As a child, I loved Christmas. It was three days of absolute magic and excitement. We were out of school, and there was a steady supply of cookies to eat as we played with our new toys. My grandma had a magpie instinct and decorated her house with twinkling lights and anything that glittered: cut glass figurines, mirrors, tinsel, crystal chandeliers. Her living room had that 1960s shag carpet so deep you could only rake it, not vacuum it. It dampened the sound from her massive console record player that was on a constant loop of the Rita Ford collection A Music Box Christmas.
Note: it was three magical days. Just three. Not ten. Not thirty. Not sixty. Not an endless barrage of commercials, cheap music, bellringers, and forced cheer. As a young adult, it lost its charm about the same time my grandma began her descent into Alzheimer’s. I developed a severe gift phobia that haunts me to this day. If you want to see a look of sheer panic in my eyes, hand me a wrapped present.
It only got worse as time went on: awkward family get togethers with in-laws, the crush of commercialism, the way tragedies pile up around this holiday. At one point in my marriage, we declared a moratorium. We stayed home alone and watched movies, christening our new holiday Cinemas. No more mediocre ham dinners. No more shopping for gifts nobody really wanted. No more faking a smile as I unwrapped a denim shirt embroidered with bird houses.
Then my pop got sick and I got sucked back into family Christmas events. But I am drawing the line. I’m only keeping what I love about this holiday from my childhood. I’m not agreeing to gift exchanges among adults who can afford to buy whatever they need and want. I’m not going to church. I’m not sitting through nieces and nephew’s musical performances. Seriously, you’ll find me in the garage drinking beer during those agonizing moments. I’m not even allowing anyone to ruin my Cinemas with depressing and serious movies.
The thing I’m embracing this year is butter spritz cookies. They were a staple of my childhood Christmases, and I inherited my grandmother’s cookie press in all its retro-future aluminum and copper glory. I pressed out a batch of traditional trees and poinsettias for my friend Robert, who felt he’d not received enough Christmas treats at work. Later in the week, when I go to my sister’s house, I’m taking the cookie press with me. I might even crank up the old Music Box Christmas album.
This year, be nice to yourself. Don’t gag down the whole monstrosity of Christmas, if you don’t want to. Keep what you love and leave the rest of it behind.