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I am a recovering Christmas Grinch who was once a Christmas junkie. I'm talking elf bags on neighbors' doorsteps, ornaments on trees outside my home, Frank Sinatra Christmas melodies on full blast beginning Thanksgiving Day, and meticulous gift planning for everyone I loved.
The slow death of my holiday spirit started with my sons discovering Santa was a rouse, and later grew when I witnessed a woman shoving another woman during a Black Friday sale. Then, a few years ago, I made the mistake of going to a superstore a week before Christmas, and felt as if I was suffocating in the cramped aisles. There, throngs of holiday shoppers expressed absolutely zero goodwill towards one another as they loaded their shopping carts with cheap plastic toys made in factories in China. As I looked around, I saw the décor and none of the depth, heard the words but realized they were void of any real meaning. Christmas was as heartfelt as "I'm going on a diet in January," — good in theory, but often empty in practice.
I am a recovering Christmas Grinch who was once a Christmas junkie.
Any residual Christmas joy I may have felt died last Christmas when my husband deployed overseas. My loneliness was the last bitter pill in an ever-increasing distaste for something that I had once treasured. I tried to do the "good mom" thing for my teenage sons, and decorated (albeit a little half-assed), baked (and slightly burned) a few dozen cookies, and forced myself to watch holiday films like "Elf" and "It's a Wonderful Life," but it was, if I'm brutally honest, all a lie. The truth was that I didn't feel any warm and fuzzies last year, and if I wasn't afraid of hurting my sons' feelings, I probably would have skipped the act altogether.
What's sad is that Christmas used to be my favorite of all holidays. It was the one time during the year that love seemed to conquer all. Grumpy parents were nicer to their children, long-distance relatives came out of the woodwork, presents were shared and everything around seemed to sparkle. Although the holiday was never a religious one for me, I genuinely liked the beauty of Christmas.
This year, I have decided to retrace my steps in hopes of finding that missing holiday magic. In true Cindy Lou Who fashion, I've armed myself with all the tools to invite the warmth of the season back into my soul.
Photograph by Bryanne Salazar
To defeat the dark powers of Bahumbugitis, and put my Christmas Spiritus Declinus in remission, I've used a multi-sense approach:
1. I've submitted myself to one hour per day of unadulterated Christmas music. During this hour, I must sing along to any song I know the lyrics to, whether I want to or not. I'll have to admit, after a round of "Jingle Bell Rock," it's hard to stay cranky about Christmas.
2. I've doubled my decorations. This year I put lighted candy canes outside as well as Christmas stuff inside, and decorated not one, but two Christmas trees. I have a strict "plug-in the lights at sunset" schedule to follow and the merry twinkle of golden lights has started to melt the icicles in my heart.
3. I've systematically purchased and/or baked holiday inspired treats that involve peppermint, pumpkin spice, or even gingerbread flavors and shared them with my family. In addition, I've (begrudgingly) whisked together whole milk, sugar, vanilla, cocoa powder, a pinch of salt and a spoonful of instant coffee to make delicious mochas that are topped with either fluffy marshmallows or homemade whipped cream and served with a candy cane. Sipping sugary warm beverages and munching on Christmas cookies has sweetened my sour holiday attitude.
4. I've required myself to be present at least four times per week to watch a Christmas-themed movie. Be it a network show, DVD or Netflix selection, I have willingly exposed myself to audio-visual holiday stimuli that has slowly crept into my cerebral cortex and deposited tiny seeds of good cheer.
5. I have incorporated seasonal scents at home. Brown sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, ginger, baked apples, pumpkin pie and pine tree have all been infused into my household warmers to cloud my home with joyful smells. This is especially evocative when I come home after an hour spent fending for my life at a department store.
6. Last but not least, and maybe most important of all, I have made an effort to spread my tidings of goodwill to all by committing random acts of kindness. Whether it's donating to a cause, helping a friend, surprising strangers with sweet notes or gifts, the simple act of doing something kind for someone else has done wonders for my holiday spirit. Maybe that's why the story of Scrooge is such a powerful one? Once he realizes how amazing it feels to brighten someone else's day, he truly feels the spirit of Christmas.
While I can't say I'm completely cured, there is a gentle warmth inside that seems to be growing. By Christmas Day, I can only hope I'll be inoculated against the disease of holiday gloom, and never again have a heart two sizes too small for holiday hope and happiness.