The Party that Nearly Ate Christmas
by Carol Kuykendall
Every year about this time, I pull out some holiday photo albums so our kids and grandkids can enjoy the memories of our family Christmases. Most of the pictures make me smile, but the ones of me on Christmas morning make me cringe! I always look like I’ve had too little sleep and too much fudge. Exhausted!
This year when I pulled out the stack of albums, I re-discovered a bright red leather one stashed in the back of the cabinet, which reminded me of the source of some of my Christmas exhaustion. It contains pictures of our annual family Christmas party that we hosted for nearly ten years.
There are pictures of kids with chocolate-smeared faces sitting on Santa’s lap and unwrapping gifts that came from a name-exchange. Little girls wearing red velvet dresses and young boys in bright holiday sweaters singing Christmas carols as we lit each of the five candles on an Advent wreath. Fun!
Yet, am I the only one who sees the mess in the background of these pictures? Wads of wrapping paper and pieces of toys already separated from their packaging. Drink cups waiting to be spilled. No wonder these pictures remind me of feeling overwhelmingly stressed. This family party started out so simply, but slowly grew into an annual holiday tradition that nearly ate Christmas. At least for me.
That first year, we wanted to create an event that our children could help host. So we invited about five families with kids to a party. A friend with a Santa suit volunteered to surprise the kids. We set up a Cookie Factory where everyone could decorate their own cookies, and sent each of them home with a little ornament-gift-favor. All seemed doable at the time.
From there, the party began morphing. Each family had more babies so every Christmas we had more children. We added a family or two each year because new families became important to us. The party survived a move to a new house, the stress of frantic last-minute Santa-substitutions and other creative new additions. One year, I invited the moms who played an instrument during their childhood to bring it and play with our carol-sing-along. I led this out-of-tune chaos on my accordion!
Each year as the party grew, I had to start earlier to tackle the necessary tasks. The day after Christmas became the best time to buy sale items for next year’s party. I kept a file and menu memos to keep children from getting the same name in the gift exchange. I saved and edited scripts from the Advent wreath ceremony, careful to assign the speaking parts to different children each year.
The file grew fatter, and I tried to simplify. The food became potluck. The Cookie Factory had fewer bowls of messy sprinkles. But still, the party was the main event of our Christmas season – and my main responsibility. I found myself putting off the rest of Christmas until the party was over ... which left little time to do everything else. No wonder I looked exhausted in those Christmas morning pictures.
So I asked myself a simple question: Why keep doing this to yourself? The answer seemed equally simple: I liked the result. I liked having families over for a party. I liked the creativity and memories. And I felt responsible to keep the tradition going for all those families who kept telling me that the party “made their Christmas.”
Then suddenly one year, we stopped having the party. It was the year my mother died, and we went away for Christmas. I remember feeling both sad and greatly relieved as our family created some new and different kinds of Christmas memories. We un-did a holiday tradition, and I don’t think it ruined anyone’s Christmas. With that freedom from responsibility, I discovered I had more of myself to give to the other parts of Christmas.
Now the party lives on as a great memory of a certain season of Christmases. And I mostly smile at the pictures in the red leather album. Except for the ones of me.
Carol Kuykendall is a Consulting Editor for MOMSense Magazine, the author of Five Simple Ways to Grow a Great Family and co-author of What Every Mom Needs, available at www.MOPShop.org.