The Home Front

Holiday Tension

My husband loves Christmas — just loves it. Every year when I bring home a fresh Advent wreath, he sighs happily and runs to the store for the Advent candles that I inevitably forgot. Twenty minutes later he rushes back home with a mix of pink and purple candles gently clicking against each other in a RiteAid bag. Within minutes, he rushes out again for matches. The entire season delights him. He is, as you may have gathered, romantic and sentimental. The traditions and decorations and spiritual depth of Christmas truly warm his heart. 

Oh, and he doesn’t have to do the shopping or the cooking or the cleaning so, you know, he’s got some warmth to spare. Having spent the last 20 years “putting on Christmas” for a growing family, I find my inspiration less in the activity surrounding the birth of Christ and more in the simple act of thanking God for Christ. In other words, in Thanksgiving.

But don’t worry, this is not a treatise on the evils of Christmas commercialization. I understand and appreciate the motivation of good people who rejoice in bestowing gifts. And I am not insensible to the tremendous amount of charitable work that takes place during the Christmas season. As a free-market capitalist, I am thrilled that Christmas helps our economy and, of course, I thoroughly enjoy the awe of a first-grader searching the winter sky for Santa and his reindeer. It is simply that I have to understand, appreciate, and enjoy all of these things through a veil of overwhelming work. 

Not so with Thanksgiving. All I have to do on Thanksgiving is roast a turkey and be grateful. The ease of Thanksgiving, in fact, actually makes it a more meaningful holiday for me. In the absence of trying to stage the perfect Christmas picture and stuff seven stockings, I am (you can ask my husband) much more relaxed. Being relaxed enables me to be genuinely more open to the spirit of gratitude.

On Thanksgiving I am (slightly) more patient with my kids. In the spirit of gratitude that Thanksgiving inspires, my children appear to me as the true gifts that they are, and not as the sardonic, eye-rolling teenagers that some of them have become. Slightly. In short, because there is so much less to “do” on Thanksgiving, I actually accomplish more spiritual work on this annual day of gratitude.

This year, I hope, will be like every other. While I baste the turkey and chop the celery, the children will loll around the house. They’ll watch football, or, if they’re too young to appreciate a good Packers game, they’ll play outside with friends whose parents are watching football. The grandness of the day and the warmth of the oven will eventually pull them back in, and they’ll remark on how delicious the house smells. The smaller ones will build forts out of dining-room chairs and sofa cushions. They will marvel at the novelty of eating dinner at four o’clock. Following grace, the children will spoon cranberry sauce onto their plates and prepare to listen as we all take turns recounting our blessings. Slowly, a sort of tension will build. Unaccustomed as we are to giving thanks, particularly out loud, the teenagers, and then the younger children, will become self-conscious — tense. It is a tension wholly different from the tension of a crowded mall or a strained Christmas budget. It is the tension of a family laying bare their souls. I welcome it every year. Happy Thanksgiving.

Jennifer Kaczor lives in Los Angeles with her husband and seven children.

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