Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Finding my Holly Jolly This Year

 Normally, it's pretty easy for me to build up a head of steam and some excitement about Christmas. What's not to like? Pretty lights, time off of work with people and dogs I love, an excuse to spoil those people and dogs with gifts and food. It sounds lovely.

But when you're the mom of the family, it also sounds like a lot of work--those lights, gifts, and special moments don't happen without some preparation and planning and this year . . .well, I'm pretty darn crispy. 

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See, last school year, I worked two jobs at the same time because my school district decided that one teacher could teach both children physically in the room and children attending class from home via zoom at the same time, with no change in pay or other responsibilities. People left the profession in hoards. 

But I didn't. I'm back in the classroom this year, but I'm a shell of my self and struggle with energy and empathy exhaustion. 

I did my best to give myself recovery time. I didn't take any summer teaching work despite HUGE pressure to do so, and I kept my writing life low-commitment, too. But seven weeks off didn't do it, and I started the school year still burnt-out from last year. 

So, as holidays approached, my feeling about them was more exhausted-before-I began than excited. 

Chanukah helped. 

Years ago, we decided that instead of nightly gifts, we'd do nightly family activities, sitting by our candles and remembering what we do this for.  The eldest was able to join us for first and eighth night this year, quite a coup in her final year of college crazy-times. We baked, drew, listened to music, played games, and watched movies. One night though, we had to declare "introvert night" where we spent time ignoring one another and going to our separate corners. 

My latkes were perfect this year, and we started a new tradition of JFC (Japanese fried chicken). The prayers and candles still brought me a peaceful contentment. 

Then, we started making the shift into Christmas, and . . . I just wasn't feeling it. Even as I ticked things off my list in anticipation of all the good times (Christmas Eve pajamas, stocking stuffers, once-a-year treats), it felt like stress management more than joy. 

So I decided to turn to books to save me. Up until Christmas, I'm reading only holiday-themed books. Here's what I've read so far: a mix of nonfiction, classics, and romance. 

A Christmas Carol read by Tim Curry was perfection itself, and on a scale of zero to holly jolly, The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon gave me all the right feels. The light romance approach of The Dreidel Spin made me feel like I'd just watched two deserving friends find one another, and the magic of food and kindness made the Moonglow books a delight. There are seven of those, and if I don't fit more of them in this year, I'll come back for them next Christmas. 

I'm in the middle of two more right now: 

A Christmas murder and some sweet morality tales. Quite a contrast.  Still in my Kindle are a few Christmas reads written by friends and colleagues as well that I'm hoping to read before the 25th arrives: 

I'm grateful that my winter break starts a few days ahead of Christmas this year, giving me time to sit by the fire reading and continuing to try to stoke the fire of my holiday spirit, so I can really enjoy the gifts the season brings. I'm grateful, too, that my family understands how tired and crispy I am and doesn't expect me to travel or host guests, but just to rest and recoup. 

Are there any stories or activities that help put you in the holiday spirit, even when your candles are burning low? Tell me about them in the comments! I'd love to know. 

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