All I Want for Christmas: A Letter on Keeping Holiday Joy
This one is a bit personal but, I think the message is powerful so you can decide if you wish to proceed. All I want for Christmas is for everyone to be happy and when they're not, neither am I. Well that’s a big ask in 2020. Here’s a little background on me and Christmas. I love Christmas so much that we got married on 12/22/2007. I am sure it was a giant pain for everyone else, it even snowed, but I just had to have a Christmas wedding. It was over the top, we’re talking 200 poinsettias and classical Christmas hymns with a pipe organ. The reception was at the atrium at the Old Ebbitt Grill, across the street from the White House, complete with crab cakes, lamb chops, and wine pairings. I even had a fur cape and muffler. It was the ultimate Christmas party. But I set the bar too high.
For years I have thrown an adult only, over the top, fancy Christmas party, with champagne, cocktails, charcuterie, and a full Christmas meal with a honey ham and buttered biscuits. My house usually has five trees, but due to there being no parties this year, we only put up four. No one is confused about whether or not I am disappointed by this. I am hoping my husband gifts me a new tree for my shoe room so that next year there will be six trees. That's what we call a pipe dream. I throw the soccer team party, secret santa exchange, Christmas morning, boxing day and usually New Years Eve. I’ve been banned from children's cookie decorating parties because Pat says they’re too messy.
Until this year, my daughter has been in a beautiful production of the Nutcracker, at Arabesque Dance Studio, and it’s such a joy. I can watch them rehearse the Waltz of the Snowflakes over and over and over again and never get annoyed. Many mom’s have the tradition of stuffing Christmas cards at dress rehearsals. I assume this year it will be done at home in front of the tv, like everything else this year. My, now covid destroyed business, held our company Christmas Party was held at Ristorante Tosca, currently closed because of covid, followed by a performance of The Washington Ballet Nutcracker. I even remember the first time my grandmother took me to see the Nutcracker at The Kennedy Performing Arts Center, when I was 5. How can there be Christmas without the Nutcracker?
Earlier this week, I posted about our annual Christmas trip to Williamsburg, and noted how much I loved the one man Christmas Carol show. I know every line of The Muppet Christmas Carol, which is the greatest movie of all time. I dare you to change my mind. There is a song sung by the Spirit of Christmas Present and there’s a line “wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.” That’s me, most years, The Spirit of Christmas Present.
Then there’s the gift giving. My absolutely favorite part. I treat it like a professional sport and I am fighting for the world championship. I spend hours, days, weeks, years, thinking up the best present for you. I give it everything I’ve got. I don’t always hit the dead center of the target but usually I get damn close. Like that time I had the soccer team decorate milkshake glasses for their milkshake obsessed coach, along with a gift box with everything he needs for three different kinds of milkshakes for his family’s weekly milkshake monday. That was a hall of famer. I sit on the hospitality committee for the PTA and my job during the pandemic is to come up with awesome gift baskets for the staff. It was a match made in heaven. But I often have to remind myself it’s not a sport, it’s an act of love.
You can see how Christmas morning and my birthday can often be a little disappointing for me. If I don’t get it right for other people, I am pretty devastated. But often there’s a little tear rolling down my face when it seems like no one else put as much thought into my gift. Or rather that they don't know me well enough. I have to shout out to my sister who’s really been working on this, knowing that my love language seems to be the perfect present. It’s certainly not about getting stuff. I get plenty of stuff on my own.
My husband will tell you that his problem is that I've already bought what I want. Under no circumstances should he try to buy me shoes or jewelry I didn’t pick out. I remember my cousin Lizz once telling me she was so impressed with her boyfriend at the time, and now husband, remembered six months ago something she pointed out in a window in Manhattan and then received for her birthday. But that’s the sort of thing that happens when you’re first dating someone, and you have nothing else on your mind. My husband actually did do this, our first Christmas back when we were dating and I was the most important thing in his whole world. The problem was my mother was also there when I said I wanted a mystic topaz necklace, and she bought me a bigger and better one, you know because she had a job with a salary, which just made the whole situation upsetting for everyone involved.
So bring on the Amazon wish list phase of gift giving. I hate that thing. I hate the secret santa elfster wish list. But I suppose it's a necessary evil as everyone hates getting jewelry they don’t like. Wow you spent $300 on that necklace I would never ever wear? No best to pick something off the list. Of course there was the year my husband was looking at the household list and not my personal wish list accidentally and I got the proverbial vacuum cleaner. I was mad/sad about that for months. The best gifts in my opinion are so tailored to the individual that it shows you know them so well and put a lot of time and effort into it, which no one has in December, or something ridiculous you’d never buy for yourself. Point and case, two years ago on my birthday my sister bought me a pair of Minnie Mouse Ears, we’re Disney World people, made from reclaimed Louis Vuitton monogram leather. How utterly ridiculous, and my most prized possession.
No one knocks it out of the ballpark every time. Although, that same year for Christmas my sister gave me my mini fridge for my bathroom for eye cream and jade, rose quartz, and ice rollers. I think these two examples show you how difficult it is to get it right with me. I am a pretty unique individual. While I generally hate gift cards, my dad has started giving me Nordstrom gift cards because he has figured out, nothing he gives me will bring me more joy than going shopping. He just came up here and asked me if Nordstrom is still in businesses so I suspect I may get a repeat. But what’s the point in giving your spouse a gift card? I will admit I gave one to Pat last year to Staples because he needs a new desk chair and you really need to sit in one to be sure. The point was you can only spend this money on a chair, I’m giving you the chair, but I can’t physically do it for you. However, last night he told me after a year of looking, Staples didn't have a nice enough chair and he gave me back the gift card to buy Scarlett school supplies. Ouch, when I get it wrong it stings like an evil wasp.
Part of great gift giving is accepting someone else's preferences. On my ITV channel, I posted a video on the economics of Poshmark. As a buyer and a seller you must recognize that price is tied to value and value is tied to preference. My husband thinks very expensive shoes and handbags are absurd, but that’s his preference not mine. I used to have a friend who lived with an Aunt who didn’t really want him there but he had nowhere else to go. At Christmas he would get a handful of basically junk he didn’t need or want that totaled up to about $40. We’re talking socks with cats on them, a glow in the dark pen, a coffee cup with a funny phrase on it, etc. Meanwhile her own kids got loads of presents worth hundreds of dollars. I am not trying to shame anyone here. The point is that the Aunt felt the need for her nephew to have as many presents to open but wasn’t prepared to spend the same amount of money. But he needed none of the junk and really could have used that $40 or a gift card to a gas station or his favorite restaurant. To him there was no value in opening as many gifts, the true value would have been in the money, even if it was significantly less then his cousins were getting.
Back to me. We do this thing on Christmas morning where my kid puts on my santa hat which was given to me by Lizz’s mom. Another fabulous gift, pink with rhinestones from Victoria Secret! I miss her dearly and maybe she was my inspiration because she always got it right. The hat makes you santa and you hand out the presents. People don't know why I loved that job so much. One I was bringing the joy by handing out the gifts, but two it spared me the disappointment. I handed out everyone else’s gifts and left mine for last. By then, everyone was distracted and didn’t notice my sadness. Now Scarlett wants to be Santa and insists I open mine when they are handed to me. I have to open that proverbial vacuum in front of everyone and then pretend to be happy the rest of the morning. I know how much this makes me sound like a spoiled brat. Lord knows there are people all over the world who would give and arm and a leg for that vacuum. It’s not that I need there to be a new pair of Manolo Blahniks under the tree, it’s that I want to know someone loved me enough to go find me something I’d really love. Because apparently that’s my love language. The LV ears were expensive, but that mini fridge is only $45. It’s the personalization that matters. That gift that only I would love. The wishlist makes you less likely to get something random that you don’t want but in my opinion it’s almost as bad as gift cards. Impersonal. (Dad if you’re reading this it doesn’t apply to you, those are my favorite shoes ever!)
This year my cousin Sarah made a google spreadsheet that had links to everyone’s wish list. It’s a good idea for those who don’t have the time, energy, or the creativity to put into this. Who does these days? But more importantly, everyone should get something they’re sure to want. I purchased something off everyone's list but I bought an accompanying gift to turn a simple product they wanted into a whole experience. I wish I could give you an example, but some of them read my blog. It’s like if the coach had the milkshake glasses on his wishlist and I personalized them and added the supplies. Yes this is a lot of work, but again in my mind it’s how I show I love. This sets me up for disappointment constantly and 2020, has been a year full of disappointments at every turn in every part of our lives.
So what am I going to do about it? My job this year has been to try to keep people sane. Host virtual happy hours three times a week, provide enough outdoor family events, so the summer felt more normal. I filled Scarlett’s birthday with so much joy she couldn’t be disappointed she didn’t have any friends over. Who needs friends when the Kona truck shows up and you can have all the snow cones you want? Side note, she did have a day full of joy and was very happy and then I was hospitalized, and the next month was hell. Damn you 2020, I didn’t even have Covid-19! It’s been more complicated lately as distance learning is eating away at the 5 teachers in my family and my child who had a lot of anxiety to begin with. How do I make Christmas special without multiple performances of the Nutcracker, without all the parties, without seeing half our family or traveling to Williamsburg, without pictures with Santa, or going to church on Christmas Eve, followed by dinner at our favorite restaurant? How do I do that? The amount of craziness that has gone into the gifts being sent to my nieces and nephews alone proves I want every child in my life to have the joy of Christmas even if I can't be there to give it to them myself.
Here’s the thing, I am not sure anyone else in our family needs any of that to make Christmas special. I think it’s just me. I think Scarlett will be ok with watching the Mikhail Baryshnikov Nutcracker on DVD, a little sad, but ok. We got a Nutcracker stocking in honor of this tradition. My husband will be fine with watching Christmas movies on the tv, at home, on the couch with a beer, rather than throwing 5 parties. More than fine, gleeful. I think my parents will be ok because they live with their granddaughter now and actually get more time with her because soccer is cancelled and she’s not doing a million Nutcracker performances. I think my sister will be ok because she’s getting tested and quarantining, so she can come Christmas morning and watch Scarlett believe in the magic of Santa. I think my extended family will be ok, huddled up around our multiple propane heaters we purchased for the back porch with hot cider while we exchange gifts on boxing day. I think there will be a tinge of sadness throughout the holidays for everyone as things aren’t normal, but I think most of them are going to be more upset about the global pandemic, then not having a perfect Christmas.
I think it’s just me. This was written on 12/2. On thanksgiving my cousins came and set up all the trees. My 6’7” cousin Paul actually hurt his back but kept working anyway because he knew I needed that 15’ tree in my front room. My husband got me Macy’s beauty advent calendar so I can have a little joy every day, despite loathing my already massive makeup collection. My mother asked me for approved wrapping paper. Yeah you read that right. You can’t put presents under the living room tree unless the wrapping paper matches (see the picture, that wasn't a set up, that's what it actually looks like). Usually we do this thing where you fill your spouses stockings and we all do Scarletts and say it was Santa. We considered cancelling this and give some covid excuse to my 9 year old who still believes but Pat said no. He told me that I should fill everyone’s stockings because we shouldn't threaten the magic of Santa for our baby girl and it would make me sad.
I think everyone around me is doing everything they can to make Christmas special for me because they know this is what might break me. But I have to do my best to not let it. I have got to see that everyone around me is trying their hardest to give me the best Christmas I can have and that’s showing me they love me. I can’t get upset when I get a terrible perfume or a vacuum cleaner. I have to remember that gifts may be my love language, but bending over backward (literally in Paul’s case) to give me the ridiculous things I love about Christmas is theirs and tis the season to be jolly and joyus. This year, ok probably every year, I need to see that the wrong present doesn’t equal a lack of love and Christmas is ruined. As per the Muppets “wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.”
And yet there is a tinge of sadness that creeps around behind me in the dark. It's mailing my sister her Christmas card and not handing it to her. It's knowing that, while I have sent my nieces and nephews over the top presents, I won't get to see the joy in their eyes when they open them. But mostly it's knowing that January 1, 2021, will not be any different then it is today. Actually it will probably be much worse as people gather with family and friends for the holidays and the number of cases rise. It feels like it's more important than ever to send a Christmas card to every person I see on the street, because Lord knows we all need one this year. We all need to feel the love of Christmas this year. So I am going to try, and try and try again. I will probably fail and fail and fail again but I am going to try, and I hope you will too.
A version of Amanda Brooks that exists in 2020
As a Christian I know that Christmas shouldn’t be about presents, trees, and the nutcracker. We blame valentines day on the greeting card industry and I won’t go that far. Although, the effort it took to buy advent candles was ridiculous. The grocery store and Target didn’t have them. Amazon will only sell me 20. I had no choice but to hit up the Christian store Hobby Lobby to get them. Christmas is celebrated by millions of people who aren’t christians and that’s ok, but as a result our traditions are not based on faith.
I don’t think churches are helping either. Of the three churches I attend and the fourth I watch online, none do a Christmas series though the advent season. I have actually heard a sermon on Leviticus about rape once in mid-December. As a child my church did an epic version of Amal, a children's Christmas pageant and a bell performance. Plus Christmas Eve service that ended at midnight, burning l candles to usher in Christmas Day with Silent Night. I now know many of these things I should mention were run by the same grandmother who took me to see the Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center and passed almost 14 years ago. Every year Scarlett and I start an advent reading plan but every year the chaos of the season kills it. But all that chaos and non-Christian traditions are about seeing friends and family. They’re about love, and wherever you find love, it feels like Jesus and sometimes that feels like the best I can do with that.
I also know that gift giving isn’t just about making people happy for me. It’s also about wanting to be loved. I probably need to discuss this with a therapist. Remember in Friends when Phoebe says no good deed is ever done unselfishly. That charitable acts make you feel better about yourself and that’s as much of why we do it, then to help people. Watching other people open a present and enjoy it gives me a euphoria that only Christmas can give and I should probably work on that. But the joy wasn’t just in making the milkshake glasses with the team or giving her coach the milkshake glasses at the party. It’s in seeing them in his photos every monday on Facebook and their joy. It’s telling myself, I did good. I should probably find another way to tell myself I did good.
This was Christmas 2019, only a few months before the chaos started in America. We had matching pjs from Amazon, but Scarlett grew out of them. The first picture has my new pjs and mama bear slippers from Target. Don’t worry, the whole family got them, including the dog. Here are some links to get the look of my tree: gold and white gift bags, the tartan wrapping paper, gold foil wrapping paper, black with reindeer wrapping paper, red black and white bows, red and gold ribbon, gold ribbon, buffalo check ribbon, velvet stockings, faux fur tree skirt, 9’ pre-lit color changing tree. Finally, no comments on my or Pat's hair, lol.