I heard this as a child countless times during the final weeks of the year. School break began in cheers and goodbye hugs, evenings went from cold to colder and Christmas Eve was suddenly upon us. I heard my parents and my friends’ parents commiserating with each another as they frantically shopped at the grocery store and the mall. How could this be? I remember being incredibly confused by the lackluster sentiment. How could something so amazing–Christmas tree, lights, presents, cookies!!–possible sneak up on adult people…given this holiday occurred at the same time, on the same day, each year?
For me, Christmas was always about tradition and anxious anticipation. I salivated over the press cookies (dough that was never quite the right temperature) and waited until we unpacked the decorations so I could spin around the living room with the little nutcracker, imagining I was Clara, just minutes before the Rat King appeared. I balanced my time between wishing for a white Christmas and adding last minute items to my present list. My dad and I had a yearly date to trek out into the snow until we found the perfect tree or our toes froze, whichever came first. I distinctly remember one evening in December when the newspaper published a free pamphlet full of music and lyrics for holiday cheer-spreading carolers. I sang every one from my spot at the kitchen table while my mom prepared candied orange rinds in thin, brightly colored stripes of sticky heaven.
Those Christmases, before I had money to buy presents or fully understood that Santa wasn’t real, still live somewhere within me. I can still close my eyes and transport myself back to a stomach full of hot chocolate, listen to Mom read holiday books on the couch and smell the freshly cut tree. But now, I finally understand the phrase that I found so perplexing as a child:
“Christmas snuck up on me this year.”
I have regrettably become the girl who both started and finished Christmas shopping on December 21st in a rushed bag-flying whirlwind, weaving between 14th and 23rd Street amongst other New York procrastinators. And let me tell you, I was not alone. Jobs. Responsibilities and daily dinner preparation. Junk mail, attempted dusting and laundry. Any and all of these things now fill the space I had a child, space I used to fill by pestering my mom to bake just ONE more type of cookie or asking my dad what he bought me for Christmas as he tried to watch the football game. I’ve made the switch from counting down the minutes to wishing the calendar pages could turn just a little bit slower.
So tonight, I decided (before packing for home) that I needed to bake banana bread, blast some holiday tunes and remember why I love this season so much. I don’t want to be the grownup who worries more about the gifts still unwrapped and the holiday cookie calories already consumed than the time they spent in the warm company of family and friends. I think the winter season, regardless of the specific holiday, should be as much about giving thanks as giving presents or who gets to light the figgy pudding on fire.