The Most Excruciating Time of the Year

When it comes to Christmas, there are two kinds of people I’ve never really understood.

The Would-Be Elves: people who think it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

The Sullen Humbugs: the people who constantly refer to the holidays as being “hard” or something to “get through.”

For most of my adult life, I would have categorized Christmas mostly along the lines of minor pain in the ass with a few bright spots. I like other people’s light displays, but I don’t feel like going to the trouble of putting up my own. I like giving gifts, but I never feel like I’ve given enough. I like sweets, but I’d prefer a nice batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to an endless array of shortbreads and fudges. Still, I can almost bring myself to understand that for the Would-Be Elves, a season of lights and crafting and gift-giving is just what they need to make it through the dark season.


The Sullen Humbugs I had a harder time with. Sure, I’ve felt a fleeting sense of malaise on every Christmas morning I remember, a fear that nothing is as special as it’s supposed to be, but it struck me that the humbugs attributed more power to the holiday than it really had. What exactly was so “hard” about a month where people hung up lights and shopped a lot?

This year I’m starting to get it.

Smoke is six this year, which makes him Christmas’s target audience. He’s no longer afraid of Santa like he once was. (Several years ago, we had to leave Santa a note requesting that he not come in the house.) Smoke is old enough to understand that he’ll be getting presents, but he can’t quite measure time the way an older child can, which means that, I imagine, it feels to him like Christmas could arrive at any moment. It could be tomorrow, or it could be three months from now. And so, he’s living in a state of suspended anticipation. That’s intense.

To amp it up even further, he’s around twenty-five other kids all day who feel the same way and are feeding off of each other. I witnessed the pure synergy of this earlier this week when I dropped Smoke off in the kindergarten line and one of his classmates, a gentle boy who I’m fond of, was wearing a Santa cap. “Ho, ho, ho!” he said, and all the kindergarteners screamed in delight. “Ho, ho, ho!” he said again and again and again. This was a joke that would never grow old.

On Sunday Kellie bought a Christmas tree, but by the time she got it home it was dark and she was tired. The ornaments were still in boxes stored in the shed. When explained to Smoke that they wouldn’t be decorating the tree that night, he was genuinely dismayed. I had assumed it was pretty much impossible for a six-year-old to hold onto disappointment continuously for longer than an hour, but at bedtime he still looked glum; his lower lip had never returned to its usual spot.

The next morning, after eating an iced gingerbread cookie, he was the most distracted squirrely version of himself I’d seen in weeks and it took everything I had to get him ready for school and out the door. As I buckled him into his car seat, I hissed “We are NOT doing any more sugar in the mornings!” Smoke, barely registering my anger, replied, “I’m just so excited to decorate the tree tonight, I can’t think of anything else!” “Really?” I said, amazed that this tree could hold so much power for him.

Deer Show

Add to the chaos that Stump, who will be two next month, is fascinated with a) the concept of a tree indoors, b) lights, and c) shiny round balls (e.g. ornaments). In short, it’s as if Christmas trees were specifically designed as a decoy for him to systematically dismantle. So far he has pulled on the cords, leaned forward to suck on the lights, tried to hug the tree, pulled on branches, shaken branches, detached ornaments from their casing and hurled them at the floor.

To cope with all of the above, I’ve got a single strategy, a video that Kellie picked up at Costco for seventeen dollars, a purchase that I was initially critical of and which Stump now refers to as “Deer Show.” To distract Smoke from his perpetual anticipation, to keep Stump from tearing apart the Christmas tree, I am hosting daily screenings of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. So far the audience consists only of a towheaded baby in a diaper and a six-year-old in PJs hopping all over the couch, but if you ever find yourself needing a break from the holidays, feel free to drop in for the Deer Show. It will be playing and we’ll clear a spot for you.

11 thoughts on “The Most Excruciating Time of the Year

  1. As always, I am so with you! May I add that we have had 2-4 birthday parties every weekend since mid-November, including one on a Friday night from 4-6 where they fed the twins 4 cupcakes each but NO FOOD? Because I get excited for Christmas, but if there was a bah humbug for birthdays, I’d be right there.
    Oh, and something that has improved the season, my kids are making gifts for each other (circle loom and Rainbow Loom mostly) and doing a huge community project at school for a local women and children’s shelter. Amazing.
    As always, love this post. Wish we were neighbors so we could take our sugar-high kids to a field together and let them chase stuff.


    1. 4 cupcakes?! Oh my. Both of my kids are no strangers to sugar–not by any stretch, but I’m always amazed when I take them somewhere and someone dishes them up a grown-up sized helping. Smoke weighs 44 pounds so him eating a giant piece of chocolate cake + a scoop of ice cream is like if I ate four of those. Not good.


  2. Loved the writing, and the photos. The details are wonderful, especially Stump’s relationship to the tree and ornaments. I feel as if I’ve visited for a little while with you guys at Christmas!


  3. The scene: we have just gotten home from getting our tree. The living room is in complete disarray because we have to rearrange all the furniture just to make a spot for the tree. There are piles everywhere of all the things we found under the couch. The couch itself is at a weird angle and most of the cushions are on the floor. We get some beers and sit down on the couch anyway. We have already turned on the tv for the kids. Carson looks at me and says, “Do you ever think it would just be easier to die than to put up the Christmas tree?”


  4. HA! Christmas is microcosm of life. There is expectation, some disappointment, and at times, a little magic. Money helps, but spending it reaches a point of diminishing returns very quickly.
    At two and a half Collin pulled the Christmas tree down upon himself. Three baubles were broken, but Collin was undamaged, so it was a good day. And he never did I that again.
    I love the Deer Show and would love to watch it with Stump and wired Smoke. As a mother of a former six year old I can highly recommend advent calendars. They do a great job of grounding the anticipation in a fun way.
    Christmas is worth the hassles to me. Collin’s bedroom window, due to the ‘L’ shape of our home, has a view of the outdoors and also into our sunroom which at Christmastime houses a colorful, glowing Christmas tree. The week before Christmas when Collin was 6 and 7, with the house lights lowered, part of our bedtime ritual was too look through the chilled pane of glass by Collin’s cozy bed, across a small expanse of snow covered ground, and back inside our home at the lit tree. After reading a few Christmas stories we would pay tribute to our tree by singing “Oh Tanenbaum” while gazing at it through two windows bracketing the winter night. Of course Collin won’t sing with me anymore, and he no longer anticipates Santa’s visits on Christmas Eve. But the magic remains.


    1. ❤ I'm amazed at how well the Deer Show holds up to multiple viewings. I have a sad story about an advent calendar which I bout for a great price at Trader Joe's in November. Sadly, it didn't make it home. I must have left it in the cart, and they were all out by the time I realized it. Next year…


  5. Enjoyed the humor and hearing what Christmas is like at your house. I love that Santa wasn’t allowed into the house for awhile.. and for me definitely I feel like Christmas has lost a bit of that magical quality from not having seen it through child’s eyes for a long time. How wonderful that you get to experience this special time through both of them.


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