Life with Liz: Why we can’t start the Christmas rush too early
I ran into a friend in the checkout line the other day, and we were commiserating about how hectic the holidays are. She has a seasonally affected business that is at its busiest during the winter holiday season, and I am getting ready to cash in all the leftover vacation days I had stockpiled to account for sick kid and doctor appointments and who knows what other emergencies that might have happened all year long.
Both of us agreed on one thing: there just doesn’t seem to be enough time. The clerk, who had been listening in offered a simple solution.
“There is if you start early enough.” I admit, my first response was not very polite. And, counting to 10 before I let it come flying out of my mouth was probably the best idea I’d had all day. I know she was probably just trying to be helpful, and she must hear conversations like ours all day long, but it just was not at all a helpful thing to hear right then and there.
Holidays take a lot of work. Even trying to keep things “simple” and enjoy more “experiences” rather than “things” takes a lot of effort and planning, and starting early in my book tends to rob the other holidays of their experiences, too.
I’m not one of those people who can listen to Christmas carols all year long, although I have some dear friends who would happily do it in a heartbeat. I’m perfectly fine with waiting until Dec. 1 to turn to that station on the radio, preferably when the temperature is below freezing and there are some flakes in the air to help set the scene. Performing artists seem only too happy to provide multiple versions of every single holiday song to help fill up two months of airtime, before the big day itself. Nothing brings out my inner Grinch faster than singing along with a familiar song only to have the words or the tempo suddenly change as a different artist puts their “spin” on it.
I’m already wondering if we had our Christmas tree up too early. It’s looking a little dry. We’ve been watering it faithfully; however, the terrible growing season that hit the trees this year and the coal stove in our living room are combining to dehydrate quickly. I love having a real tree, though, and although this one may be on the curb on Dec. 26, I would never put up an artificial one just for the convenience of having it up early and having it last for months.
Baking cookies is another holiday tradition that has to happen in its own time. Since the only thing my kids do more enthusiastically than bake cookies is eat them, I would have to make approximately 400 dozen cookies in October and November to have them last until Christmas. We wait until only a week or two before Christmas to bake our cookies, otherwise, Santa would be looking at a plate of Chips Ahoy and Oreos. There’s also less of a chance that someone will accidentally eat the “special” cookie that each kid takes the time to make out of their favorite dough just for Santa.
A lot of planning goes into our cookie making operation. Frequently, things like sugar cookie dough may get made one weekend and then rolled out and baked the next weekend. Or, we might spend all day Saturday making dough and then every night pull a different batch out of the fridge to actually bake. It helps keep us from bingeing on all the cookies and also helps spread that Christmas feeling out for days. It also keeps the sprinkles out of the chocolate chips and the chocolate chips out of the raisins.
I am a person who keeps her eye out for sales and unique items to give as gifts all year round. I am also a person who hides those gifts away and forgets that she has them. Over the years, I’ve tried various ways to keep track of such things. Turns out that keeping that list next to the grocery list that you expect everyone to check isn’t a great idea. Hiding the list usually ends up much like hiding the gifts does. I’ve been burned by the incredible growing children as well.
Many times, I’ve gotten a great deal on winter clothing at the end of the season and I’ve thought to put them away for the next year, only to have my children hit unexpected growth spurts and completely skip over a size or two. I’ve joked that that might be one of the reasons that A is as tall as he is, because every time I buy ahead, he has to grown out of it before he can wear it.
So, sure, I could probably have saved myself some last-minute stress over the holidays by “starting earlier,” but then I think I would also lose some of the magical spontaneity and merry anxiety that also comes along with the unexpected. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. I know I’m never going to find out otherwise, because I just don’t have it in me to start preparing for Christmas in September.
Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.