Once Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday) wraps up and the last turkey sandwich and bowl of gumbo and slice of pie are all eaten, I’m forced to confront the fact that, ready or not, Christmas is here yet again.

Except as a very young child, Christmas has never been a particularly joyous time of year for me. We never had huge family gatherings – it was mostly just me and my mom – and we didn’t have any special traditions. We’d drive around to see the lights, sure, and we usually made it to Midnight Mass, but I was always happier when it was over and life got back to normal.

With my own children, that’s even more the case. Christmas is indeed more magical through the eyes of a child … but being the one who has to make that magic happen takes a toll. It’s all worth it, of course, but I typically am ready to collapse by around noon on Christmas Day.

Facing my second Christmas without my mom, though, and with my dad in assisted living and my teenage daughter in a constant state of surliness, I’m feeling pretty close to collapse before the season is even fully under way.

My mom always told me to “fake it till you make it,” though, and I guess if I can do anything to honor her memory, it’s that. 

So this year, for my mom, I will commit to 12 acts of holiday cheer – one for every day of the fabled 12 days of Christmas

  1. Bake cookies. I do this anyway, so this one is a good way to ease into it.
  2. Buy Christmas pajamas. Again, this one is a baby step since I love pajamas and would live my life in them if society only would relax.
  3. Get a tree. I hate the entire Christmas tree industry and I hate sweeping up needles and I also hate fake trees, so I’m just a general Scrooge about the whole thing. But still. We have kids. We have to get a tree.
  4. Do charity work. My mom used to insist on this when I was younger. We’d make sandwiches at St. Anna’s or deliver holiday meals on Christmas morning. I grumbled about it at the time, but I also have fond(ish) memories of helping my mom navigate in her Toyota Tercel while the car windows fogged up with the steam from turkey and peas.
  5. Watch Christmas movies. I’m really not a movie person. I’ve never even seen It’s a Wonderful Life. But this year, I guess I’ll give it a try. Maybe in my pajamas.
  6. Ride the train at Celebration in the Oaks. Georgia always begs to do this and soon enough she too will be a surly teenager, so I will take advantage of the time while she still likes me and not only tolerates but enjoys my company.
  7. Build a gingerbread house. From a kit, of course. I’m not going to suddenly become craft or anything.
  8. Listen to Christmas music – especially “Mary’s Boy Child,” which my mom and I used to sing as “Mary’s Pork Chop” because I misheard the lyrics. I know that’s terribly sacrilegious, but it always made us laugh.
  9. Set up my mom’s unique nativity scene. She had the traditional three wise men and Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus, but when Ruby was little, she was fascinated by the camels and donkeys, so my mom started buying extra animals to embellish it. Every year, the girls got to pick an animal, so it now includes kangaroos and toucans and flamingos and a corgi.
  10. Go caroling. Grudgingly. This is so not my scene, but my mom desperately tried to get me to go caroling in 2019 and I put her off. In 2020, caroling was canceled due to the pandemic. In 2021, she was gone. I wish I’d gone caroling in 2019.
  11. Make a yule log. This is another thing I feel guilty about. My mom really wanted to make a yule log together. I had to make so many roll cakes at Baskin Robbins in college – year-round, not just at the holidays – and so I kept coming up with excuses to not do it because I had bad memories of demanding customers and cracking cakes and fudge-smeared arms. I realized too late that I missed my chance to make better memories.
  12. Find joy where I can. Random acts of kindness. Kissing my husband under the mistletoe. Hanging my late sister’s wreath.

And soon enough, Christmas will be over, and it will truly be the most wonderful time of the year: Carnival season!