A few weeks back, just when the stress of the season was beginning to nibble at the edges of my days, I read an essay – one of many that tend to appear around this time of year – about the importance of finding peace during the holidays. This writer espoused the “less is more” theory I usually love. My brain is old and I don’t recall the distinct details of her recipe for success but I recall radical suggestions. Things like: don’t decorate the house one year; don’t send out cards; don’t throw that party. I scoffed. I actually fumed a bit. I sensed a bit of “Bah humbug” in the author’s tone. Really, cut things out like decorating one’s house? Really?
A few days later my to-do list was growing and the stress was now fully feasting on my energy level. A nasty “you must get it done!” tightness had descended on my chest as I recalled the article. The author’s ideas were beginning to sound less radical. I sat at my kitchen island, with the half-written stack of my elderly parents’ Christmas cards (Mom is no longer able to write and no one could be read Dad’s writing if they tried), thinking about all I had to get done: The cookie decorating party I was throwing for our youngest. And my own Christmas card I hadn’t even begun to work on. And the pounds of butter, sugar and chocolate I had to turn into gift-giving treats. And the shopping still to be done. And the tubs of decorations sitting at the top of the stairs waiting to be hung. And the neighborhood party we had discussed having this year.
And I tried to see what, as the author of that wise essay had suggested, I could cut out. I called up each item and presented it for deletion.
The party. “No one but you and your husband know you were going to do that. The invitations haven’t been sent. It’s a pain. You have to clean the house, buy and make the food, and be perfect. Skip it.”
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The cards. “Why do you have to do your parents’ cards? Do other grown children do so? You could just send out the ones to family – ten at most. Skip the newsy letter. Drop finding, uploading, and printing a photo. No one will miss them.”
The holiday treats. “It is perfectly acceptable to say, ‘I am taking a break this year.’ More and more people are doing that. Just buy something. Or skip it all together. Who cares?”
But the child in me – the one who doesn’t see life as a chore; the one who longs for the brightness, peace, and anticipation, and deep spiritual gifts of love, kindness, compassion, and renewal that the season brings each year – spoke softly back.
“You love rolling those little sugar balls each year, dipping them in chocolate and gingerly placing a nut on top. Your girls love stealing spoonfuls of chocolate when you are not looking. Your husband loves joking about how they really should be called by their anatomically correct name – bourbon t********. And your friends love receiving them. They show you care, that you are thinking of them. And that makes your heart sing.”
“You will enjoy the laughter of the children and the silliness as they decorate cookies and run around the house. Life is too short, and children bring joy where we only see work. Your daughter wants to make Reindeer cookies and chocolate pretzels. You want to make them too. It will be fun.”
“It is work to entertain but you always enjoy the fellowship and good food. And you haven’t talked to most of your neighbors for more than a moment in the driveway all fall. This communion is what the season is about. It warms our souls and widens the heart with love.”
The voice spoke on, wisely noting why almost all the items on my to-do list were important to me, and to others. Why they are what makes the season what it is. And I found myself thinking that the only the thing I needed to cut from my list was the complainer in me. The anxious one. The one who saw each item as an insurmountable hill, a pain in the butt, something that needed to be perfect or it would be a failure.
What I needed was not to do less – though most certainly a few things needed to be dropped – but to look at the whole process of seasonal preparation and celebration in a new light. A light that begins in each of our hearts and spreads outward to family, friends, strangers even. A light that celebrates, nurtures and grows the spirit within each one of us.After the loss of 26 lives last week at Sandy Hook Elementary, many of them precious children and mothers who now will not get to decorate cookies, or trees, or mantels, or tables this year, I would say that the small voice inside of me was right.