Holiday meltdown

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or so I tell myself at the dawn of every December.

It’s now, during this first week of the month, that I still feel cheery and optimistic about the season.

Holiday songs are playing, shopping lists are being calibrated, Christmas cookie recipes calculated and party invitations considered.

It’s still the most wonderful time of the year because I’ve yet to step foot into a shopping mall, whip up a batch of cookies, wrap a present or try to figure out how I’m going to cram a year’s worth of goodwill into one lousy month.

Cue the meltdown.

Somewhere around the December 15 mark I will, without fail, curse the holiday season and swear that next year—no really, I mean it this time!—I’m forsaking it all in favor of a Mexican beach resort getaway. Next year I will ditch the shopping lists, make everyone handcrafted soaps and call it a day; next year I will keep the holiday decorations boxed up and enjoy the peace and tranquility that comes from not upending my entire life in the spirit of the Spirit of the Season.

It’s a cycle in desperate need of adjustment, if not for the sake of my sanity, then at least for the sake of my health. One year I spent the whole of December 26 curled up on the couch, exhausted and barely able to move. Another year, I started sneezing on January 1 and didn’t stop until the first day of spring.

That said, I have, over the last few years, strived to make a few changes—to tweak the traditions, to fit it all in without going crazy.

Sometimes it’s simply about putting things into perspective. It’s clichéd, perhaps, but it’s so easy to forget that this is the season for giving. For the last few years, a group of friends and I have gathered for lunch at the Sacramento Children’s Home. After the meal, we gather around a giant Christmas tree in the lobby to pore over cut-out paper stars, each one adorned with a child’s wish list.

Buying a pair of knee-high boots for a 14-year-old girl or an oversized stuffed bear for a 2-year-old—both of whom will spend their holidays in a group home—is the best reason I can think of to brave a crowded shopping mall.

As for the rest of the gifts, I’m determined to keep it simple. One group of friends has decided that in lieu of presents, we’ll gather for a holiday potluck. And there is, of course, the annual outing to look at Christmas lights. This year, the plan is to ditch the car in favor of bikes and ride around town bundled up in coats, scarves and hats—one hand clutching the handlebar, the other gripping a flask of seasonal cheer.

Even my family is changing its approach. This December 24, instead of swamping my aunt’s towering Christmas tree with the usual pile of presents, we’ll pare down in favor of a white elephant gift exchange—$10 limit, no restrictions on the number of times a present can be swapped. I can only imagine the post-party driveway deals that are sure to transpire. Per my cousin’s request, we’ll also revive the epic Trivial Pursuit showdowns of our childhood. There may even be prizes at stake.

Good times.

Until then, I plan on cranking my iPod’s holiday playlist for an all-day baking marathon. I’ll cue up A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life DVDs and decorate the house to the rafters with tinsel, stars and all things sparkly and I’ll realize, once again, that I don’t want to even imagine the holidays any other way.