BY TRACY ROSE
It’s finally here: The most wonderful time of the year, the one I’ve dreamed about for weeks — the spot on the calendar that’s the furthest away from Christmas. Not Christmas Past, of course, but Christmas Yet to Come and all that’s entailed in pulling it off.
I realize that it is somehow ungrateful to complain about Christmas (First World problems), and it’s risky to do it in person, since you never know how it will go over. No joke about feeling ho-ho-homicidal falls flatter than when you find out that the person you’re venting to started watching the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas specials in early November.
Still, I know I’m not the only one to feel stressed and overwhelmed by the sheer number of seasonal events and preparations crammed into a three-week period, which is my true beef with the holiday season extravaganza. I saw it on the tired face of a friend on Christmas Eve as her children basked in the glow of their cheerfully festooned tree, in the cautious Facebook post of another ticking off the number of holiday-themed events cooked up (er, carefully put together) by the cluster of Asheville City schools her children attend, the harried lot of people crammed into the West Asheville post office with me at 10 till 5 on the last day to mail packages in time for Christmas delivery.
Ah, now there’s the problem, the efficient holiday task-completers among us might say: I waited too late to start. There’s some truth there, I admit. I am constitutionally inclined toward dawdling, procrastination and deadline pushing and am typically overly optimistic about how much I can accomplish in any given period of time.
I tried for a time to follow the guidelines set out by Transylvania County’s Marla Cilley, aka the FlyLady, who offers home organizational tips to her minions of Flybabies at flylady.net — including the stated goal of having most holiday preparations complete by Dec. 1. The first of December, I kid you not. A glistening and ultimately unobtainable dream, at least for me, so I returned to my slapdash ways (as if I had ever truly abandoned them).
But even if one is not organizationally challenged, the number of holiday obligations running up to the big day seems to mushroom every year, even if you try to skate around the edges of the Christmas season. Workplaces have their holiday parties; schools, their performances and lunches for teachers; churches, their caroling expeditions; and on and on and on. This is all in addition to the normal chores of work and home life, which make the days feel plenty full enough as is.
The surprise snowfall that temporarily paralyzed part of Western North Carolina last month and knocked out power for at least some of us had a special silver lining for the overscheduled: canceled or delayed holiday events. As much as I truly appreciate my neighbors, I could have breathed a quiet sigh of relief to be legitimately off the hook for the holiday potluck. Could have, since I was double-booked that day, and the second event was rescheduled.
The thought of completely opting out of the holiday seems like a tantalizing choice since I stopped going to church long ago and Christmas for me has become a cultural, not religious, one. (No offense, Jesus, if you happen to be catching up on some recreational reading after your most recent bash.)
Enticing though it may be, still I’m somehow not quite ready to completely jettison all these seasonal chores and activities (at least not while my son, an enthusiastic Christmas-partaker, is still at home). So my answer has been to cut corners in every possible way. For example, baking homemade cookies for a perfectly lovely Candler cookie-swap party a few weeks ago meant that my offering turned out to be humble drop cookies, not ones featuring an intriguing backstory and thoughtfully curated ingredients. Did anyone notice? Yes, I think they did, but they were either too polite or stressed out themselves to raise an eyebrow.
Despite spiking anxiety levels for individuals, from a community standpoint, Christmas is probably a good thing — at least in terms of retail sales, charitable giving and a purely subjective sense that there might be a bit less road rage on Asheville-area streets and highways. The sight of local fire and sanitation trucks bedecked with wreaths on their grilles surely must give other drivers a smile as well.
So, what’s the solution? I have a fantasy, sparked by a friend’s wistful Facebook comment, that everyone could come together to spread all of these many jolly activities (and their associated deadlines) throughout the year, perhaps loosely attached to an underperforming existing holiday. So, for example, we could all agree to send holiday cards on Groundhog Day. A middle school band concert could coincide with St. Patrick’s Day and so on.
A pipe dream, I know. Though a couple of years ago, I accidentally discovered a de-stressor in the form of delaying travel to visit family, rather than aiming for a Christmas Eve arrival. This revelation came via a stomach bug that struck while I was at my son’s dentist’s office a few days before Christmas. (Continuing apologies to everyone at the dentist’s office.) One by one, the whole family was laid low, and we could not leave town at the appointed hour — which turned out to be a strange sort of boon, one that meant we could travel when it made sense, not when the calendar told us to go.
There might be a lesson here for next year, and once I take down the tree later this month, I’m going to set aside some time to ponder it.
Tracy Rose is Xpress’ Opinion editor and is planning to send out holiday cards any day now.