Cut, tape, wrap, repeat

Christmas Eve Is Always A Sh*tshow Of Chaos

Overblown holiday expectations sprinkled with a dash of procrastination is a recipe for mayhem.

Originally Published: 
Photo by Samuel Bristow
Hilarity Of The Holidays

Every year, as I pack away the holiday decor in early (ok, late) January, I tell myself it will be different next year. I will put everything away in an orderly fashion so we don’t have to untangle lights next year! I will start shopping in July! I will buy my kids only things they truly love and no junk from YouTube ads! I will not wait until Christmas Eve to wrap everything! I will not have, as the kids call it, a menty b. I will not be up past midnight wrapping on Christmas Eve, not again.

Every year I tell myself that I won’t stress about the holidays the next time. And every year I fail.

This issue of mine stems from a few key issues, I’ve deduced. The first is that in the height of summer, most of us don’t want to think about winter. Those moms that carefully shop for holiday gifts in July must be better at compartmentalizing than the rest of us, because the last thing I want to be doing poolside is looking at gifts I’ll be wrapping in the snow. The seasons already seem so rushed: Christmas decor is out before we’ve even trick-or-treated, and Thanksgiving feels like a mere blip in an extended Santa Fest. Before we’ve tucked away our giant inflatable black cat for the season the holiday gift sales have begun. I feel panicky that I am already behind schedule, and thus begins the doom spiral.

One of my besties told me that she makes a note on her calendar each December, a list of reminders for the following year. “Here is one for this year,” she said, showing me a reminder set for the previous week to buy garland and clean the house. “Neither has been started yet,” she said. I haven’t even thought about garland yet, so she’s at least ahead on that task.

And of course, inevitably, December flies by in a flash. There’s so many things we’ve dubbed traditions that begin to feel a bit more like obligations. Santa breakfasts, tree lightings, and a holiday party for every activity my kids attend. A bit of procrastination combined with the fact that holiday expectations grow each year always results in a mad dash for my husband and I on Christmas Eve.

It starts with realizing my boys’ dress pants are four inches too short since the last time they wore them (possibly last Christmas). Every festive sweater I own is not hot flash appropriate. Should I add a note to my own calendar to order myself a Christmas-y tank top for next year? Should I buy it next week, on sale, so that I can lose it somewhere in my house before next Christmas?

While late, we do usually make it to church. The best part of my Christmas Eve every year is the few moments of quiet bliss while the sanctuary is filled with candlelit and a chorus of voices singing “Silent Night.” Those are the only peaceful moments, however. There’s always a stop at the store to grab two brand new pairs of scissors and a pack of tape — every year. Like our spoons and forks, my kids probably throw scissors away and definitely use up all our tape making funny faces. Then there's the merry task of wrangling overly excited kids into bed so we can drag boxes out of hiding from every nook and cranny of our closet-deficient 1904 home.

Cutting, taping, and stacking for hours. Does that kid’s pile seem tiny? Should I swap some things around? Am I a terrible mother for worrying about these things? Last year, I forgot to tell my husband he had to assemble three desk chairs with a very tiny wrench. It took… a very long time.

While all of this procrastination and impossible pile of expectations always leads to a Christmas Eve sh*tshow at our house, I don’t think I would give it up. It’s our sh*tshow. Once the kids are settled and the house is quiet, wrapping presents with a warm drink and a classic holiday movie feels like tradition now, too. If I actually got my act together and began wrapping in August, I wouldn’t get to make fun of my hubby’s wrapping skills and he wouldn’t get to roll his eyes at my present-pile comparisons.

My own parents recently told me a story about one very long Christmas Eve spent assembling a Barbie house — my Barbie house. The one I played with every day for years, long past the time most of my friends stopped playing with dolls. My dad lamented the stickers that wouldn’t go on right and the confusing directions, but his decades-old frustration now brought a smile to his face. His stressed-out, last-minute Christmas Eve memory had resulted in some of my best childhood memories. It’s impossible to do all the things each December without a bit of chaos creeping in, but our overwrought antics are usually worth it. It’s tradition.

Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed., is a journalist and essayist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a mom to four kids via adoption as well as a twin mom. She loves to write about parenting, education, trends, and the general hilarity of raising little people.

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