My attic is overflowing with boxed Christmas ornaments, hand-me-down holiday trimmings from my childhood, irresistible, after-Christmas sale items (that I forget I have the following year), and indoor/outdoor lights. Still bigger boxes hold wreaths, lawn ornaments, and animated holiday figures. Sealed cartons hide contents I can no longer recall (haven't opened them in years!), the sheer bulk of which has reduced the sum total to mere stuff, excessive Christmas clutter I could do without.
Each holiday season, my head is similarly cluttered with stuff I have to do...gifts to buy/wrap, gift cards to pick up, Christmas cards to write/mail, people to visit or have over, cookies to bake/mail, family schedules to balance so we can all be together. The list goes on. Sometimes, I miss the innocent days of childhood when Christmas meant nothing more than waiting for the Big Day, oblivious to adult activities that made that day possible. For a kid, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day is interminable; for adults, it flies by so fast that on December 26th we often shake our heads in disbelief and wonder. Did we miss it?
Decades ago, Christmas was simpler. Like most kids, I was responsible only for “the count-down” and could enjoy the season. My Mom dragged the artificial tree down from the attic; my sister and I helped decorate. Mom put Christmas finery in the living room and dining room, the kind of “vintage” holiday items now found in antique shops. My favorite was the Christmas village, little cardboard houses glittering with “snow.” The company my Dad worked for at the time held its annual employee family Christmas party immediately after Thanksgiving. Mom dressed me and my sister in our best holiday attire, and we traveled via Staten Island Ferry to New York, where I excitedly sat upon Santa's knee and dined on yummy turkey sandwiches without crust and Christmas cookies. At the Catholic school I attended, the nuns gathered all the children in the auditorium for annual Christmas sing-a-longs. We were given mimeographed lyrics to all the classics, including “Silent Night,” “Oh Holy Night,” and “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” constant reminders that Jesus was the reason for the season. (All good Catholic children recognized that truth long before it was proclaimed on a bumper sticker.) Back then, Christmas felt truly special, perhaps because my parents made it so, or because the nuns put the baby Jesus front and center (as well He should be).
At what point, then, did Christmas clutter eclipse that special feeling that is Christmas? Was it when I could no longer sit upon Santa's knee? When obligation and responsibility replaced the thrilling “count-down?” When the number of holiday activities I had to do exceeded those I wanted to do? When my little boys grew up and were no longer excited by Charlie Brown's Christmas and cookies for Santa? Or was it when I started to congratulate myself for surviving another holiday season?
This year, I am opting out of Christmas clutter. I refuse to be bogged down by holiday stuff. I will not wildly deck the halls, nor purchase any new indoor or outdoor holiday decorations. I will not over-shop and hunt for “one last thing,” nor will I host holiday dinners that leave me tired, drained, and annoyed with the before and after cleaning. Instead, I will actively seek Christmas activities my family can do together and join in the enjoyment of the sights, sounds, and tastes of the season. I will be with my family, not on line in the post office, in the mall, or in the kitchen. Most importantly, I will do my very best to rediscover the little Catholic girl inside me and strive to put Christ front and center. I will ponder the reality of a newborn baby and the miracle of the Divine.
If the absence of blinking Christmas lights on my house coupled with the unusual quiet in my dining room call to mind the Grinch for some, so be it. Let's just say I'm traveling lighter this December as I seek an uncluttered path to Christmas.