Pacing the Holiday Season

November is here, the days are decidedly shorter and the sunlight thinner, bringing a chill with its warmth. November makes me happy, though. It holds all the anticipation of the holidays without any obligation or expectation. This brief moment on the edge of the season is when I feel most festive. As Christmas approaches, I find myself struggling to find my holiday spirit, feeling simultaneously overwhelmed (and disappointed) by the commercialization of the season and anticipating its abrupt end on the 26th, with only New Years to mark one final day off before the long haul until spring begins. 

Gloomy, I know. But I have found it helps to spread out our family traditions over the all three months, November, December, and into January. Most importantly, we want the season to be more than a two-month long build up to Christmas morning. Last year we made an effort to pace the build-up and minimize the let-down, and I think we all savored the season a little more. This year I hope to do so even more.

I am making an effort to pause and fully enjoy these first few weeks of November. This means completely ignoring the mass media focus on Christmas that tries to overrun Thanksgiving by bombarding everyone with “buy-more-crap-so-you-can-have-a-merrier-Christmas” advertising. Actually, that is not true. I go off on a good, long rant about consumerism, the loss of true holiday spirit, and how when I was a kid Christmas did not start a day before December 1st. Once that is out of my system, I completely tune out all mention of Christmas, including my kids’ begging me to play carols and bring out the Christmas books, and I enjoy November. A lantern walk, making candles, Thanksgiving, Katherine’s birthday.  

Then it is December and talk of Christmas is welcome. But even now, I try to make the holiday activities span the entire month. Baking cookies happens early in the month, making ornaments and Christmas tree decorating is mid-month, and gift shopping/making is usually a last minute frenzy born out of procrastination and indecision. One of our favorite activities, ginger bread houses, is saved for after the 25th. It is a three-day process (making the ginger bread, building the house, decorating the house) that fills the week of the 26th. We all look forward to it and it carries me through the days that have always felt rather empty and listless. New Year’s Day will be a family hike. 

I’m not quite sure how to spread holiday activities into January. I’m thinking maybe January will be bread making month, starting out with my mom’s delicious New Year’s bread (which every year I vow to make, and then never do), and then trying a new holiday-ish recipe each week. I just saw a Chai-Spiced Tea Loaf recipe…

And now that we live in Vermont, we’re looking forward to outdoor winter activities. For Katherine and Clara, that means ice skating (on a pond, for free) and sledding. For me, it means snowshoeing.  For Alexandra, it means riding on my back while I snowshoe. For Dave, it means shoveling snow (which is what he gets for looking at me blankly and then ignoring my question when I asked what winter activities he is looking forward to).