Sucking It Up…and Other Holiday Traditions

Michelle Ellis
6 min readDec 18, 2018

Ah, the Holidays.

Let me just preface any complaining that goes down here by making it crystal clear that the Holidays are my literal favorite. I have nothing but fond memories from every season of my life — even the ones that might have looked hard from the outside.

The year my parents got divorced, for instance. At the age of five, I remember nothing of that being a thing at Christmastime. My memories include that “wrapping” game we played at my Dad’s house: using old newspapers to wrap up crap we already owned and give it out to the grownups.

I recall watching Christmas specials at my mom’s new place, getting a kitten and making a snowman in the grassy area between her apartment buildings.

I remember that, and I remember Nana’s house — my great-grandmother — on Christmas Eve. Seeing Rudolph’s nose blinking in the sky leaving there, and trying to beat Santa back to our house. Mama and Papa’s on Christmas morning — the grand finale. The presents piled higher than the dang tree, paper flying, carpet lost amid the bodies and gifts.

There were some Christmases we lived as a step family, in a separate state from my Dad. Ones where my brother and I traveled together by plane, and some where we drove as a family in the middle of the night so us kids could sleep most of the way. Without fail, we would arrive back in the motherland and walk straight into more surprises at Dad’s house. Santa didn’t care of divorce and blended families and neither did I.

The Holidays are literally my favorite and always have been. So I guess I would use the time I finally learned the truth about Santa to best describe what’s gone on here: We were a step family and I was the oldest of four kids. Someone at school tipped me off and my mom didn’t lie when I asked. A few days later, we all watched Miracle on 34th Street and I sobbed and sobbed when it ended. I remember telling my mom through my hysterics, “I just want to believe.”

I just want to believe.

In the magic, the world, the innocence. I have seen the unglamorous truth and I would like to go back.

In transforming into a mom these last five years, not only do I know the unglamorous truth, I am the one with the lists and tasks and strings to pull and balls to drop. Every year finds me in this inner conflict where it’s “the most wonderful time of the year” and I’m gradually replacing the word “wonderful” with “stressful.”

Christmas of 2014 was perhaps the pinnacle of this change, as Chris and I put any and all funds for the entire year into our house renovation, leaving nothing left for Christmas. I had no earthly motivation to participate in the dang holiday when I knew my one-year-old wouldn’t remember it anyway. I just wanted my DIY husband to get us in our house, and I was willing to skip Christmas to speed the process. It was the worst Christmas attitude I’ve ever had, I would’ve happily set the whole season on fire and peed on it.

We decided not to travel back to Ohio for the first time that year to take some of the pressure off. And I was relieved all the way until my grandfather passed away and I was called to go anyway, alone. Any emotions I had for my already too-real life were now compounded by the loss of a loved one, and all the tears and love that are shared in the wake of that. I was emotionally exhausted. This was the one time of year I needed to give the most as a mother and there was less than nothing left of me to give.

This is my Christmas! My literal favorite! Why do I feel like this!?

Christmases have improved significantly since 2014, but I still have my moments. I don’t know how to make a wish list for myself anymore and the task alone feels like another thing on a pile of to-do’s I already can’t keep up with. People try to be nice and give me a gift I will like and I am instead daunted by their request of me to think.

I struggle to come up with gift ideas for my kids when their toys already cover every inch of our small house at all times. Seriously, where will a Douglas Fir full of new things live once this tree is hauled out of here?

Money is almost always an issue, and I try to micromanage it all the way up until the week out, when I throw my hands up and just start swiping cards. Finding a place to park my car at any shopping facility kills any motivation I arrive with instantly. I don’t love shopping in the first place, this dance is mostly torture.

The era of Facebook only exasperates the stress, does it not? If I’m not made inadequate by the Joneses and their 12ft tree, new Mercedes and sugar-cookie-baking Elf on the Shelf, I’m kicking myself for my bad attitude in the midst of someone else’s loss of a loved one. Or another mother being made to work a minimum wage job and leave her kids on Christmas morning.

And speaking of the Elf: the latest, greatest Christmas tradition which has the ability to ruin your day first thing in the morning with the simple words “why’s Elfie still over there?” My kids have taken to telling people where their Elf showed up each day, which means they also air our failings by announcing when she didn’t move at all. Yesterday OR today.

Reality bites. I just want to believe.

As I was mulling over all these thoughts this season, as I do every year, I suddenly remembered my mother. Her change over Christmases as I’ve been going through mine, which hasn’t been easy either. Any year in the last ten that I decided not to be at her house on Christmas Eve, she literally didn’t know what to do with her hands. What does Christmas look like without my kids going to bed here and waking up here so they can tear open my gifts and eat my food? How do I not sit here in a Christmas carol depression eating cookies and drinking wine alone?

Holy sh*t, you guys. That seriously does it.

I went and grew up, however reluctantly, and a day will come when these babies will do the same. When they won’t be here to wake up and deflate me with the discovery of an Elf who didn’t move (again).

Instead of having an overstretched schedule and bank account, no mental energy to make my own wishes, I’ll sit kid-free on a future Christmas Eve. Perhaps I will enjoy it — I hope I do. But what I don’twant in those quiet moments is to be haunted by how much I took for granted and cried about my full life when I had it.

Let 2018 be declared then, the year I fully accepted the baton from my mother and grandmother. The year I sucked it up with the realization that those Christmases which were the best of my life this far, were also some of the best of their’s.

There will be no more complaining and pretending this thing snuck up on me again from this day forward. I shall make the lists and park the car, walk the mall, hide the things, wrap in the middle of the night and find space in our small house for the crazy things they wish for, no matter the size.

I shall do the dance to create the innocent world for my kids that I once had. My heart can weigh heavy with the world’s unchristmassy realities, but I can still choose joy with intention for my kids for as long as I possibly can…because this is not forever. Not even close.

I’m already crying. I just want them to believe.


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Michelle Ellis

Mom of two. Graphic Artist and Website Designer. Social media for the labor movement. Writes for fun...and for sanity.