Christmas is upon us | Column | The Press and Standard

by | December 23, 2017 5:00 am

Last Updated: December 20, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Ah, Christmas is upon us. As in, all up on us. Feeling smothered yet?
For believers, this is a time of joy and thanksgiving. So why are we weeping in frustration while ordering on Amazon at 2 a.m. on Christmas Eve?
It’s crazy, the pressure we put on ourselves. Each gift has to honor the recipient’s life, taste, values and interests. It must be tasteful and not boring, impressive but not over the top. It must be cleverly wrapped in burlap with a sprig of raw cotton and a hand-calligraphed gift tag. It must, in short, be a unicorn.
Maybe we need to just chill. My mother did it all — baked and cooked for days, shopped for and wrapped every gift under the tree, decorated inside and out, made and filled all our stockings, and mailed dozens of holiday cards. All it seemed to get her was exhausted.
She’d unwind by sitting in the dark living room, staring at the huge colored glass lights on the Christmas tree and eating her famous fudge. (Today’s trend of clear “fairy lights” on a monochromatic tree would drive her batty.)
After many Christmases, I’ve developed a few coping tools. First, wine really doesn’t help. It will only give you a headache, and when you sober up, the tree will still be crooked.
Second, slash your gift list by imposing a cutoff age. I learned this way too late. A couple of years ago, as I was stressing over what to buy my brother, Bubba, Widdle listened incredulously.
“The man is 64 years old!” he blurted. “Do you really think he needs a popcorn tin?”
Sure enough, a quick call to my siblings revealed that everyone could survive without popcorn (or a welcome mat, or guest towels.) From now on, gifts are for kids only.
Another stress-buster is remembering how simple Christmas used to seem. Ours were hectic (hi, Mom!) but pretty basic, and that was fine. Nobody we knew went skiing or found a new car with a huge red bow waiting in the driveway.
Two years in particular stand out.
When I was maybe six or seven, Christmas day in our coastal North Carolina town was sunny and 80 degrees, which put everyone out of sorts. The other notable fact was that our parents, for reasons still unclear, stuffed each child’s stocking with a six-pack of full-sized candy bars: Hershey’s, Three Musketeers, Sugar Daddies and Reese’s Cups.
I received the Three Musketeers, and ate them all by 3 p.m. I’ve never been sicker, before or since. Nor have I touched another Three Musketeers.
Everyone has a perfect Christmas memory. Here’s mine, from the year I was 10. Snow was falling on Christmas Eve when Mom told me to walk outside to the light pole. (Back then everyone in the sticks had a floodlight in the back yard.)
I skipped outside and there, tied to the light pole, was a little Appaloosa pony. After two years of riding lessons on a rented pony, my wish was granted.
I was so stunned, I couldn’t move or speak. Mother came out the back door. Dad walked around the corner of the house. They looked at each other, then at me, standing like a statue in my Mary Poppins pajamas.
Finally, Dad brushed the falling snow from the pony’s back and lifted me up.
I leaned forward, buried my face in the pony’s mane, and stayed that way for a long time.
“Child is going to freeze,” Dad said.
“She’s fine,” Mom said.
Happy Christmas, my friends.

(Julie R. Smith, who named the pony Smokey, can be reached at

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