IMG_4322I realized this year that the only day that makes me as happy as the day we decorate for Christmas — and I LOVE that day: love buying the tree, love the everything-old-is-new-again wonder of pulling 3.5 decades’ worth of ornaments out of the storage bin, love the way my kids dance around my husband who just wants to get the lights on before we start hanging things please and for heavens sake you guys, love the way the Manhattans taste just a little bit toastier in the glow of the lights, love it all — is the day we take it all down and reclaim our living space.

Much more than New Years Day, the day after Christmas (yes, we do this around 8am on December 26th because I literally wake up and I am over it) represents this moment of renewal.  With the tree down and all the counter surfaces reclaimed from their various angel bands and nutcracker armies, our tiny apartment suddenly feels about twice as large (a fleeting, but beautiful feeling), and I bustle around and re-merchandise all my kids’ toys to make space for the new, and usually my husband does a big Goodwill run since we suddenly notice that we have so much stuff and half of it we don’t use anymore.

Ironically enough, our kids love this day too.  You would think that there would be some kind of letdown, that they would be sad, wanting to hold on to the Christmas spirit for just one more day.  But honestly, since LittleMan was about three years old he has emerged, all bedhead and bleary eyes on December 26th with an air of relief about him: like after a whole month of waking up just a little bit too early to open the Advent Calendar and Countdown to Christmas, after several days of staying up waaaay too late with family parties and Waiting for Santa, he can just sleep and play and have some peace. (Babygirl, on the other hand, just loves a project.  And cleaning up Christmas is a great big project.)

“Negative-one days until Christmas!” LittleMan announced gleefully as we sat down to lunch in our clean apartment.

“Correction!” said my husband.  “Three hundred sixty four days until Christmas!”  LittleMan dropped his mind-is-blown expression, and Babygirl laughed and offered her two cents:

“Nine billion and two hundred and five and fourteen pounds until Christmas!  What’s two hundred plus two hundred plus twenty?”

See?  We were in such a good mood we launched into Family Math Games.  Which is saying something.

I love the holidays so much that I’m in denial about how stressful they are.  I really get annoyed with bah-humbuggers; I just enjoy the decorations and the omnipresent carols rather than getting hung up on the commercialism that has overtaken Christmas.  To me, it’s all mixed up in the experience: there is the bustle, there are the obligations (if you want to call them that), there are the moments of quiet that are made all the more beautiful by the activity that brackets them.  And the older I get, the better I am about saying no, about acknowledging which traditions are burdensome and un-fun, and eliminating those from the calendar.  (For example, even though everyone is “supposed to” go to Macy’s to see the windows and SantaLand, and even though I used to really enjoy that, when my children were strapped into strollers, this year I decided that it’s awful, because Babygirl kept running away and LittleMan wouldn’t stop begging me to take them to the Disney Store to look at Star Wars merchandise even though there was a line around the block to get in, and there were nine million people interfering with my efforts to corral them safely to the train, and by the time I got home all I wanted to do was cry in silence.  So that tradition is off the docket.  One less thing.)

So yes, of course it takes planning and a willingness to just stop once in a while.  But to me, the holidays are still an all-too-rare opportunity to believe unabashedly in magic, and in the potential for humanity to rise above its base and violent present.  They are a few, fast-moving weeks when we come together to remember cherished traditions, and, with a new generation, to create new ones.

But man, as a parent, the holidays are a lot of work.  Keeping the Magic Alive is no small feat; nor is putting on dinner parties for ten people or keeping overstimulated children from actually consuming all the sugar in all the land.  Building dollhouses and braving lines and curling one’s hair far more often than usual mean late nights and lots of deep breathing and extra glasses of wine.  Managing expectations and maintaining sleep schedules in the face of parties and wild anticipation is an art form.

So now we rest.  With our house clean and our fridge purged of chocolate and butter, and one more week before school starts up again, we sleep in a little later and eat a little cleaner and pause to be grateful for the year behind us — the madness included.


As an aside, this week I am actually going to publish a Tahoe Guide on the blog.  Stay tuned, ye mountain lovers.

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