I grew up with the Norman Rockwell vision of the holidays. It didn’t help that my mom was one of those people that went full tilt into creating that reality. She would put up at least five full Christmas trees. It wasn’t the kind of tree that had a few decorations and that was good enough. She had elaborate plans with her decorations. Almost all the trees were live so the scent of pine permeated through the house and with each tree she’d pick a theme for that tree that would be different from the other tree.
My mom should have gone to school for interior decorating because her skill to form visions of beauty from decorating the house with the trees was legendary and many people from town would come just to admire her work.
She didn’t stop with the trees. We lived in a large house and she spread the holiday cheer through every inch of the home from the ivory swooping the beams to the holly up in the door frames and little manger scenes displayed to look like the angels were on clouds and the shepherds were journeying through vegetation.
She would accumulate presents through the year. It was her mission to have most of her Christmas shopping done my July. Multiply that by eight children and the presents would spill out in huge mounds around the tree.
On Christmas Eve we would dress in Sunday best and do elaborate things with our hair before the many pictures that would be taken of the sacred event. Smile. And smile. Christmas Eve dinner was a feast that we would prepare for days from the homemade rolls, to the turkey and mashed potatoes, and salads with a lot of fancy stuff that I never knew what it was.
The next morning we had traditions we went through including more pictures and clean up plus more meals and grandparents coming over that we had to pay homage too.
We were the Jones, and we had the Norman Rockwell Christmas. Introduce that to my modern reality of divorce, not getting along with exes, and the fact I am not rolling in the dough nor have been blessed to be a domestic goddess.
Each year I have felt incredibly guilty about not being able to provide the Christmas of my past for my children. First came the divorces and not having my children through the whole holiday. Many tears came from that. It was during those times I realized that the holidays have a way of spotlighting what was missing or not traditional in my life.
After the first year of doing the split with my children and hearing that my X fed them TV dinners, the next year I offered up my house for a Christmas Eve dinner that was just as elaborate as my mom’s minus all the dressing up just because I was too lazy to put up with all the protests and complaints of family members.
Often it turned out that I was hosting parties upwards of fifty to sixty people. It was okay, and it still gave the flavor of the Norman Rockwell picture even though my ex and I ate in different rooms. With so many people there it wasn’t that noticeable.
But I did only do one tree which my mom would often come over and redecorate after looking at my attempts. The presents had gone down in volume but I had hoped that with receiving gifts from the grandparents, the diminishing factor wouldn’t be detected by my children.
Then my income went down. It wasn’t a slow descent, but it plummeted from X2 with his hobby of taking me back to court over and over again, just because he could. In addition, I moved over twelve hours away from most of my children and family due to a job situation with my husband.
The first couple of years I tried to hold onto tradition and did the family dinner that went from sixty people to four. I felt the depletion but held a smile until my other kids didn’t talk to me that year or send any gift. I guess that was to let me know where I stood and I had planned to travel to them next year so I wouldn’t feel so alone.
Years pass and another divorce came. By this point in my life I had grown tired. Really tired and my health wasn’t as robust as it had been. When we all got together for Thanksgiving some of my children caused a lot of drama, which made my head hurt.
All these factors came together over the years and I learned that maybe I should change the way I look at Christmas. It doesn’t have to be a Norman Rockwell type of holiday, especially if one doesn’t have a Norman Rockwell family.
Travel days away to be with family that will cause me trauma, fights, and headaches or stay home in a very quiet home? Hmmm. Stay home and feel sorry for myself and the condition of my family life? Or look at Christmas completely different. Look at it as a pleasant time to rest and rejuvenate. Hmm.
This year I didn’t join all the drama and rush of traveling to family. I stayed home with my two young children and my husband. We had a nice dinner despite the fact I forgot the vegetable and the dessert. (Did I mention I wasn’t domestic?) We talked and smiled and laughed watched movies and then the next day we opened presents, which turned out to be enough. When neighbors, grandparents and adopted grandparents kicked in I then enjoyed a nap.
Norman Rockwell is fine but for me having a quiet non stressful Christmas is even nicer.