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Jingle Jitters

I started to write a Thanksgiving column, but then remembered my own unpopular view that Thanksgiving is a time when the women do all the cooking and cleaning and the men do all the football-watching and snoozing.

So then I decided to do early holiday shopping online. Discounts, free-shipping, mall-free spending all have their appeal and I have resolved, as far as possible, to be a hermit-consumer this year, avoiding the human crush of flesh in the field of commerce.

Then I got discouraged looking for toys online. I donít know what little kids play with, anymore. Mine are all grown up. For that matter, Iím not sure what they want, either.

So then I started in with game after game of Bubble-Breaker on my phone. Trust me, this is a waste of time and I know it. Am I depressed, I wondered? Only a depressive could subject herself to 20 minutes of Bubble-Breaker.

Thatís when I began to self-diagnose. And what Iíve come up with is that I have a pretty advanced case of something Iím calling Pre-Holiday Anticipatory Stress Trauma or PHAST.

PHAST because I feel the season descending like a rapidly approaching freight train.

It wasnít always like this for me. In fact, itís never been like this for me. In my small, extended family there has always been a division of labor: we go to my sisterís house for Thanksgiving and everybody comes to ours for Christmas. Since Iím a committed list-maker, Iíve usually been able to get things done according to some reasonable schedule that didnít leave me feeling completely sapped of strength and Christmas cheer.

Last year, though, things didnít go according to plan. The ice storm left us without heat or electricity for five days, messing up my baking/wrapping/writing/prepping/shopping mojo. Immediately following the holidays I resolved to be hyper-organized this year in order to avoid the crushing exhaustion I felt last year in the week after Christmas.

But as the time draws nearer, the sheer heavy lift of holiday preparations seems overwhelming. And for the first time in my life I understand how people can become depressed by all that the season entails.

I think that mostly, when we think of someone having a ďblue Christmas,Ē we imagine a solitary person, abandoned by family or friends through divorce, death or estrangement. The expectation of the season is that those people with families will be happy to be together, enjoying long-standing traditions.

Certainly in the case of my family, that has always been more or less true. But as I think about it, it was more true when the children in the family were younger.

As my sisterís kids grew and married and had children of their own, holiday patterns began to change to accommodate differing needsóChristmas spent with a spouseís family means less of a presence at our own family gathering, Thanksgivings split between two houses means coordinating dinners so that the young couple can take in both dinners and be with both families.

Well, it was one thing for me to watch that happening as my sisterís kids grew. It didnít really affect me much. But now my daughters are well on their way to having their own livesóand I have made significant personal and professional changes in mineóso it throws expectations into a severe flux.

There are tensions about things that never caused tension before: about the Christmas tree, about the Christmas cookies, about wrapping presents, about the holiday cards, about who will sleep where and when and who will visit whom and when. There are occasional tears and slights and quarrels and I end up feeling as though Iím both responsible for making everybody happy and equally as baffled as to how.

I knowóthis is probably more than PHAST, itís probably more of the ďIím Going to Control This Show and Youíll Be Happy with ItĒ syndrome.

But in any case, itís a very real, very heavy feeling.

Onlyóhereís the irony of it. For the 16 years I spent in parish ministry I always stressed that these weeks in December were a dark time of year, a time of meditative preparation, more than manual preparation, for the upcoming, in-breaking lightówhether that light be the burning candles of the menorah, the star of Bethlehem, or the equinox, signaling the coming lengthening of days.

These weeks, I always said, mean the advent of in-breaking light and so call us to sit still in the rich darkness to await that light.

Well, so much for my own rhetoric. Because my own anticipatory tetchiness, my PHAST, is in complete violation of what I say I believe this time to be all about.

So, new problem: How to have stillness and family and celebration and peacefulness without the concomitant emotional and physical exhaustion?

Look, let me get back to you on that. Iím enough of a Pollyanna to believe that a problem named is one step toward a problem solved. PHAST is the problem. And since I canít outrun that freight train, I think Iíd better come up with a strategy to get off the railway tracks.

óJo Page

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