I have this fantasy for the month of December that I have had since I signed my first lease for an apartment with my husband four years ago:
I have the sort of job that leaves me feeling at peace and refreshed and festively rosy-cheeked after work so I can hit up a craft store or Pottery Barn to gleefully glide along the aisles, shopping for trendy and unique holiday decor to dress up the dwelling space that I have already cleaned and prepped for the decorating occasion. Thanks to the budget I created in September for holiday spending, I have more than enough in my savings to splurge on a soft, velvety new tree skirt and a darling gravy boat and butter dish to complement my Christmas dining set. And that pea-coat at Macy’s I saw on sale last week? The one that would be perfect to show off over a black cocktail dress at the company Christmas party? Well I can have that too, thanks to my smart and savvy financial planning!
Before the first week of December comes to a close, I have a meticulously manicured Douglas fir adorned with garland and gold and glittery ball ornaments and candy canes perched on the ends of its branches standing in all its garish majesty in a corner of my living room. My windows are all lined with strings of white twinkle lights and a holly berry wreath hangs from the front door that matches my holiday ‘welcome’ mat outside.
In this fantasy, my house always smells like apple cobbler and cocoa and fresh pine for whatever company might be dropping in for a glass of cider. And every night is punctuated with wood logs roasting in a fireplace while Louis Armstrong croons romantic carols from my iPod and home-made gingerbread browns in the oven as I sip eggnog and tie bows around my beautifully wrapped presents and slow dance with my lover-boy beneath the mistletoe. I am an elegant and graceful social presence at all of the dinners and parties and gift exchanges I attend throughout the month and am known by my timeless taste in the pieces I select for my winter wardrobe, all of which I wear with an updo that would make Audrey Hepburn jealous. And the most fun and novel memories of this fantasy are of the sunset sleigh rides through the melting snow, caroling in the downtown square, and watching everyone’s face when they take that first bite of my homemade pumpkin and pecan pies during one of my formal Christmas dinners.
Some fantasy, huh?
Allow me to assure you that none of the elements described in the completely fictional scenarios above have ever been a part of my reality in the month of December. Ever.
And they likely never will be.
The honest truth of it is that this month is typically the most stressful, expensive, anxiety-ridden, and over-planned month of the year for me. And I hate that.
You won’t be seeing me donning an Audrey Hepburn style up-do or caroling in the square or splurging on a butter dish to match my Christmas china this year. (I don’t own Christmas china. And I can’t sing. And my cow-lick sticks out half of the time when I wear my hair up.) Instead, you can find me standing in the check-out line at Target in a stained hoodie at 10:15 at night with a cart full of last minute gifts and cards that I was too lazy to read the contents of but will mail to my Aunt Susie anyway and a stub of pre-made sugar-cookie dough of which I will probably eat a quarter of with my bare hands before it even makes it in the oven.
That’s a real night during the month of December for this gal. Hot cider and gravy boats and garland not included.
The holidays are generally pegged as hurried and busy and stressful for most of us. And that is because we have made them that way. There are so many of iconic and idyllic images of what Christmas should look like that it makes it nearly impossible to ever feel like the reality of our own will ever suffice or measure up. When we compare the truth of our circumstances and the honest way our lives appear with the fantasy of how we wish they did, it can be a struggle not to feel completely and utterly hosed. At least for me and my mistletoe and sleigh-ride and silver-bell stuffed Christmas-time fantasy.
I was reminded of this late last night. On a mission to find cheap and easy DIY tips on Pinterest for decorating the evergreen tree I have yet to buy, I pressed the “enter” key for my search and watched a dozen artsy and festive pictures pop up like little bubbles, each one bursting open with candy-cane and yuletide colors, each displaying some sort of Popsicle-stick or coffee filter craft, or a Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer cupcake tutorial or Norman Rockwell-like depiction of some faraway winter wonderland.
I froze with my hand over the mouse. I did not know how or where to begin. It all looked so pretty and fun and quintessentially Christmas. I wanted to do and have it all. Because it would look so good in my holiday fantasy-land.
Unfortunately, however, my fantasy is just a fantasy. It is not true. Yet while jumping from picture to picture on Pinterest, I tend to forget that my fantasy isn’t real and start “pinning” things that I know I will never, ever get around to making or needing. It’s like a way to hoard things I don’t need and will never use without filling up my bedroom and dining space with junk. Or requiring a televised intervention. And for someone like me with a knack for comparing and banking on unrealistic expectations around the holidays, I do this because when I escape to that fantasy, I am reminded of the smallness and normalcy of my real “stuff” and the very regular Christmas tree ornaments and lights that I have. This makes the image-obsessed, consumerist in me come out, fangs and claws exposed. And this version of me likes to play pretend and “pin” fake crap to a “pin board” in cyberspace and get grumpy when other people have prettier pictures and place settings and parties than I do.
I hate that I get tangled up in all of this hoopla. I hate the comparing and judging and self-criticism.
As I skimmed a few more pages on Pinterest last night, it hit me like a ton of coal—the reality that for four years I have enslaved myself to this fantasy of what the holidays should look like and I have been operating from that place of enslavement ever since. Never happy, always wanting more, and bound by impossible expectations. My fantasy for the month of December is not a good or healthy thing because it has absolutely nothing to do with what the meaning of Christmas is really about. My fantasy is all about me. The real Christmas narrative, the story that truly counts, is not.
I closed out of the tab I had open to my Pinterest account and stared at my pug, Wallace, asleep at my feet. After a couple of minutes of quiet reflection I tuned into the “Classic Christmas” station on my Pandora. Frank Sinatra’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” came on and I let the first line wash over me.
“Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light.”
Let your heart be light.
My heart wasn’t light. Maybe it still isn’t. But as I watched my dog snuggled up by my toes last night in my quiet living room that has yet to be decorated for Christmas, I thought, maybe I can get there. Maybe I can get to a place where my heart is light during the holidays. It likely won’t happen if I am too preoccupied living in a fantasy, though, and scouring Pinterest for ideas and ways to make it prettier. Perhaps a more enjoyable and practical Christmas fantasy is imagining the month of December without all of the bells and whistles and fancy pies and plates and cupcake tutorials—a December that gives my heart permission to be light, rather than bogging it down with expectation and expensive fillers that don’t matter. And maybe rather than only imagining it, I can actually live out this fantasy by doing just that—giving myself permission to breathe and be light. I am not exactly sure how this will look for me but I have a feeling it resembles standing in line at Target in a sweatshirt at 10:15 at night with a basket of last-minute gifts and cards and pre-made cookie dough.
It might not be glamorous or anything worth writing home about, but at least it is the real me. At least it gives me a chance to let my heart be truly light.
And that might be the best Christmas gift I could give myself this year and in the years to come.
Hot cider and gravy boats and garland not included.