The backwards Christmas

My usual Christmas preparation schedule goes something like this:  start thinking about Christmas gifts in August, start shopping in October, suspend shopping for a bit while I plan Halloween and help with Thanksgiving, set up the house in late November, get the tree in early December, finish decorating, wish I had sent Christmas cards, then begin a wild dash to get my shopping finished (starting around the 10th of December) and wrap everything starting about the 21st.  Usually, pretty successful (except for Christmas cards, which I always seem to start on too late to actually accomplish).

This year, I have to do everything differently.  I still started thinking about Christmas gifts in August, but I didn’t start shopping, because I wanted to wait to see what would be available at the Christmas markets, which didn’t open until mid-November.  I started shopping a few weeks ago, but I’m finding that I’m already way behind — stuff that I’m getting for my boys from the US has to be on its way SOON if it’s going to be under the tree (first it has to get here, then it has to get through customs) and the things that I’m sending home have to be on their way soon for the same reasons.  I didn’t count on so many of the things I planned to shop for not being available here.  And, not only do the toy stores here just not carry a lot of American items, they don’t stock items like they do at home — there aren’t 100 of everything “in the back” — they have what they have, and when it runs out, it’s gone.  (I already purchased something I really wanted for Liam and was lucky to get the last one — and that was 2 weeks ago.)  The result is that I’m in danger of stressing to the max about Christmas gifts, and it isn’t even December yet.

I know it’s not that big of a deal — if I get really stuck for a gift for someone at home, I can always order from a US company (oh, how I miss quick and free shipping — the USPS is a wonder I never really appreciated) and if I really need something for the boys, I can always shop in person at a store here and hope for the best.  It’s more that my rhythm is off than anything — I have a way of doing things that works for me, and I simply can’t do things that way.  (That’s been true of dozens of things here, this is just one more.)  The holidays really aren’t about the gifts.

Oh, and I still have to figure out the whole St. Nicholas thing, because apparently he comes NEXT WEEK and I have no idea what kinds of things Benjamin will be expecting, because he’s been hearing about St. Nicholas at kindergarten.  I don’t want him to feel like he’s missed out on something his classmates are all talking about at school next week.  (I don’t even know if St. Nicholas comes overnight before or after St. Nicholas Day . . . I have some homework to do!)

I haven’t started decorating the house yet, and it’s not even possible to purchase a real Christmas tree (as opposed to one that comes in a box) yet, because they typically decorate the trees here on Christmas Eve.  Add to that the fact that I don’t even know where I would buy one, I don’t have a car (and I can’t imagine the Austrians would take too kindly to my carrying a tree home on the U-bahn) and I have no Christmas lights yet.  (But those are problems for another day.)

It all sounds very stressful, and it is, if I think about it the wrong way.  But it’s also really fine.  None of that stuff matters all that much, anyway.  What matters is that we have a fun, happy, loving holiday season.  We’re going to look at Christmas lights (which are amazing here), visit the Christmas markets, bake cookies, open our Advent calendars and get ready for Christmas.  I have to keep myself in a good mental place to do all of that with joy, instead of with stress, because only doing 10% of it, but doing it with joy, will make a better holiday (for all of us) than doing 100% of it with stress.

I just have to keep remembering that.  And I’d better look up the St. Nicholas thing.

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