Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Bah Humbug

I finally got my Christmas tree up last night. I'd been hoping to get my house straightened up first, but then I realized if I was waiting to have the place look ready for a magazine photo shoot, then I'd be waiting a while. I'm afraid I have a case of the Scrooges, or maybe it's more like a case of the Charlie Browns, but I'm not really in the mood for Christmas. Part of it may be that I've got holiday fatigue -- I've been writing Christmas stuff in the book for a while, I'm in choir so we've been singing Christmas music for a while, and I'm already done with Christmas and am into January for the radio health scripts I write. In my brain, Christmas is already over. While I was in New York I felt properly Christmassy, but now it's hitting me in that Charlie Brown "Christmas is too commercial" lament (ironically, I watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on TV while I was in New York). Yeah, all those window displays are pretty, but they're also kind of excessive, and the practical part of me wonders if they really bring in that much additional business to justify the expense, and aren't there more useful ways to spend all that money?

I haven't yet decorated beyond the Christmas tree, and I'm not sure if I'm going to. Maybe I need a break and can get into it all next year. Maybe I need a new decorating scheme. I've been decorating the house pretty much the same way since I moved in about eight years ago, and I've decorated my tree the same way for about five years. When I was a kid, I thought my parents were weird when they acted like putting up the Christmas tree was a chore, but this year I kind of feel that way.

So while I'm going on with the holiday angst, I thought I'd share some of the things I'm worrying about at this time of year:

1. Fruitcake
All jokes about fruitcake aside, I like fruitcake -- the good kind, not the really dense kind full of that hard candied fruit rind. Fruitcake has always been a big holiday tradition for my family. My parents go to Corsicana every year to buy one of the famous Collin Street Bakery fruitcakes, which are to die for. They ship all over the world, but at the bakery they have an outlet shop where you can get the imperfect cakes -- with dented sides or maybe the pecans and cherries on top in the wrong arrangement -- without the fancy tins. I don't angst about the fruitcake itself. If others don't like it, then there's more for me! What I do worry about is the general impression that fruitcake is a sucky, awful gift, the kind of thing you give to people you don't care about.

You see, when I was a little kid, I didn't know that I wasn't supposed to like fruitcake. If I had a teacher I really loved, I'd insist on giving her a fruitcake. It was a sacrifice, because that meant we had less on hand for me to enjoy. Only as an adult did I learn that other people might not have felt the same way about fruitcake as I did. Now, every year when the fruitcake jokes start, I get a pang of guilt because I worry that those teachers thought it was just another crappy teacher gift and didn't realize that I was paying them the highest possible compliment. So, if any of my former teachers are reading this, if you got a fruitcake, it meant I loved you. Only my favorite teachers got fruitcakes.

2. Potluck parties
Every year, a group of my friends from church has a party where the hosts provide the main course and everyone else brings either an appetizer or a dessert. I always bring cookies. Cookies are my "thing," something I do well. I have this one particular kind of cookie that I make every year. It's a family recipe that I have fond associations with. It's not really Christmas to me until I've made those cookies. I've made them so many times I know they'll come out well, so that's usually what I bring to these parties. Well, year before last, someone commented, "Oh, you brought your cookies again." I got all paranoid because I couldn't tell if they meant it in the sense of, "I love those and look forward to them all year," or if they meant it in the sense of, "Geeze, can't you make anything else? Do you just put the leftovers in the freezer and bring the same batch of cookies every year?" So last year I still brought cookies, but it was an entirely different kind.

This year, there's a different kind of angst. We're only supposed to bring an appetizer dish, so I suspect it's going to be more of a cocktail party/snackfest type thing, and I have no idea what to bring. I'm not really an appetizer person. Plus, of all the appetizers I know how to make, there are people who I know always bring those dishes as their "things." (And if I comment on that, I'll be sure to say so in an unambiguous "I'm so glad you brought that!" way.) I may get lazy and get a round of Gouda or Edam and bring it on my Delft cheese board I got on my last trip to the Netherlands, along with a basket of crackers. I know I've brought that to some party in the past, but I don't think it was with this group. I've toyed with the idea of making a fancy molded, seasoned cheese spread thing I saw on Rachel Ray, but I have no idea if it will work, or if I'll have the time or energy.

3. My own mortality and family situation
Most of the time, I'm totally okay with being single, and I think I could remain that way for the rest of my life without being too depressed about it. Then the holidays come around, and I can't help but think about where I'll be as I get older and I no longer have my parents around to spend the holidays with. The other night, a group of us went Christmas caroling to nursing homes, and I nearly had a panic attack while we were singing as I watched the residents. I had a vivid mental image of myself as the lonely old woman with nobody to visit her because she has no family.

I've learned not to accept set ups and not to start relationships during the holiday season because I tend to act out of fear of ending up alone, and that clouds my judgment. It's like a moratorium on dating from Halloween until after the new year (though my dateless streak extends far further back than Halloween).

I guess if I get old alone, if my books are still out there I could hope that readers will write to me or maybe even visit me in the nursing home.

4. Gifts
I go through a lot of anxiety about what to buy as gifts. I keep wanting to get the perfect present that will surprise and delight someone, and I always feel I fall short. I remember one year when I was in high school I just about had a nervous breakdown because I was terrified I'd given my mom a horrible gift. I'd always given her kitchen type stuff, but then had realized that wasn't necessarily a real gift for her, so that year I'd bought her a pretty vase. It was something entirely non-practical, and it was in a color and style that reminded me of her. But once I got it home, I suddenly hated it, for some odd reason, and I kept trying to get my dad to take me back to town so I could buy something else (the downside of living in the country -- you don't get to a store unless someone takes you until you learn to drive). By Christmas, I was almost in tears. I can't recall why I was so afraid that was a bad gift, and my mom still has that vase displayed in the dining room, so it couldn't have been too bad.

I don't have quite the same teenage mood swings, but I still stress about the right gift. My dad is really hard to shop for and I still have no idea what to get him. Then there's all the worry about whether to get gifts for other people in my life -- that "are they getting me something? Do they expect something?" worry. It never fails that the person I didn't get something for because I didn't think we had that kind of relationship gives me something, or the person I give a token gift gives me something elaborate. I got the annual "I'm your newspaper carrier, here's where to send your gifts" card tucked into my newspaper this week, and I'm still not sure what to do about that, seeing as how I've had zero contact with my newspaper carrier. My subscription is renewed automatically and charged to my credit card, so I don't even see him for collection. Somehow, I don't think he wants the kind of gift I was thinking of as I was crawling in my pajamas through the holly hedge to retrieve my newspaper on a cold morning. I never see my postal carrier, either. My mail goes into a mailroom box at the end of the street, and packages are left on my doorstep, usually without the doorbell being rung, so I often don't know I have a package until the next morning when I go out to crawl through the holly bush to get my newspaper (though that's better than when he'd just leave a "pick up your package at the post office" note in my box without ringing the doorbell, so I had to go over there even though I'd been at home all day and was there to receive the package).

I have a much more personal relationship with the FedEx guy and the UPS guy, but it's kind of hard to know when they'll be around to give them anything. I send home-baked cookies to my editor and agent. This year, I also had cute frog prince pins for everyone. Of course, next year I'll be angsting over whether I can send the same kind of cookies again. I got to see first-hand the reaction to the cookies in the publisher's office, since I hand carried them this year, so I think that's something I'll stick with.

I'm not even sure what I want this year. I have so much stuff that thinking about having more stuff is overwhelming. The things I really want are things that are rather specific and that I'd have to research to know exactly what I want or need. At the same time, though, I love surprises and I love opening gifts.

5. Christmas cards
I'm not a big card person. I've never sent a lot, and I don't receive a lot. Of course, I always seem to get one from someone I didn't send one to. Then there are the ones I sometimes just wish would go away, like those syrupy newsletters (written in third-person, like they have a journalist on staff to chronicle their year) that a few people send. The ones I get are from the really overtly religious people, so the tone gets pretty sanctimonious, giving the impression that all their blessings are to reward them for being really terrific people (and with the implication that if your life isn't as fabulous as theirs, then obviously you're doing something wrong and need to get your life straightened out). One of these people even encloses a little brochure on the true meaning of Christmas every year. This is a person I met in church when we used to sit together in the church choir and go to Sunday school together. Surely she can assume I've already figured out the true meaning of Christmas. And then after having a good eyeroll and muttering about these things, I feel bad for being judgmental. Maybe these people are sincere and don't share my belief that if you know someone well enough to send them a Christmas/other holiday card, then they probably should already be aware of the high points of your life for the year. And if they aren't, they probably don't care.

But when you're essentially running your own business, you then have the whole "corporate" holiday card ritual, where you have to send greetings to the various people you do business with, and they have to be generic enough not to offend anyone, since you don't know the religious practices of most of the people you do business with. I decided to have fun this year and make up a corporate card for Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc. to send to business contacts I know have read the book.

So, that all could be part of why I sort of want to crawl into a hole and not come out until January. I'm on the verge of declaring this Christmas season a strictly religious observance, and then maybe next year I won't be in the middle of a book and I might have my life streamlined a bit so I can enjoy the festive parts of the season. I may start to feel better later in the week when I have a lot of business stuff out of the way and less to be stressed about. Then I can enjoy the service of lessons and carols on Sunday, followed by a performance of A Christmas Carol next week, and then a trip to see family for the holiday itself. Until then, just call me Ebenezer. Or Charlie.

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