Report from Louisiana: Rambling Thoughts on Christmas Spirit

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I loved Fausta’s view from her front porch Saturday; it looks sunny and warm and is exactly why I love living in the South.

This morning I was sitting in my swing under the magnolia tree, sipping my coffee, reading Southern Living magazine and watching the yellow hackberry leaves flutter to the ground like feathers.  It really never gets very cold here in Louisiana.  My husband grew up in Iowa and he swears that the reason he has trouble getting into the Christmas spirit is because it never gets cold here and there is no snow.

We sort of skipped Christmas last year; it had been a rough and expensive year and neither Steve nor I felt much like celebrating Christmas last year.  I’m known in my family for my ceiling-scraping traditional Christmas trees that are, of course, always real and feature our heirloom ornaments and real tinsel applied one single strand at a time.  It’s a herculean feat of decoration each year and I’ve always enjoyed it, but last year I just couldn’t muster the spirit.

I went to WalMart and I bought a fake, pre-lit tree and I bought blue and silver plastic ornaments.

You can not imagine the final damper this put on our Christmas holiday.

My grown son was horrified.  My friends were aghast.  Nobody could quite believe it.

I managed to make Chex Mix but there were no fruitcake cookies or fudge, and presents were token, impersonal items.

I just wanted it to be over.  It was too much pressure.

On December 26, I yanked that fake tree down, shoved it into a bag, and stuck it in the garage where it still is.  The tree was pretty enough and if there is a family in need in my area I’ll probably donate it to them.

This year has been a better one and although not without issues, so far they’ve all been things we can handle.  I’m in the Christmas mood this year and have put up my real Fraser fir, complete with lights and tinsel.  There are actually presents under the tree this year – well, not exactly under the tree yet because the new puppy would destroy them, but there are presents.  I made my Mama’s fruitcake cookie recipe, I’ve soaked the little things in Makers Mark, and they are aging nicely.  I made three giant pans of Chex Mix yesterday and I’ve taken full advantage of Cyber Monday.

The point is that sometimes these holidays are hard for people.  Very hard.  The pain we feel at the absence of people who can’t be here is very real.  The celebrations of our childhood are often romantic and lovely and we feel such a pressure to recreate those, but too often that can not be accomplished and we put more stress on ourselves.  I think as I grow older I’m learning to accept a new normal with the holidays, be it Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, whatever.

Somehow, skipping Christmas last year has helped me this year to see things differently. The holiday came and went last year whether I participated or not.  It wasn’t the end of the world and when it was over I was kind of glad I didn’t have a big mess to clean up and a lot of credit card bills to struggle with.  I was a little envious of all the big happy family gatherings I saw going on around me – we have a very small family and not all of us like each other very much – but it was fine.  I had those I love close to me and it really was just fine.

But this year, I’m ready to get back into the fray.  I want the pretty packages, the smell of the tree, the twinkly lights, and the pleasure of finding just the right gift for someone.

I don’t want to be didactic, but try to be aware of those you know who may be struggling with depression or other issues during the holidays.  For a million reasons there are people that do not feel the Christmas spirit that perhaps you feel.  For many, the pressure to be as happy and perfect as the people in the Christmas commercials is just too much. For a lot of us, the pain of an absent loved one is crippling.

Be kind. Be generous when you can.  Smile at people.  Step back from politics for a while.  Quit worrying about the tax bill.  Who cares what Trump said on Twitter?  Sit on your porch, in your swing, in front of your fireplace, and enjoy the season in your own way.  If that means skipping Christmas or going all out, do whatever you need to do.

But most of all, be nice.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.