Thursday, December 7, 2017

'Tis the Season - of Calm AND Crazy

The winter holiday season is, to me, a bit like summer vacation. Let me explain. Every June, as the last day of school arrives, I get giddy with summertime excitement. This began, of course, when I was a kid, but persisted through my college years of working summers, when I moved on to the workforce and no longer had a summer break, and now – when my own kids anticipate that delicious freedom of warm, unscheduled days – although summer often means more complicated juggling of various tasks for me.

Ditto with Christmas. In my mind, I picture calm evenings curled up by the fireplace with a good book, the lights of the Christmas tree twinkling peacefully nearby, everything tidy and cozy, and – of course – sprinkled with a good dose of holiday magic. Because that’s what Christmastime should be, right? Cocoa and cookies, peace and joy, everything wonderfully exciting while simultaneously calm and bright.

In reality, this is crazy time in our household, further magnified these next few weeks by all the hustle and bustle associated with the holidays.

Because much of my writing work focuses on skiing and winter recreation, I am – thankfully – extra busy on that front this time of year. The kids jumped into their ski racing program the day after Thanksgiving, and that occupies – happily, I will point out, but also exhaustingly – most of every weekend from now until April. I also coach in that program, which means there is little downtime for any of us. Throw in a lengthy list of home improvement projects and the related upheaval those bring, and I often feel as if I’m barely afloat in a sea of household chaos.

But here’s the thing… I love it. Yes, the decorations we shoved partly in haste back into the storage closet last January cause me some consternation as we try to figure out where to fit all our favorites – the ones that make it feel like Christmas, like OUR Christmas. And we have to move the living room furniture around to find space for the tree, then trim said tree with lights that actually work and our assorted plethora of ornaments that seem each year like they’ll never all fit on the tree.

The extra stuff can seem overwhelming in an already sometimes cluttered house, and the added tasks can be challenging to shuffle into an already overflowing calendar. But this is a good kind of crazy.

It’s fun – and amazing – to pull ornaments from the bin and remember what each one means. There are decades-old ones from my childhood and my husband’s, handmade ornaments the children created in their earlier years, and others from places we’ve visited. Likewise, there are homemade and school-made decorations that join store-bought ones on the mantle and windowsills. There’s no color coordination or underlying theme – just a hodgepodge of holiday treasures that maybe look good only to us.

This week, we have pulled out the bins of decorations and cleared the mantel of its non-holiday d├ęcor to make room for Christmas. Some evening this week, I hope, we will get our tree from a local tree farm, stand it in its regular place by the front windows, and string it with lights. This tree – with its woodsy fragrance and twinkling decorations – will be the centerpiece of our living room for the next few weeks. 

The very sight – and scent – of it inspires a bit of calm in me, calls me to take a breath and focus on the bright rather than the crazy.

On Christmas eve – when the children are tucked all snug in their beds, when the presents have been selected and wrapped, when I have prepped as much of Christmas dinner as I can and set the table to festive, when the stockings have been hung hopefully by the chimney – I will sit by the tree. I will pause and take it all in and thank my lucky stars – and those twinkling Christmas tree lights – for holiday magic, and for the moments of calm and bright amid the wild and crazy of the season. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the December 8, 2017 issue of the Littleton Record.

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