Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Letting Go of Traditions

Mom was a Christmas perfectionist. She'd let us decorate the tree, then after we went to bed she'd rearrange all the ornaments and make sure the tinsel was on perfectly. She'd go outside to make sure it looked perfect from the street. She spent December baking-- all sorts of cookies, including Santa's that had intricate decorations. We could never help decorate, because they had to be done perfectly. The cookies were then arranged very artistically on plates to be delivered to the neighbors. The plate for each neighbor took into account their likes and dislikes and the number of children they had. In other words, she was the only one who could fix the plates, though she did allow us to deliver them.

She made our Christmas cards, which always included a picture. There were years when getting the four of us to all look angelic in the same picture was quite an ordeal. She refused to send a generic letter. Each card had to have a personal note, often with comments on their letter from the previous year. From Thanksgiving through the New Year, there would be a card table set up where she would be working on Christmas cards in whatever moments she could grab. We couldn't help with the cards, either, because they had to be perfect. By the time we got to Christmas, everyone was on edge.

Here in Tiny Village, I live in a big, beautiful house provided by the church. It was built in 1900, and has beautiful woodwork throughout. The first year I moved here, Mom had a great time buying all the Christmas decorations that wouldn't fit in her house. I had garlands hanging over the large entrances to the living room and study. There were garlands over the windows in the living room and dining room (each carefully measured to make sure it hung evenly, of course). There were Christmas trees and poinsettias and all sorts of treasures.
Being my mother's daughter, I have dutifully pulled out all the decorations each year. Remembering the stress decorations caused growing up, I have never really enjoyed putting them all out. But I've done it. I've baked cookies and made candy and generally duplicated all my mother's efforts while adding the burden of extra worship services and visits and everything else that goes with ministry in December.

This evening, Daughter and I decorated the Christmas tree. I pulled out the nativity scenes and displayed them on the mantle. There are still numerous boxes in the attic, full of garlands and a Christmas village and all sorts of treasures. Tonight I have made a decision. I'm going to let go of the tradition of stressing over perfect decorations and cookies. I have decided that a Christmas tree and some nativity scenes are enough decorations. I don't need the clutter or the stress. I may make some more cookies, but I won't stress over making the variety my mother did. I'm not going to add to my stress.

I can do this now, because Mom's dementia is advanced enough that she won't know that I'm being a Scrooge. Since she won't know, she won't be able to lay a guilt trip on me. Of course, I will still feel a little bit guilty. But I'm going to start a new tradition this year: I'm going to focus on the peace of Christmas and not allow old traditions to overwhelm me. Daughter and I will enjoy a simple Christmas. We're not going to exhaust ourselves trying to create the perfect Christmas. We will enjoy our tree and the decorations we've put up. The rest will stay safely hidden away in the attic. Maybe next year we'll put up the village and skip the tree....


Munchkin Mom said...

I, too, was the child of a Christmas perfectionist, but he had all the ideas and WE had to execute them. Bear in mind that he was militarily precise and we are all more underwear-on-the-chandelier types. Many holidays were spent fighting.

The year we decided to "let it all go" was the most peaceful Christmas I ever had. The tree was undecorated by the dogs and the kids and climbed by the cat. We ate submarine sandwiches and chips. We watched TV and lazed around and reflected on the real reason for the holiday.

Reverend Mom said...


At least this is one area where we aren't laying a burden on our kids! I hope we will find letting go of those traditions as freeing as you did.