Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Year I Skipped Christmas

For years I’ve maintained that we’d all enjoy Christmas a lot more if we celebrated it every four years, like the Olympics. After all, it seems we barely get the last of the pine needles out of the carpet before it’s time to start hanging garland again, and would we really get all that excited about downhill skiing and speed skating if the Winter Olympics were held every February?
So this year I decided to do it. The parties, teas, lunches, pageants, concerts and Christmas plays that usually keep me running around in circles at this time of year would just have to proceed without me. The only holiday obligation I couldn't abdicate was my traditional Christmas luncheon for my reading group, but that would be just as much fun without all the Christmas falderol. The more I thought about this idea, the more I really, really liked it.

No weeks upon weeks of decking every hall in this gigantic house with boughs of whatever I could find that was green; no fully-decorated tree in every room and two in each bathroom, no miles of outdoor lights cascading from every post and eave. No homemade Christmas cards, each one carefully designed and composed using personalized photographs and messages, printed and mailed to thirty or forty of my closest friends, relatives and business acquaintances. Hey! No Christmas newsletter for my business clients and no cutesy-pie Christmas photos for my web site. No trips to the mall searching for the perfect gift (times ten or fifteen), no agonizing over just the right remembrance for colleagues– not too showy, not too cheap, but significant enough to stand out from the crowd– and no more struggling to remember who was Jewish and who was not. No scrambling to get these perfect gifts wrapped, packed and off to the post office before the deadline. No scouring cook books for original recipes or spending entire days chained to the kitchen with cookie dough under my fingernails. No wrapping, packaging and delivering baskets of said cookies to people who were already hiding five or six similar baskets in their back rooms. No staring at leftover turkey and ham two days after New Year’s. No holiday weight gain. I am loving this.

This Christmas season I declare myself free. And with the time and money I save on foolish, seasonal activities, I will invest in me. I’ll paint the ceiling in my great room. Install new floors. Tile the screen porch. Buy a new sofa! All of this could have been mine years ago had I not wasted so much of my resources on Christmas. Why didn’t I think of this before?

So here, in more or less accurate chronological order, is how it’s going so far:

Dec 1 Well, okay, a little Christmas never hurt anyone. Had dinner with friends and it just happened to be the night of the tree lighting in our little town. What could it hurt to walk around the luminary-lined sidewalks, visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, sip hot cider and wander in and out of all the decked-out over priced shops? I didn’t buy anything though! (well, not much)

Dec. 3 Moved all the furniture, taped off the walls, draped plastic over the stone work and hung drop cloths from the loft, covered the floor-to-ceiling windows with paper, painted the great room ceiling. Moved all the furniture back, untaped the windows, folded up the drop cloths. I keep forgetting the joy of do-it-yourself is highly overrated. Next time I’ll hire a professional.

Dec. 4 Since I’m not really doing anything else to contribute to the Christmas spirit, I could hardly refuse a request to walk in the Christmas Parade to support the Humane Society. So Kodi the collie and I donned our Santa hats and off we went to fight for a parking place, shove our way through the crowd, and take our rightful places in the line up on Main Street. The truth is it's been years since I was in the Christmas parade, and it's a great way to celebrate life in a small town. I should do it every year.

Dec. 5 Okay, the pictures of Kodi at the Christmas parade are just too cute to resist. Maybe just a few homemade Christmas cards....

Dec. 6 The new sofa arrived ! It looks great. I moved the old sofa down into the sun room, which gave me an idea. Maybe I could have the book club luncheon downstairs in the sun room this year, which would mean confining the chaos– not to mention the cleaning and polishing-- to one level of the house. Simplify, simplify.
Meanwhile, you can’t have a new sofa without new floors. Must get busy!

Dec. 7 Attended a marvelous Christmas tea hosted by a dear friend. Gosh, I really need to have some people over. I owe so many people for so many invitations... hmmm. Maybe that’s how I got into the habit of doing so much entertaining at Christmas. But this year they’ll just have to understand. No parties. No presents. No decorations. I mean it.

Dec. 10 Moved all the furniture, installed 700 square feet of flooring, moved the furniture back. Of course the floors are neither level nor straight so what I now have are wavy, crooked new floors, as opposed to wavy crooked old floors. Next time I’m hiring a professional.

Dec. 11 New paint, new furniture, new floors... what a shame not to have just a little Christmas color. So I decorated the dining room table with a small tree, gold cloth, Christmas china, some shiny ribbon, wreaths on the backs of the chairs, filled a few bowls with red and gold balls... nothing elaborate. The secret is moderation.

Dec.12 Had a craving for eggnog, and what’s eggnog without cookies? But here’s the sneaky thing about cookies– you can’t make just a dozen! Five pounds of cookies later, I realize I’ll have to have a few people over for cookies and eggnog, or I’ll run out of freezer space. Not a party. Not really.

Dec. 13. Okay, I said no presents, but that doesn’t apply to pets . I ordered $100 worth of dog toys, and while online found the perfect party favors for the book club. We're reading Eat Pray Love (who isn't?) so I ordered Italian charm bracelets with charms for each of the categories-- eat, love, pray. What fun.

Dec.14 The sunroom has no insulation , no kitchen facilities, no furniture, but I’m convinced it will be easier to host the book club party there. For six years I've used it mostly for the dogs, crafts, and painting. One year when it was really cold, I split and stored wood there. It's really kind of a mess. But all I have to do is dust, paint, vacuum, scrub every surface with bleach, wash all the windows, put up curtains, make some holiday cushions, string a few holiday lights, it’ll be fine.

Dec. 15. The thing about living in a 100 year old almost-renovated barn is that it really starts to show its age in the dead of winter with no trees,flowers or shrubs to brighten it up. Time to paint. Need new gutters. I’ve got to do something about that sagging gate. Meantime, a few red bows couldn’t hurt...

Dec. 16 Three trips to WalMart in one day. Two trips to Home Depot. There isn’t a silver or blue ornament within three counties that I don’t now own. I’ve got sparkly blue curtains with mirror dots, miles of white tinsel, approximately one million blue lights. Someone stop me. It’s a sickness.

Dec. 17 I know I said no Christmas tree, but this one is the prettiest ever. Pale blue and white. 2 trips to Lowe’s, one trip to K-Mart.

Dec. 18. What I really wanted to do was to knock out the back wall of the library and make a direct entrance into the sun room. Unfortunately, that’s a foundation wall, and I'm not sure I want to tackle a job like that this close to Christmas. The only other access to the sun room is through the sewing room. Kind of a problem, since the professionals who installed my new heating system ten years ago took out the ceiling in the sewing room and never could figure out how to put it back. (One of the reasons I now think twice before hiring professionals). But I had an idea– silver wrapping paper on the ceiling, covering up all the gaps and holes. It looks like tin. I may leave it up permanently.

Dec. 19 Okay, so I may have gone a little overboard with the book club party. The theme is winter wonderland. Everything is blue, silver and green. White garland wrapped in blue lights on all three arches in the foyer. Sprays of cedar sprayed silver over the mirrors and pictures, snowflakes on the floor, silver and blue beads draped over doorways and tables. Blue and green ribbons on every chair. Sparkling blue curtains and table cloth and place mats made out of silver wrapping paper. Every surface decorated with blue ornaments and silver lights. Martha Stewart, eat your heart out.

Dec. 20 I think the book club party was the best ever. Certainly the decorations were! But all this leftover food! And gosh, the house looks so Christmasy it’s a shame not to share. I think I’ll have some people over.

Dec. 21 Since I’m really not doing anything to celebrate the spirit of Christmas, I could hardly refuse when I was asked to bring my dancing dog to the nursing home and do a little Christmas program for the residents. I mean, how selfish would that be? So Kodi and I don our Santa hats and our flashing reindeer antlers again, and off we go to entertain at the nursing home. Kodi has been a certified therapy dog for six of his eight years, but he usually works with children. I’ve never volunteered at the nursing home before, and what a great thing to do at Christmas! I got so much more out of the visit than the residents did. And we’re signing up as regulars for the new year.

Dec 22 So here’s the toll so far on the year I skipped Christmas:
Man hours of labor since Dec 1: 896 (at least by my count)
Trips to WalMart :42
Social Events attended: 6
Social Events hosted: 5
Pounds Gained: don't even ask
Money spent: Are you kidding me????
But I got to experience the enchantment of a small town Christmas tree lighting, walk in a parade with my dog while children crowded around to touch him, see the faces of nursing home residents light up because I was there. I ate about a million Christmas cookies and had some of the best times ever with friends. I am now, like everyone else I know, fat, exhausted and way behind schedule.
Was this skipping Christmas? Well, not exactly. What I managed to do , in an odd and unintentional way, was have a different kind of Christmas.. and in many ways, a better one. It may not be possible to completely ignore Christmas in this society, and I'm not entirely sure I'd really want to. But it's worth trying again... in about four years!


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