In years past, I would often exit the holiday season feeling like I had "Missed Christmas."
I had attended the church service, hugged the family, opened the presents, ate the food, gained the weight, watched the movies, listened to the music, but I still felt like I had passed by the season without actually experiencing Christmas.
I tried to blame our church and their inexplicable refusal to do well-known, time-honored Christmas music in the services the weeks leading up to Christmas or how we just kind of like fit the Christmas Eve service in as another thing to get done. I wondered if I'd planned enough. I wondered if it was the opening of presents (something I've never really enjoyed). I wondered if it was the pressure to do a good lighting display and the knowledge that we didn't. I wondered if between church, the church play and a job that has us working weeks and months ahead - or the countless Christmas parties and forced festivities - that I was just burnt out by the big day.
This year, I didn't feel like I missed Christmas, but boy was it an unusual year.
Our tree was behind a big plastic gate to keep Ben and Cash from messing with the tree. It was up and it was festive and lit, but I didn't help put the ornaments on, just the lights. Our Christmas lights we up outside, but I considered it a temporary setup I never had time to go back and correct. And by Christmas, the center section of icicles over the highest point of the garage had stopped working, resulting in a gap-toothed appearance. But, at least 8 houses on our street in a row had lights this year, that was awesome. Our attempts to find lights on people's houses involved a lot of driving around Tacoma and Federal Way with a really tiny playlist of Christmas music through some grinch neighborhoods. Rachel, Ben and I spent the Christmas service in the choir room where we could hear but not see the service (because there was no childcare and we knew he wouldn't make it.). It took me three attempts to completely watch The Family Man and we watched the Creature Comforts special while taking the tree down. Lori did an amazing job of packing everything back up. I still haven't removed the Christmas music from active rotation iTunes. We never did watch "It's A Wonderful Life" or make it up to The City.
I've been thinking about what I might do differently next year. You might think that weird but part of one of my teams at work already held a meeting to discuss what they hope to do with regards to vacation over the last few weeks of December 2013. So yeah, I'm already thinking about it.
And I've come to a few conclusions.
(1) I do need to plan more. I need to make sure that I've covered everything we want to do and have a plan in place to get it down without feeling like a relentless push to get stuff checked off a list.
(2) There has to be a definitive start and stop. We can get stuff ready. Hang lights, preposition boxes, but on that specific day (maybe even as late as Leftover Friday) we flip the switch and it's officially Christmas at the Lamb residence. Likewise, we need to countdown in anticipation to Christmas itself. And there also needs to be a cutoff when it's all over but the cleanup.
(3) There needs to be traditions and ritual. It's good to have customs. One thing we skipped this year for money reasons was a formal portrait session as a family. I'm really bummed we skipped it. I'll set aside some money for that (and new Christmas lights for the house) throughout the year so that I can make sure it happens. Also need to spend more time throughout the season looking at some of the different parts of the gospels with Rachel on the different elements leading up to Jesus' birth. Also need to make Dec. 24 about preparing for the church service and worship and not about last-minute preparations interrupted by quickly getting dressed and heading to church to do the service and head back home for a snack and movie before shoving kids off to bed for even more last minute preparations. I didn't even have Rachel help me with the milk, cookies and carrots this year. All she got to see where the crumbs, carrot spittle and empty glass floating in melted ice.
(4) In a time of more, more, more, some stuff has to give. When we go on vacation, there's a lot of stuff we don't do. I need to find a way to suspend some household chores in order to make sure Christmas isn't a layering on of more expectations, but a substitution. Only it's not like a lazy night where you use paper plates, there's still clothes to wash and floors to vacuum. This will require some thought,
(5) I need to shop sooner, I only really need to shop for one person (I consult on what to get others) but I save most of it for my Day Away in early December, but even that felt rushed this year, even as I added a few things after the date via Amazon. I can enjoy the day and week off more if I've got more shopping done. I also need to make time to think about others so I can be more helpful when it comes to what to get them.
And some things I can't control. The weather cues are delayed here. It's now getting colder and typically we can expect snow in late January/early February (if at all). I need to adjust my mental idea of Christmas weather even as I sing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" and "Let It Snow."
I also couldn't control all the dark, cold, rainy weekends which made it less appealing to go out and hang up lights or the trip to the ER that kind of knocked us off our game a little bit, but even here a plan might have helped.
So before anyone says that a plan strips away the joy, I say even Disney Magic (tm) isn't just lucky happenstance, it's the hard work and thought of a lot of people. So if I can put together a holiday season package for my family that reduces stress, honors tradition, builds legacy and memories, puts Christ at the center and delights my family, brings joy to my children and takes some of the burden off my wife, that might just be the best present I can give.
349 days and counting...