I realized something this year: Christmas is not my favorite holiday.
I love the lights in the trees outside, I love the music, I love the cookies, and I especially love my mother-in-law's homemade foie gras. But more than any other holiday, I find that Christmas is a minefield of unreasonable expectations, and by the time the 24th of December rolls around, I've had my fill of stress and I'm ready to be done with it all.
First, there are all the trappings of celebration: the tree, the stockings, the wrapping paper, the lights. We have no room for a Christmas tree in our apartment. Le petit is still too small to care, luckily, but I feel a bit sad about it, and more than a little jealous when my father- and brother-in-law compare their trees for size, color, bushiness, and price, trying to determine who got the most magnificent specimen or the better deal or both this year.
"We don't have room," I state, almost defiantly, and tell myself that I don't need the dead, dry needles or the extra vaccuming anyway.
Our Christmas decorations are minimalist. We have a crèche, hidden behind glass in the china cabinet so that le Petit won't play with it, a small assortment of ornaments that le Petit enjoyed hanging from drawers and doorknobs, and three stockings. Our presents are still hidden away in nooks and crannies, awaiting hurried wrapping tonight.
That's next on my list of Christmas grievances: the presents. I start worrying about them in October, or earlier. With a little luck, I hit on the prefect present for one or two people in my list, but the rest I agonize over before finally scrambling to purchage some last-minute compromise. Most people do the same for me, and so on December 26th I find myself with a pile of unwanted things I now have to find some way to fit into my crowded apartment. A few people, like my husband, reliably get me something unexpected and wonderful, but it all seems like a lot of effort and stress.
Finally, there's far-flung family and the impossibility of seeing them all on one day. We made the choice years ago to spend Christmas with my husband's family, and I'm mostly OK with that. Transatlantic travel is stressful enough without trying to fit it into a rushed two weeks of winter vacation, and the holidays are stressful enough without taking the circus on the road. But I miss my family. On the brief calls I make back home on Christmas day the nine hour time difference conspires to make the distance seem all the greater. We've finished Christmas lunch, had a nap, taken a walk through the calm streets of downtown Troyes in the dark of an early winter night, and my parents are just waking up and making a leisurely breakfast. Are we really sharing the same holiday?
This year I've been in a rotten mood for at least a week. Other things -- my quest for a driver's license, work, Le petit's sudden case of the two-and-a-halfs -- have been frustrating me, and I've been short-tempered and ill-humored. My husband loves Christmas, and accused me last night of ruining it for him. He may be right.
As I started to write this post, the CD I was listening to of the Nutcracker Suite decided to start to skip. Annoyed, I had to get up and turn it off, and as I got up, I knocked over my mug and spilled tea all over the couch. I think the Ghost of Christmas Present is having its revenge.