Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Behind the holiday eight ball

I don't know why it happens every year. Somehow December 25th arrives with remarkable predictability and yet, I'm never prepared. A season of peace and celebration morphs into a chaos that accelerates with the opening of each tiny flap on the Grape's advent calendar.

Maybe I should pause and be thankful I don't need to keep track of holidays that present as moving targets every year. I don't know how my Jewish and Muslim friends manage it.

Perhaps it's actually easier, in some ways, to be in the minority. No commercial machine tells them when to celebrate their magical season.

We're so bombarded with Christmas from the moment the Halloween candy leaves the shelves that I've conditioned myself to tune it out. I ignore the lights and wreaths in October. There's no amount of money you could pay me to get me to camp outside any store in the wee hours of Thanksgiving night. I refuse to hear carols before December.

But the problem is, by the time I'm ready to feel the holiday magic (sometime around today or tomorrow, and lasting through the traditional twelve days of Christmas), everyone else is winding down. That includes our tree - a Berkeley Street tree lot special that was probably felled in August. Of 2009. I'm sure it'll need an I.V. to make it through the new year.

And I'm not so worried about the annual holiday shopping. I actually don't mind the stores around December 23rd. I experience better clarity and sense of purpose when I know there's no time to kick the tires. Although I could dispense with the annual Christmas Eve dash to the corner store to buy wrapping paper, since I can't find the leftovers from last year. (They inevitably burst from the closet on their own power late in the evening on December 25th.)

I feel like somewhere in the unwritten mommy rules, it says we cannot commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ without at least seven kinds of homemade baked goods on hand. I like to cook. Really.

Baking, on the other hand, is a chore that looms over me in the manner of window washing or closet reorganization.

Yet I can't bring myself to outsource it. I love (and personally consume more than my fair share of) the treats my mother and her mother used to bake every December. And, even if it means making pastry dough in the middle of the night before Christmas, I feel duty bound to pass along the traditional family love of prune filled Finnish confections to the Grape.

Maybe I'll enjoy baking cookies more when the Grape gets big enough to participate. But for now, my attention span doesn't last past the first dozen. I get bored. The cookies end up super-sized because I don't have the patience to make hundreds of tiny treats.

I know I should step up my game. This is the first year that the Grape is old and interactive enough to grasp the concept of a holiday celebration. He loves trotting to the mailbox to check the day's haul of holiday cards. Have I written one seasonal greeting? That would be negative and I blame myself, for having unrealistic ambitions. I thought I'd have all the envelopes addressed during the first week of December. Ha.

The trouble started when, for the first time ever, I endeavored to have cards made featuring the Grape with Lila the Dog. I ordered them in a timely manner, by which I mean the week after Thanksgiving. It turns out I should have been on this season's greetings thing in July.

Early last week, the company delivered our cards to some random woman in Guam (okay, Connecticut, but with less than two weeks to go it's the same end result). She kindly sent them onward. They arrived last night. UPS dumped them on the neighbor's stoop.

Without envelopes.

And of course the cards are some weird custom size, and at least half of them are headed overseas.

I've learned my lesson. Next year I'll beat the system. I'll address my cards from a beach chair on Labor Day weekend. I'll buy wrapping paper half off in January and store it some place I'll actually recall. I'll pace myself with the dreaded baking, and have a freezer stocked with sweets marked "Do not open until Xmas" before Thanksgiving rolls around.

Yeah, right. If you believe that, I've got a winning lotto ticket for your stocking.

One last seasonal thought: Is it too early to break out the egg nog?

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