I’m not Scrooge and I’m not the Grinch, either—but December is enough to make me feel like one of those guys. It’s only December 6, and I’m feeling sick and tired of this month.
Could we schedule anything else? Seriously. I cut back on parties and try to simplify, just like nice mommy articles suggest. I do. I make or buy four carefully chosen presents per child in pre-set categories, so I don’t overspend. I refuse every invitation I can. But what else are we going to cut? The first grade Gingerbread Man play, the Christmas piano recital, or the December Dance Showcase? The Christmas Cruise or the Living Nativity? The ward Christmas party that we’re helping with or the employees’ Christmas party (not that—I got to meet Ben Huff’s parents!)? I admit that I set myself up for failure years ago by starting traditions like decorating the Monday after Thanksgiving without fail and cooking a specific Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas day morning breakfast, and Christmas day luncheon. What am I going to do—disappoint everyone by serving cold cereal and leftovers? Refusing to put up decorations this year like I threatened to do? Every year my dreams of sitting cozily by the Christmas tree and reading cute stories flitter away just like the glitter dust we throw at the city’s “Lights On” Ceremony.
I am tired of decorations. There is too much clutter and mess, and I resent the time it takes to put it all up and the time it takes to put it all down, not to mention the annoyance of cleaning around and over and through holly garlands, Christmas figurines, and pine needles. I make Christmas jam in June or July for neighbor gifts, but I still have to deliver them and carol at the doors for a list of people that grows longer by the year—not that I’m complaining about having too many friends, truly I’m not. But I am tired of organizing my Christmas card list (why do you people have to move to new houses all the time?), folding cards, addressing envelopes, and sticking stamps. But I love to receive cards and hear what people from my past are doing, so I have to send out mine.
And service projects. Don’t even get me started. You are going to get mad at me, I just know it. But I have to tell you that I am pretty sick of service, too—or at least, of service projects. We have the ward service project, the elementary school service project, the middle school service project, the National Junior Honor Society project, and various school class service projects. There is the homeless shelter food drive and pick-up, as well as the deserving people and organizations asking for help and donations at every single store or business I go to this month. In the mode of “cutting back on Christmas,” I’m skipping the service-learning project in my class this semester (Shhh. Don’t tell.) and the December blood drive. I’m sorry. I know I’m being sarcastic, so you might not believe me when I say that I feel guilty about my bad attitude. Money is tight, but there’s still that nasty choking in my throat each time I walk by the ringing bells of the Salvation Army and don’t hear my coins clink in their metal buckets. I gave at the last three stores, so I have to avert my eyes when the cashier asks, “Do you want to donate to ____?” and I say with pretended cheerfulness, “Not today!”
I wonder what all this teaches my children about service. I want them to love being charitable, so you’d think that would make me want to run around doing every single service project out there. That would set a good example of service, right? Oh, it makes me tired just thinking about it. My Christmas dream is to slow down and focus on our family service project. It’s personal, it’s serious, and it hits close to home. My children are emotionally invested in our project, and I think it’s important for them to actually work and serve in a way that impacts their lives. Our family service project was chosen to do that. But what about the rest of the projects? What do my kids learn when they see their exhausted, Christmas-worn mom run to the store (again) and shell out a few more dollars for one more can of this or that, which they then toss flippantly into the service box at school? They don’t learn the value of money, the value of time, or the value of their mom. They think service is bringing a note home, showing it to the adult, and carrying back whatever the adult tucked into the recycled grocery bag. What can I do? The projects are all worthy and valuable, but we’re spread so thin. I’m left feeling haggard, miserly, and guilty, and I hate December for making me feel like that.
So that is my whining. I’m sick and tired of December. Or maybe I’m just tired. That happens to me occasionally. But I’ve decided to suffer through for a couple of reasons. First, I can never get enough Christmas music. Bring me carols, ring me bells, sing me “Hallelujah.” Praise the Lord in song! One month is not nearly long enough to listen to everyone from Fred Waring to Rebecca St. James, from David Lanz to my new favorite, Celtic Woman. The peace and joy that is supposed to be Christmas pours down and washes over me through a rousing rendition of “Hark the Herald!” or “Joy to the World!” Even a serene, instrumental version will cause me to take a deep breath, smile, and remember. Because there is something else I can never get enough of: celebrating the birth of my Savior. A baby was born in Bethlehem, and I believe he grew up to become my way, my truth, and my light. A mere month per year is not nearly long enough to honor Him.
With the first snow of the season drifting down outside, me feeling warm and cozy here on my soft couch, the white lights of the Christmas tree sparking in that bright glow of white winter, and the kids still fast asleep, the clutter and confusion fade for a minute. A cup of hot cocoa would complete the Christmas image, but today is Fast Sunday. I’ll be fasting in gratitude.