Slowing the Season Down

breathless

I love the holiday season. I love the air of festivity, the sense of wonderment that seems to slip into the world as we polish off our Thanksgiving leftovers. I love catching glimpses of my neighbors’ Christmas trees through unshaded windows in the dark of early evening. I love the happiness, the large-heartedness, that seems to linger in the atmosphere as days tick on toward December’s end. But I won’t lie: Sometimes I hate the holiday season, too.

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, my husband—whose inner ten-year-old makes an appearance as soon as Christmas is on the horizon—asked me almost every day, with great enthusiasm in his voice, “Are you excited for Christmas?”

“I’m not ready for Christmas,” I said every time. I meant that I wasn’t ready for the rush and bustle, the overcrowded calendar that seems to be part and parcel of the modern December experience. I was looking forward to all of the things we had planned for the season—family parties, Advent Sunday celebrations, tickets to see a live performance of A Christmas Carol—but I was dreading them, too. I’d struggled enough during November with a relentless schedule and the toll it took on my pregnant, chronically-ill body.

As November waned, my husband and I returned from a Thanksgiving trip to visit family with me in not-so-great condition. A few days later, we bundled into coats and scarves and walked two blocks to a nearby tree stand to purchase this year’s Christmas beauty, which my husband proceeded to carry (yes, carry) home in a cinema-esque show of manliness. We tumbled back into our house with our prize, laughing and red-cheeked.

Within hours, I was in the grip of an unpleasant bout of pleurisy, a usually-not-serious-but-very-painful lung condition. Afraid to take the narcotic in my kitchen cupboard—saved for just these attacks of pleurisy—in my gravid state, I suffered through the pain all night, unable to get a deep enough breath to drop off to sleep.

I watched the clock slowly tick on through the night, and I thought, I have to re-think my December.

The next morning, after I’d managed a few hours of restless sleep, I sat down and looked at what we had planned for the month. I sent e-mails bowing out of family events that were too far away or too much to handle. I bought airline tickets to Portland so that our post-Christmas visit to my parents could be made without a thirteen-hour drive each way. I prioritized the list of errands I needed to run and decided to ignore the ones that weren’t urgent.

And in the two weeks that followed, I slowed down. I listened to my body, letting it tell me what it needed. I put off those errands until they became necessities. I didn’t worry so much if the dishes stayed in the sink until evening.

As I sit here writing this now, in the twinkling glow of my Christmas tree lights, I am glad for that forced slowing-down. I wouldn’t have chosen to spend the beginning of my December couch-bound and sick, but it was, I think, what I needed.

Because, in the stepping back, the conscious choice to let go of things that weren’t urgent (and even some things that seemed urgent), I found my way back into the love of the holiday season. I played Christmas music on Pandora and drank peppermint hot chocolate. I let the warmth and the joy of the season seep in, without letting the guilt come with it.

I am far from perfect—but, I am reminding myself, I am enough.

Maybe next time I’ll be able to remember the importance of slowing the season down without being forced into it.

How do you deal with the holiday season madness? Do you find yourself slowing down or speeding up as Christmas draws closer?