’re not confusing your childhood with a Norman Rockwell painting, you actually remember it being THAT GOOD.
So why does it feel like you have Clark Griswolded this whole affair? Set this incredible bar only to fall off the house, botch the lights, burn down the tree and yell a tirade of obscenities in front of the whole family? Why does it feel like A World Without Santa Claus? When was the last time you showered?
Here’s the good news: setting impossible standards at Christmas only to fail miserably has been an American Tradition for decades (see Clark Griswold). But the bad news: we’ve forgotten that That Is What Christmas Is (Really) All About, Charlie Brown.
If you Google holiday burnout strategies, you will find lists like this one telling you to “just say no” to the cookies, take time out to meditate, exercise, sleep, as though you do not know you are supposed to do those things. As though the bald patch on the back of your head isn’t from you tearing your hair out TRYING to do those things. You’ll also ironically get listicles about how to create even MORE Pinterest #goals for your family.
These are not real strategies. These do not come from anyone who has been in the trenches with you, crying on the closet floor with the door locked against an army of sticky, candy-obsessed children. These come from young, fresh-out-of-college copywriters who spend half a day deciding which yoga pants to wear or from “mommy bloggers” whose “brands” are about white carpets and beet juice boxes made from essential oils and smugness that pod children in designer clothes magically drink instead of spitting out on the aforementioned carpet.
And the Christmas movies are not Christmas Vacation with the Griswolds or A Christmas Story with the Bumpass Hounds, they’re A Christmas Prince and Knight Before Christmas and Noelle, which all have their merits but have nothing to do with your holiday. We have glitter-washed this whole affair.
It’s time to bring this holiday season back down to Earth. Because it is true that holiday traditions bring us together as families, and if we continue to put this much pressure on it, well, no Chinese restaurant in the world is going to Save Christmas. We don’t have to do it with an excessive number of long, complaint-filled rants – that is what got us to the Age of Sparkles in the first place. But we can acknowledge that the holidays are tough without being defeatists about the magic.
With that in mind, here is the list we would write for parents trying to survive this holiday season:
The Holiday Magic Life Raft
- Your sleigh runs on Christmas Cheer. The top-rated local light display and family ornament-making event in the park might be truly incredible, but if the long lines and crowds steal your energy and joy, it is not worth the Instagram posts. With any holiday goals you set, remember that your kids will remember the fun you had – that can be a holiday dance party in your living room brought to you by Alexa. If cooking Christmas dinner has you yelling at everybody, serve tacos. Seriously. Your kids will remember the fun YOU had, or they will remember you tired, frustrated and yelling about money. It has nothing to do with the details.
- Ignore the turkey Grinches, start Nov. 1. You don’t have to have the Christmas Spirit the second you box up the Drink Up Witches door sign, but if you start laying the groundwork early, you can free yourself up for more of the fun parts closer to the actual holiday. Things like decorating the house (at least the inside if your HOA is Grinchy), shopping (or at least saving some shopping carts cued to purchase on Black Friday), lining up your volunteer work (or even volunteering before it’s cool) can all be done in November. Let’s face it, Thanksgiving is a meal and maybe some football. Prioritizing a little Christmas early isn’t going to detract from the two days you spend on it.
- Step away from the tree, Griswold. You do not have to make everything this time of year extra super special. You do not have to travel out to a forest in the middle of nowhere to cut down your own tree. You can pull a tree out of a box and take turns throwing popcorn at it. Your kids will love and remember that just as much. As nostalgic as we all get at Christmastime, the truth is the world keeps changing. Mom and Dad both work in most households, and we are all constantly available to everyone we have ever met since kindergarten on social media. We simply will not have time to do things the way people did when they were filling time.
- Look for low-hanging ornaments. As noted above re: tacos and boxed trees, traditions do not have to be bucket list-level to be special to your family. The point is to have them. So stockpile some easy ideas that you can pull out on a dime when things get hectic. Grab some printer paper and scissors, cut snowflakes together. Check out your streaming services for holiday content and be ready with a movie suggestion the family can watch together. Add that snowflake-shaped pasta and instant hot chocolate to the grocery cart so you can magically produce it from the pantry when spirits are low. Play Christmas Trivia in the car, asking each other questions you make up on the fly. Drive around looking at Christmas lights. Make it a scavenger hunt. Five nativity scenes, six Grinches, etc.
- “Bless this highly nutritious microwavable macaroni and cheese dinner and the people who sold it on sale.” Simplify everything you possibly can in your day-to-day. You are adding mountains of extra activities, spending and stress during the holidays. You do not also need to cook every night. You DO need to shower. Figure out what in your usual routine you can let go of to take some of the burden off the Magic Season. If you can, throw money at it. Schedule one big deep clean apiece for Dec. 1 and Jan. 1, and leave that to the professionals. Hire a concierge car detailer. If, like most of us, that is not in the cards for you, find some hacks. Frozen pizza and paper plates mean not cooking AND not cleaning the kitchen.
- The Bumpass Hounds are inevitable. Things will go wrong, Griswold. And you don’t want to be that guy chopping down your neighbor’s tree on Christmas Eve because yours burned down to the ground. The Old Man in A Christmas Story does it better. We knew he was a turkey fiend, but when the Bumpass Hounds ate his turkey, he sucked it up, and they all laughed/cried through a hilarious Chinese restaurant dinner they would remember for years to come. Be ready to roll with the punches. As noted above, your Christmas cheer is what keeps the sleigh running.
- A crappy cup of coffee can be the World’s Best Cup of Coffee. This is all just a big commercial racket, Charlie Brown. The truth is, anything is Christmasy if that’s how you sell it to the kids. “This is not a fake tree, it’s a special toy made by elves sent directly to us from the North Pole.” This maybe only works with little kids. With older kids, you might have to flat-out lie and say the Prego you just nuked is a secret family recipe. They may not believe you, but they’ll secretly enjoy your enthusiasm.
- Land the Red Ryder BB Gun. It sounds a little greedy and at odds with the True Meaning lessons in all the old movies, but part of the magic of Christmas does come from gift giving, and specifically the art of knocking that one special gift out of the park for your kids. In fact, if literally everything else goes wrong, this is the trump card. This is the ONE thing that can bring it all back down from the ledge. You won’t nail it every year, and hopefully with the above strategies in play, you won’t need to. But keep this in your back pocket for the harder years: it can be as simple as this.
Like anything else, the holidays don’t have to be all or nothing. If we keep telling parents it has to be ALL, eventually they will rebel and opt for nothing. And then what will bring the grandchildren home?