Today, I am in a post-holiday mood/malaise, brought on by the sheer stress of a holiday season that passed too quickly and more stressfully than it needed to. I had very few opportunities for contemplation, but when I did have a moment to sit’n’think (which was actually not a moment of sitting at all, as the dog needed a walk and so did I), I got to thinking about the stresses of this season–the gifting, the shopping, the food prep, and all the other extras that piled onto my already crammed-full schedule. I wondered why I felt so stressed this year, instead of feeling like I was at the center of a tinsel-bombed whirlwind of excitement and gaiety. My answer came somewhere during the dog’s fifth attempt to chase a rabbit to the end of his leash, when the jerk finally tore my arm off in the right direction instead of the wrong one and something snapped back into place instead of out (those are the truly lucky gifts from the “crap-I’m-getting-old” gods).

I realized that this year, more than any previous ones, I was the one to be making all the magic. I engineered the gifting, the wrapping, the hostessing, the food, and the transportation and housing for incoming family. I did the advance planning, yes. But unlike the stage manager, who must confront his or her helplessness in the face of the actual performance, I didn’t get to stand shell-shocked in the safety of backstage while the play ran, for good or ill. I had to plan and block…and then I had to perform. I had to keep the dishwasher running in order to provide fresh forks. I had to find space in my small refrigerator for the mounds of prep food and the subsequent leftovers. I had to at least supervise clean-up, if not play drill sergeant and round up the recalcitrant recruits to take their turns at KP duty.

Now, most of this I don’t mind. It’s fun to be the wizard behind the curtain and watch their eyes light up. But this year, the Weight Watchers message must have finally sunk in, because I got more enjoyment out of the small plate of stuff I really wanted (hello, sweet potato casserole) than the buttload of stuff I don’t miss when it isn’t there (meh to you, dinner rolls).

The shopping insanity got to me, too. I realized that crazy deals are crazy because you have to do all sorts of crazy things to get them, and I should be thinking about getting good presents throughout the year, instead of panicking in one month. Next year, I’m Opting Out.

Holidays should be about fun and togetherness. If you’re not having fun, maybe it’s time to ask if the tradition still serves its purpose, or is it just another empty obligation. Life Act Two means you get to call bullshit on empty obligations and make new traditions that mean something.

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