It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

You know the lilting song — or at least this line. The refrain echoes endlessly in the mall, at the office party, and from the car radio–until it turns into an earworm, embodying the pressure on women: to make the holiday season the most wonderful time of the year.

The song is a lie, at least for women I’ve talked to this week. The most wonderful time of the year? Too many: hours in traffic, cookies to bake, lists to check off, gifts to hunt down, parties to smile at, decisions to make (Pecan pie or Yule log? Silk or cashmere? Wii or iPhone?) At the holiday party for my writing group, we challenged ourselves to write six word Christmas stories (six word stories were first composed by Ernest Hemingway on a dare.) Mine? “Exhausted women engulfed in excessive expectations.” How is this wonderful?

Certainly, 365 days a year women are expected to be everything to everybody, holding the fabric of life together by making events happen. Women succeed gloriously every December: from tinsel to eggnog, every event cheerily attended, each perfect gift beautifully wrapped, every cookie artfully iced. Sometimes at 2 AM, like Kate in I Don’t Know How She Does It,you might find yourself smashing store-bought mince pies to mimic homemade — but it all gets done. Grumbling and exhausted on January 2nd, we collpase in a collective heap. (We need a nap, after all–our new gym memberships activate on January 3rd!)

Given the ramped-up holiday demands, the default mood is not holiday bliss, but rather the latest incarnation of Scrooge. Not only are most women not immersed in holiday wonder, they’re plagued with guilt because they’re not feeling positive at all. Here’s a another line of that song: and everyone telling you “be of good cheer.”

We swamp ourselves by adding even more items to brimming “to do” lists, to create a magazine-perfect, joy-filled holiday. Then, we outlaw some healthy kvetching about it. The result: guilt every moment that “loving it” is outshouted by your inner Grinch.

Here’s one small gift you can give yourself this season: honesty about how hard it is to pull off the Holiday Wonder. It’s a difficult time of year, with excessive expectations, crowded schedules, and the ever-lurking possibility of tearful disappointment. Let’s cut ourselves some slack. No one can execute good cheer 110% of the time, humming along and living every Xmas carol. There’s a lot on your list for one mere mortal. No more guilt about your mood. Expect to have cranky moments and not love every minute — and one level of stress will evaporate.

How can this help? When you know you’re facing increased demands, you can adjust your expectations and 1) drop the overlay of impossible seamless cheeriness, which lessens the guilt and 2) remember, because you’re working hard, you need to take five minutes with feet up, nursing your favorite festive beverage. Do one (or ideally both) of these items, and you will feel less stressed.

Here’s the mantra for this week: “It’s a hard time of year — and it’s okay toacknowledge my inner Grinch.” And here’s the action plan: take a deep breath, reflect upon what pieces of the holiday really matter, and make sure those get done. Forget the rest. After all, If Andy Williams’ wife had written the lyrics, they might go something like this:

It’s the most frustrating time of the year
With the kids raising hell
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s the most maddening time of the year
It’s the most, most stressful season of all
With nonstop obligations and high expectations
When friends come to call
It’s the most, most stressful season of all

There’ll be parties for hosting

With all the moms boasting
And waiting in line -til you cry
There’ll be scary sale stories
And tales of the glories of
collapsing each night with a sigh.

It’s the most traumatic time of the year
There’ll be much overdoing
And you’ll still be stewing
When loved ones are near
It’s the most nerve-racking time of the year

Now, to untangle that blasted string of pepper lights for the banister . . .

7 thoughts on “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

  1. Kate Olena says:

    Hahaha! I guess I’m learning something in my mid-life. It is a totally insane time of year, but I took stock of what pieces of insanity I could skip or skimp on and what was too important a tradition to let go. I discovered that the pre-mixed cookie dough tastes just as good if I add a little lemon rind to it and use canned frosting on the cookies, getting a shorter, fatter Christmas tree makes decorating faster because I can reach without a ladder, and that most of my out-of-town relatives would rather have online food packages or flowers over something I buy in the mall, wrap, and ship. Thanks for this blog. We women need each other!

  2. Maria Arena says:

    Well said, Ann. I needed to hear this, and I am soothing my inner grinch with a festive beverage right now!

  3. Sara Miskimins says:

    I have an additional suggestion; don’t just acknowledge your inner Grinch, UNramp that overly ambitious holiday schedule and ultimately kill that inner Grinch! That’s what I’ve done gradually over the past few years and even though Christmas is still not my favorite holiday (Thanksgiving wins that hands down!) I am beginning to remember why it might have been years ago.
    I recently heard someone on TV actually admit (oh, the horror!) that she had no Christmas traditions. My initial thought was, ‘What a Scrooge; I’m not even THAT bad!’ But then when she explained that clinging to traditions can so many times lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment when everything is not ‘just right’ I understood what she was saying. I realized this is exactly what I’ve been leaning toward in all aspects of my life.
    Anyway, to sum it up, I’m doing less and enjoying it more! You’d be surprised at how so much of what we sometimes think is necessary…isn’t!

  4. Vivienne McNeny says:

    I discovered one family tradition that I didn’t even know we had…on Christmas Eve after the 530 family mass we, my husband, four children and I, apparently ALWAYS come home and watch “Christmas Eve on Sesame Street” and eat Chinese food! Passed me by!! I must be knocking back the good cheer and bah humbug by then!
    Good reading Ann, I love it!
    Six word Christmas story huh?
    Christmas? A baby saves the world!

  5. Kristy Paulsen says:

    The excellent summary assited me very much! Saved the blog, extremely interesting topics just about everywhere that I see here! I really like the information, thank you.

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