I was raised in a house that took Christmas decorating seriously. My father spent hours draping tinsel just so on the tree and setting up a rather involved Lionel train set that traveled below it. Macy’s had nothing on us.
This year I have not managed to live up to this legacy—again. As much as I want to continue my childhood traditions in the lives of my three children, as expats we simply celebrate too many freaking things.
That is my excuse for this year’s tree.
It’s about 4 feet tall and stands in a black bucket and tilts into the wall like a tipsy guest at a cocktail party. Because my 3-year-old was the most enthusiastic, she did the decorating herself, which means the ornaments are rather focused on the middle to bottom section of the tree.
My other children were not impressed. Even now with it standing on a small table it’s underwhelming and sad. It’s been hard to get in the spirit of things ramping up to Christmas because we are already exhausted.
The holidays start for us in October, when my son and I celebrate our birthdays. That sounds a bit self-centered, but we live in the Netherlands where birthdays are a very big deal.
This takes us into Saint Maarten, a Halloween-like candy fest, which this year was immediately followed by the arrival of Sinterklaas and his band of “helpers” who stick around for three weeks, periodically leaving gifts in the shoes of our children which we leave in the fireplace. Every night for three weeks, singing songs for Sint up the chimney in hopes he’d pay a visit.
I don’t want to turn something that should be wonderful into a big ball of exhausting stress.
For the first time this year we also had a proper Thanksgiving. A chance visit by my Canadian step-brother and Irish half-brother meant much merriment stretched over four days. That’s probably where I peaked in terms of holiday cheer.
I love Christmas but when you are trying to cover all the holiday bases it just wears you down. In the homestretch toward Christmas we'd already begun feeling as one would normally have after its 12 days are up.
And then there’s Saint Stephen’s Day. And New Years. And my husband’s birthday, then my daughter’s, then Saint Patrick’s Day (can't opt out, my husband's Irish).
Life should never been too short on celebrations, so I really don’t want to complain. Other than about my Christmas tree, the vast amounts of sweets and chocolates we’ve been consuming and of course the small matter of my liver.
But I need to step up my game. It is possibly the last year my son is going to believe in all of this magic. He’s already told me he believes both Sinterklaas and Santa Clause lived once, but died long ago and now we have imposters. I don’t want to turn something that should be wonderful into a big ball of exhausting stress.
But springtime can’t come soon enough.