Balancing the Holiday Scales


Dutch ornament on a Christmas tree www.adventuresinexpatland.com

'Tis the Season


It’s been a fairly typical ten days for Yours Truly’s family here in Nederland in the run-up to Christmas and New Year’s.

By that I mean lots going on: some of it getting done, some on its way to completion and woefully behind on a fair bit as well.

Given that Christmas comes on the same day every year, it does make you wonder why someone with rudimentary planning skills can’t simply work backwards and schedule it in bite-sized increments that get done on time and with a minimum of fuss.

Each year it’s a new riff on the ‘same song, different version’ of events. The Christmas cards go out early, on time or late, with or without the family photo you may or may not have gotten around to selecting, and for which copies might or might not have been made.

Forget the holiday letter. I gave that up last year and never heard a peep, so that’s finished.

Presents are bought, wrapped and either mailed in a timely manner or placed under the wonderfully decorated tree closer to the beginning of the month than the end. Or not.

You manage to straighten up the storage boxes that hold your precious ornaments and decorations, and get them back to a closet, cellar or attic or otherwise out of the way until needed after the holidays. Or you don’t, which generally entails doing a carefully choreographed interpretive dance as you bend over to re-fasten the glass angel that is threatening to crash to the floor.

You bake up a storm, pfffs of flour flying and the smell of natural vanilla extract in the air. Or you decide that this is the year to scale back. Or scale even further back, deciding to focus on only the most crucial baking to help signify that it is truly the Christmas season once again.

So exactly what have we been doing for the past few weeks?

Son polished off his first semester at university back in the US and arrived home late last week, where he proceeded to sleep off and on for two days. Daughter finished her high school mid-term exams and immediately went into a winter hibernation worthy of the grizzliest of bears.

They’ve since emerged and gotten together with friends, seen a movie or two and completed their Christmas shopping. Despite lamentations over how quickly they grow up, I must say hearing a teen utter the words ‘okay, I’ve finished my Christmas shopping’ brings a feeling of relief of almost mythical proportions.

The fact that they know that ‘finished’ includes the presents being wrapped and labeled is just icing on the proverbial cake.

Husband has been racing to finish up projects and tasks around the office, and even managed to fit in two short, work-related trips to neighboring countries. Similarly, I’ve been catching up on part of my own ‘to do’ list and polishing off some articles for deadline.

Oh, and I organized my desk. Well, truth be told I’ve only begun straightening up the piles and gathering up the scraps of papers containing phone numbers of people to be interviewed, clever plot twists that warranted a scribble and the electricity meter reading to be called in. 

The annual transition from this year’s calendar to next year’s has also begun. Nine days left in the current year and already the 2012 calendar is filling up with appointments, meetings, comings and goings.

I’ve been knee-deep in Christmas preparation involving candles, pine boughs, strings and strings of tiny white lights, favorite wreaths, gorgeous ribbon and voluminous bows, strands of beautifully crafted beads in gold and red, holiday table linens, piles of Christmas cards and only three trips to the post office.

On that last note, it’s been a so-so year: the packages went out early but the cards late. Sigh.

For the first time in seven years a lovely live tree has been selected and procured (Husband and me), trimmed with lights (Yours Truly) and decorated (Son and Daughter) with the accumulated ornaments of a family that has traveled far and wide.

Grumblings about the tree’s crookedness and seemingly missing an entire row of branches around the middle have given way to the amazing smiles of deep-seated satisfaction that come when we plug in the lights each afternoon (dark winter days, natuurlijk) to behold its ornament-laden loveliness.

Packages have been sent and the last few gifts ordered online. Christmas cards arrive daily along with the odd package or two. Most gifts for the immediate family have been purchased, wrapped and put under the tree, with only a couple more to ferret out.

I’ve yet to tackle the holiday grocery list, which in and of itself is no small feat. Menus must be planned with favorite foods and nostalgic recipes incorporated. A special trip to pick up the Christmas turkey has to be arranged.

The closing of my beloved Albert Heijn at some point on Christmas Eve, throughout Christmas and for most of Second Christmas has to be taken into account, not to mention the likelihood that certain items may run out, calling for last-minute substitutions.

The Dutch hold dear the concept of the day after Christmas being set aside as a national holiday for further relaxation and family festivities, and who am I to disagree?

The christmas carol CDs have been playing almost non-stop, or until someone groans ‘no, please stop’ and sounds as though they mean it.

If I look at what still needs to be done and the time that remains, it’s enough to give me a raging headache. Or ulcer. Or both.

And the reasons it doesn’t?

The lingering at the table after dinner to chat while trying a different Christmas chocolate brought from Kerstmaarkts visited by Husband during those quick trips to Germany and Austria.

A long, midday walk with one friend and lunch with another to catch up on the latest developments in our busy lives and celebrate our friendship.

Yet another productive and inspirational Writers Group meeting followed by a wonderful luncheon where the conversation flowed freely.

The family movies watched huddled together in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights and candles on the mantle.

Skype sessions with family members far in distance but close in spirit.

Reading the cards, notes and messages from friends and family members around the world who, like so many of us, have the annual urge to reach out to those who hold (or have held) a special place in our lives.

The wonder of selling the book I contributed to this year at various holiday charity events, and the thrill of picking up the pen each time I am asked to sign a copy. 

The deliciousness of occasionally fitting in a nice, long nap.

And never, ever taking any of it for granted.



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