Every year I run the holiday gauntlet. I’m sure lots of people do it, but this isn’t about them; it’s about me.
The gauntlet starts with Thanksgiving. I attend dinner with my dad’s side of the family at my Aunt Jo’s. Some years I’m responsible for shuttling the nieces down, too. It’s a nice way to ease into the craziness that follows in the weeks to come.
From that point on, it’s a matter of wrangling presents, buying them if I can afford it or making them if I can’t, wrapping them, mailing them, piling them up with the rest of my Christmas paraphernalia in the corner of my room. This likely takes me until the week of the holiday because I’m lousy at coming up with gift ideas in a timely fashion, and if I do come up with something, then I tend to misjudge the amount of time I have to get it. Somehow, I always managed to squeak in under the wire.
My middle niece was cursed with having her birthday exactly a week before Christmas. My mom doesn’t put out any Christmas decorations until afterwards so she can have the day and of course, I’m there for it to give her present and enjoy some cupcakes. It’s like a warm-up.
The week of Chrstimas is probably my most dreaded week of the year. It’s the logistics of trying to squeeze in as many Christmases as necessary so everyone is satisfied (this happens when you have divorced parents, divorced grandparents, and traveling grandparents). One year, I ended up doing six Christmases in four days. It was a nightmare and I’ve resented Christmas ever since. Typically, though, I usually have no more than three. Last year, I only had two. This year I’m only having two. It’s like a vacation only having two.
Part of the headache of doing the Christmases is the traveling. A trip to my mom’s is usually no big deal, just a twenty minute drive. A trip to my Aunt Jo’s is about the same amount of time, but in the opposite direction. But there have been years in which I drove to my mom’s on the 23rd and 24th for Christmases and then on Christmas drove north to her house, picked up the nieces, drove south to my Aunt Jo’s, had Christmas, then drove north to take the girls home, then drove south to take myself home. The entire Christmas ping pong trip ends up being about 150 miles. It’s a lot of driving for a day full of food and presents and sometimes crappy weather.
Sure, other people drive that distance in a day. My grandparents pretty much have to in order to make their Christmas rounds. But, I think it’s more exhausting to drive it like a fish on speed trapped in a small bowl.
After the mania that is Christmas begins the slow cool down. New Year’s Eve is a raucous affair for a lot of people, but for me, it’s a quiet business of a marathon of some sort (last year it was Mystery Science Theater 3000) with some snacks, sparkling grape juice, and a friend or two. Nothing big, nothing drunken, nothing fancy. Just a quiet ringing in of the New Year.
My oldest niece’s birthday is January 11th and, you know it, I’m there for cupcakes (or cheesecake) and presents. It’s the last trip I have to make and by that point, I’m tired of driving 51 North.
The gauntlet ends on my birthday the next day, January 12th. My mom usually just lumps my birthday in with my niece’s, which has led to some interesting birthday cakes over the years. I can’t blame her. By that point, all of my friends and relatives are tired of celebrating things. Even if I had the energy to do anything special, I’d most likely be doing it alone. The last time I went out on my birthday, I was twenty-six and ended up puking at the bar, so maybe it’s just best I’m too tired to do anything anyway.
It then takes me until Thanksgiving to rest up for the next run.
This is why the people who love Christmas baffle me. I think of them like I think of people who enjoy running marathons; it’s hard for me to enjoy anything when I’m struggling so hard just to breathe.
Despite the craziness and my Grinch-like demeanor, I do enjoy the quiet, sweet moments with family and friends. And the food. And the free stuff.