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Monica Bielanko
A chronicle since 2005 of my marriage & move to Brooklyn in my twenties; becoming a mother in my thirties; moving to Pennsylvania and learning to amicably coparent after divorce in my forties while living 3 doors down from my ex-husband in a small country town.
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Monday
Dec202010

Call Me Ebenezer 

I don't remember when I stopped digging Christmas but, for the most part, it isn't something I enjoy. When you're married to a Bielanko, that's pretty much sacrilege. I don't like Christmas. Them's fightin' words. I don't think I can accurately describe to you the intensity with which Serge and his brother, Dave, go about enjoying the holiday.

They made a Christmas album, in the sweltering triple-digit July temperatures of New York City, for Santa's sake!

Serge starts talking about Christmas around Halloween and has been known to declare that "Christmas is exactly six months away!" at the end of June. We are only allowed to listen to Christmas music in the car throughout the month of December. He wants to send everyone wonderful, amazing gifts, he wants to buy Violet everything he's ever seen on Amazon or in a toy store. He wants to drink gallons of cocoa by a roaring fire and would likely don a hideous holiday sweater and regale the neighbors with carols if I didn't veto it outright at the beginning of our marriage. And the decorating, my God, the decorating. He would decorate our home like Chevy Chase on Christmas Vacation if I allowed it. I don't, but he does what he can.

These are not bad things, to be sure. But for me, Christmas feels like I've accepted a part-time job that begins right after Thanksgiving and ends on New Year's Day. Buying, wrapping, shipping, keeping up with expectations. God forbid some well-meaning acquaintance gifts you with a little something you weren't expecting. MUST RECIPROCATE! Not only do I feel pressure to make each Christmas The Best Christmas Ever! but the whole spending money thing just makes me sick.

And it isn't just buying the gifts that weighs heavy. I hate being asked what I want for Christmas. I know people want to get me something I like but even that feels like a job. Like, if I don't list items then I'm not helping you out? Who feels comfortable listing off items they want/need? I feel like I'm adding to someone else's Christmas stress. And is that what Christmas has come to? Your loved ones call and you tell them what you want and that's it? This exchange of Christmas commodities?

If Christmas was just chestnuts roasting by an open fire and the Charlie Brown Christmas Special (But not carolers, I don't dig the carolers. Ever stood at your door for a good ten minutes while folks regale you with carols? It may be second in awkwardness only to being told your white pants are showcasing the fact that your period has arrived) then I could totally be down with Christmas.

I want to love Christmas. I want to be the woman baking cookies and taking them to neighbors, I want to send Christmas cards, I want to offer cups of cider and cocoa to Serge and Violet when they come in from sledding...but it's never that way.

Feeling the exact opposite of the way Mr. Christmas himself feels about the holiday can be difficult. Take grocery shopping yesterday, for instance. I try to stick within a certain budget on those weekly trips. I was stressed on this particular trip because we've already spent a lot of money buying, wrapping, shipping... you know, the Christmas drill. So there we are, traipsing through the store, when I notice an ungodly amount of meats in our cart. Like, POUNDS of meat. Which can only mean one thing: Serge has a Christmas Dinner Extravaganza on his mind.

Oh, I know what you're all thinking. How adorable! Your fella wants to cook a Christmas dinner. And it is! It is adorable! I can see the adorableness from afar but then reality stretches a bony arm out to tap me on the shoulder. Serge had, like, $50 of meat alone piled in the cart. Sausage, hamburger for meatballs, steak for something-or-other. And now he's off perusing expensive cheeses for the secret dinner he's planning or his annual Christmas Eve Fondue Fest. There he is, checking items off some secret list, envisioning The Best Christmas Ever! and all I can envision are dollar signs draining out of a bank account we're trying to fortify against the tide of The Boy who is set to arrive in February.

He sees my jaw clenching as I inquire exactly what his plans are for Christmas dinner so he tries to put stuff back and I get pissed that I have to play the Grinch and the whole shopping trip ends in tense silence.

I'm just wondering how it plays out at your home? Do you truly enjoy Christmas? Are you forced to play The Bad Guy? Is your spouse The Bad Guy? And what about when the kids are old enough to sense the vibe. In my house dad will be Mr. Fun Guy and mom will be the cheap Grinch that bitches about every purchase, right?

Regardless of all that, my Mr. Fun Guy has something very cool in store for y'all so check back soon!

UPDATE: Here's evidence of just how much the Santa sap loves Christmas.

Reader Comments (29)

I have such horrid memories of my mom having one of her FITS during the Christmas holidays, it took me a long time to even come 'round to the idea of yuletide fun.

I'm totally with you about the presents-- it's not only, 'what do I get so-and-so' but it's also, 'what do I want?' I want a huge dinner, lots of wine, fun conversation and tapping in to the -joyful- aspect of Christmas.

December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Just remember to enjoy the moments that you have together... I am sometimes grinchy and I never let things get waay out of control but Christmas is a time to indulge everyone's spirit a bit. Let him have cheese. :)

December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDayna

I love love Christmas. But after I've spend hundreds of dollars on who knows what for each family Christmas party, I want to barf.

December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

Yeah, I think the transition happened a few years ago. But it's only amplified now that I have a kid. Which should have the opposite effect, but go figure. Besides, he's too little to get it now anyway.

I think for Christmas we'll be doing very little. We're even less in the Christmas spirit this year because my husband works so much that we have to seriously appreciate that one day we know he's going to get off and not spend it all in the kitchen. Our plan is the same one we had for Thanksgiving (which was not really celebrated for the same reasons): have a massive Indian food feast delivered to our house. I am considering something pancake-ish in the morning. The baby will open one present (which is not wrapped) and we do not have a tree.

I'm okay with it all. Just not feeling it this year. Glad I don't have the spousal pressure. Glad I'm not going to be visiting family and have to sit through all the joy and love and giving and cookies and such. We scrooges have to stick together.

December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

I hate Christmas. Guilt, stress, and being forced to buy things that people will most likely not even enjoy make me angsty. I hate Christmas carols, I hate the stress and go-go-go keep up with the Jones' mentality. I just want to chill and yet I have to go to party after party which amounts to buying gifts for the host/hostess plus the white elephant gifts plus the family pick gifts. AARRRRGGHH!!

My husband kinda digs Christmas. I want to leave the country, he wants to reconnect with everyone he's ever known.

December 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjeneria

I want Serge (and Dave) to Christmas carol at MY house!

December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStarsky

This reminded me of something that Serge wrote to you a long time ago. It was a list of things he considered most important in a successful marriage. Here's the last item on the list:

"Enjoy Christmas time with me!!!!! I LOVE Christmas like a frikkin' kid. Not gifts and material shit, mind you, but the season itself, the music, the food, the lights, and the possibility of snowflakes on Christmas Eve. I can't figure it out really, but whatever. Its just an awesome time to reflect on the past year of life, be near people you love, and just forget---- if only for a short time--- the craziness of life in this world."

December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterT.

That last comment from T. kinda got me... because its so right on. Its a big deal to your husband... like a really really big deal. And I totally agree that its not about gifts and spending money, and so does Serge in his list. My husband is the same way... he loves it. Way more than I love it. But instead of letting myself be a scrooge I try to be open to his cheerful ways and ya know what, it rubs off on me. Two weeks ago I would roll my eyes when I got in the car and the radio was on the 24/7 Christmas music AGAIN, but now I leave it on and I have to admit, I even sing along sometimes.

Point is, fake it till ya make it girl. When you have those Scrooge thoughts just keep them to yourself. That old saying about "If you don't have anything nice to say than don't say anything at all", well I tell myself that about 5 times a day... especially when it comes to something that is super important to my husband.

December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeg

Hope you like coal.

December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSanta Claus

I love the entire month of December. My birthday is the 10th and then Christmas! Gosh, I love it but I grew up blessed in so many ways with a happy, loving, close family. It's not about the receiving (I just don't need anymore stuff!)but the spirit of giving... of finding just the right gift for that one person or just the right cookie recipe or just the perfect luxury of time and having nearly everybody you love most in the world all in one room. My wonderful husband has worried about money his entire life that he's missed the true joy of Christmas... Now that he's finished with school, residency and fellowship our financial situation is starting to become somewhat less tense(tons of school loans to pay off but it's manageable) he still worries. I tell him we are blessed and he's starting to get that. It's the little things like how Linus drops his blanket at the line "Be not afraid" during the Charlie Brown Christmas special to the thought that since having my son, I now know EXACTLY how Mary felt that very first Christmas.

December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKatyE

meataballs? hmm... cheaper than ham...have you priced ham? sheesh...but yes I know the feeling...(\.just after Thanksgiving, as neighbors set to wrapping lights around the tree stumps, houses and windows, blowing up giant toys in their front yards, just as the Christmas music starts playing in all of the stores, that familiar pit in my stomach begins to take root. I stall out, unable to do anything other than watch other people get caught up in it. And then I promise myself that I will NOT get caught up in that old pattern of over spending. And then...just about NOW, the few days before the DEADLINE for mailing ( in time) I turn itno a whirling dervish. A spending machine. It's really quite sickening and all very unnecessary, the shopping, buying,.baking, wrapping,mailing etc etc. CRAP!!! So I wrote a new script. I give cards with gift cards.have a little glass of wine...stay away from the stores. Keep telling myself that cash is good in a card. ( as I eye my 30% off EVERYTHING Kohls coupon)

I think it's good for you to be able to put the Kibosh on over spending. Don't allow this system to distract you from your goals. People understand when you have a family and children. You can't be everything to everyone. No one will miss giftings which make them feel 'obligated'. Everyone loves to be let off the hook! Yes? Pinch your pennies and pretty soon that holiday which robs us blind is OVER and you are GLAD of it! Keep it simple! Break the old routine before it breaks your bank.. Spend the money on each other!

Here's a word for Serge...Egg-p- parm!

December 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergina

We walk a very fine line between bah humbug and festive. Lights are clipped to every damn corner outside. That is like a little gift to the kids every night. On the other hand, we keep the gift giving to an absolute minimum: kids only. No stupid s'mores machines being exchanged here

But this does remind me of another gift you were talking about.... did you get a ring? Could this be the source of a little extra pep in his step?

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

Serge DID tell you he expected you to enjoy Christmas time with him... :) Can't wait to see what he has in store for us...

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterApril

Monica, I think that you're a pain in the ass :) and that I'm a lot like you

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterclaudia

My hubs loves to get carried away... the Christmas tree thing is a huge ordeal. I sent him to the store to buy lights and he comes back with a $100 worth of LED light craziness and hideous GIANT Christmas ornaments to hang about. After a slammed bathroom door and him yelling through it "thanks for ruining tonight's christmas tree lighting!" (like a 10 year old boy with a runny nose and flushed cheeks). And after me yelling back "I can't help that you make bad choices!" ... I made him return all 10 bags. BAH!

That mess got me thinking... I thought back of how I remembered Christmas as a little girl and how I want my daughter to remember it. Then memories came pouring in... staring at all the colored lights and playing with the plastic Santa hanging on the fresh green limb, the sled made of pop sticks and the ceramic houses lit under the tree. I would play for hours, just imagining... glowing that Santa would be coming soon and wash away all the badness. Believing in something that was bigger than me, a bit hope.

Just a little peacefulness was what the month of December meant to me.

And so there you have it, thats my story.

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergibsondog

I love Christmas and can't believe I missed out on for the first 21 years of my life! I already have my presents wrapped. My list is very short, which I am lucky. My cousin, who is out of the country working, even managed to get a present mailed to me, already wrapped. So I consider myself lucky. On the 25th I will be with my mom, my sis, her b/f, my besty Brad and my roomy Chris having margaritas and mexican food!
Does it get any BETTER!

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen

I still have the weird "we're jewish, but kind of celebrate xmas" thing going on with my husband's family, who is around the corner and have spend the last few with... and once you've had a half-assed xmas, you sort of want to go back the Sergey xmas explosion. Grass is always greener, right?

The only thing that really bothers me every year are the gifts and the spending that comes with it. I've tried, unsuccessfully, for about five years to just do secret santa with my family and the husband's. One gift. Maybe by next year, when there will be 4 babies/toddlers bumping around, we can finally agree that xmas gifts are for children, period.

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

I'm Jewish so don't have to bother with all that. However, whenever people ask me what I'd like for a particular gift-giving holiday, I have a standard answer: Make a contribution in my honor to ......charity. Most of the time I choose the charity; sometimes I suggest that they do.

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

I LOVE Christmas and my husband does not. And I would love if he could get a little more in the spirit. However, I completely feel for your having to be the bad guy. I'm always the one watching out bank account, paying our bills, attempting to save some money. And Husband doesn't seem to notice any of that, so when I put the kibosh on things he wants to spend money on, it's like I'm being mean and simply don't want him to have anything he wants. Terribly frustrating!

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Ahhh BumHug to you, Ms. Grinchey McGrincherson!

Yet I am right there with you. I do try to remember the magic it was when I was a child though; there's almost no better feeling in the world!

Merry Christmas to you and your wonderful family. :)

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJust Jill

Amen, sister. I am you. My husband is Serge. In years past, we had started a tradition where we wouldn't get people gifts and instead used the money to donate a bunch of stuff to the local homeless shelter. We would give our family and friends cards and let them know what we did with the money that would otherwise have gone to random crap that wasn't really needed. I was really into this because to me it embodied the xmas spirit so much more and I didn't have to partake in the distasteful consumer orgy that just brought me down every year.
But now that we have a kid, my husband decided that we really need to partake in the whole traditional xmas thing and I grudgingly obliged. But I feel like I have to fake being into it (and I'm really not good at faking). This past weekend we had several tiffs regarding me not being excited enough about xmas and all the decorating, gift buying, wrapping, cooking, etc. I just find the whole thing really stressful. I too wish it was just about hanging out together in front of the fire place. I am also cool with a small tree and a bit of decorating. But the gift giving, card sending, bake-a-palooza makes me want to crawl into bed and not come out until its all over.
I already have a full time job and an almost-1-year-old. I don't need a stressful part-time job that not only doesn't pay me, but requires that I spend a bunch of money on crap that people don't really need.

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLK

Yikes. This sounds so stressful. Poor guy loves Christmas and that is as innocent and gentle a love as any, but you are keeping a watchful eye on the finances. I have no response or solution or interesting anecdote of my own, just an observation that I can imagine how stressful it is.

But, hey, potlucks are the solution to everything for me. I try to host potlucks at my house because I can't cook, so maybe a potluck can save Serge here?

Do people really care if you don't buy them the latest whatever-the-hell-it-is? Someone commented about how this season is about keeping up with the Jones's, but that just sounds crazy to me. Who the hell cares? If my friends made me feel like that, then I would get new friends.

I've never met anyone in my life who would be offended by getting something like homemade cookies that are tastefully wrapped with a nice note. I've also never met anyone in my life who would be offended if they asked me what I wanted and I said "Dude! nothing! I just want to have a relaxing time at home and chill!" OR "I would love some onesies for the baby boy!"

No one really cares. It's not a big deal. If people do care or if they are hyper-sensitive, then that is pretty nuts.

Anyway, best of luck balancing the saving and the spending!

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterleyla

financial stress definitely sours holiday cheer. I remember my early 20's when I had a budget of only $100 to buy gifts for everyone. EVERYONE!!!! I was so poor and so stressed out whenever december arrived.

this might be really hard to talk serge into, but my family has all agreed on "gifts only for the kids". my parents, my sister's family, everyone is in on this. my husband and I do buy gifts for each other, but other than that, I only have to buy toys for kids which I think is very fun. it has taken sooo much stress off of christmas, I can't tell you how releived my sister and I are now! we actually enjoy the holidays now.

maybe for your christmas present, ask serge for "financial relief in the form of less spending". or try to convince him to keep things "old fashioned" - aka - "simple"? maybe even argue that it's better for the environment or something? not sure what would motivate him to agree to a less costly christmas :)

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbf

I LOVE Christmas and my hubs loves it too. But we rarely do gifts for family (only each other). My family just doesn't have a lot of money and his grandmother is JW so it's strange to celebrate over there. We do get together for dinner with both sides and hang out. Watch Christmas movies with my side and hang out and talk with his. It's nice.
I love the big dinners. It's expensive yes, but it is only once a year. I really look forward to the smells, and the lights and just the joy that it brings.

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercharity

I once enjoyed Christmas. That was before I worked in retail management for four years and have spent the last five Christmas Eves (six counting this Friday) working til 10, sometimes midnight, de-Christmas-ing. I just can't wait or this week to be over.

I also hope to get my Christmas spirit back soon....

December 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnne

I am a member of the Christmas fan club, and my boyfriend of 2 years hardly knew what Christmas was last year. I had to talk him into seeing his own family last year, it was nuts. I get all giddy and excited and it seems this year he is out to ruin my holiday cheer. This year's Chrsitmas rolls in and now he's mad that we're spending Christmas with my family and not his, even though this plan was set back in November. "What?! Now you give a rats ass if you see your family?!" Just blew me away, but I figured it out, he's a Scrooger-M'gee and must simple be trying to suck the happy out of my Christmas.

Trying to figure out all the family christmases with 2 divorced families is no fun at all. His Mom's, my Mom's, my Dad's, my Dad's parents, His Mom's Mom's. It gets frickin' ridiculous! I say next year I just leave him behind and take all his presents for myself.

December 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTinaBean

For the Grouches out there:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHVcBSpQMjA

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShari

Just to let you know, my son loves "handsome santa" and "christmas with the snow". Can't ever skip over those.

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterereiberg

I love Christmas I really do but this year working in retail has totally ruined it for me. This saddens me to no end as I was always the one baking cookies and pies, loved buying "the perfect' gifts and everything in between.

I was actually calling myself the Christmas grinch this year :(

December 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShelly

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