These days, the holidays always seem to sneak up on me.
In elementary school teachers spent weeks building anticipation for the holidays. In art class we'd make thumbprint trees and paint ornaments. In music class we sang carols. Even math gave a shout out to the season, with Santa and his reindeer watching encouragingly from the corners of the math-minute worksheet.
In middle school (okay fine and some of high school) I would start watching Christmas movies in October, with almost weekly screenings of Elf as I sat on the couch sewing sequins onto a handmade Christmas stocking I'd been working on for months. While other kids were stealing vodka from their parents' liquor cabinet and holding hands with boys I was surrounded by red and green embroidery thread and seed beads, racing against the clock to finish my latest set of ornaments before the holidays.
When I wasn't crafting new Christmas decor or at ballet rehearsal I was likely in the kitchen whipping up some kind of holiday treat for the neighbors - peppermint bark or spice cake with cream cheese frosting - like the sweet old lady who lives a few doors down and collects the mail for you when you're out of town.
In college there was no shortage of ugly Christmas sweater parties or white elephant gift exchanges. In the weeks leading up to Christmas break my friends and I would find time to look at the Christmas lights in the neighborhoods near our campus. We'd hop in the back of a couple of pick up trucks (because Texas) and gawk at the excessive Christmas light displays on the homes of the 1% before swinging by Starbucks for an overpriced, upsettingly sweet holiday beverage.
But now the holiday season just shows up, seemingly out of the blue. Like that party in Brooklyn you said "yes" to weeks ago but forgot about until just hours before. And now you're scrambling to find something to bring but you only have $7 in your bank account so it's PBR for everyone, I guess. Just sneak it quickly into the fridge upon arrival so no one notices that it's from you. It's the thought that counts, right?
One day you're in shorts and sandals and hovering around the AC unit and then all of a sudden there are Christmas tree stands on the sidewalks and wreaths in every store window. The temperatures drop and the airfares increase and before you know it you're sitting at Christmas dinner, hoping that you remembered to get a gift for everyone on your list.
Maybe the reason I feel ambushed by the holidays is because time flies when you're having fun, and being an adult with responsibilities and bills and text conversations with friends about which credit card has the best interest rate is just so much fun.
But, more likely, it's because I'm so focused on what's next - whether that be a meeting later in the week, or a carefully crafted five year plan - that I rarely stop to fully enjoy the present.
It's been quite a year. News headlines and our country's changing identity aside, I've had many of my own ups and downs. I graduated from my masters program, got engaged, started a new job, found an apartment with actual closets and kitchen drawers (not to be taken for granted in New York). I've also lost an incredibly important person to cancer, another to a stroke, and watched people close to me suffer in ways I can't even understand.
And it's with all of these significant events from the past several months that I came into this holiday season with an even greater appreciation for living in the moment. Appreciating the beauty of the first snowfall in the city. Enjoying the cozy aroma of Trader Joe's $4 Balsam candle (of course I didn't buy 6 of them, what are you talking about).
This year I've done my best to take a page out of my middle school Christmas countdown book and allowed myself to give into the nostalgia of the holiday season. I bought my first real Christmas tree, hosted several solo screenings of Elf, listened exclusively to Christmas music playlists, and spent my weekends making winter soups and peppermint bark. I haven't quite gotten around to the homemade embroidered stockings or sequin ornaments - those may just have to wait until next year.