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East County Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 8 months ago

The Jolly Rancher: The Holiday Roller Coaster

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Thoughts on surviving the steep ups and downs of the holidays, finishing the ride and actually looking forward to next year.
by: Columnist Columnist
By Gabriel Jiva, Riverwalk resident and dad to sons Alexander (above) and Frederick

It has become clear to me that a big part of the holiday spirit is the predictable delivery of cheer on tap. If the season had just a general feeling of goodwill toward people, it wouldn’t be as much of a thing to look forward to. But the fact that there are specific cheerful traditions that, aside from something like an alien landing, are guaranteed to occur, that’s what makes the holiday season great. Traditions like putting up a Christmas tree and the lights outside and attending Christmas parties and the requisite church service all the way to the smell of your favorite dessert wafting from the oven and family visiting from out of town or you visiting them.

My wife and I now have small kids, and, of course, we’ve adopted many of the traditions we’re used to from our own childhoods. Traditions that I might confess lasted into my 30s for me. As a bachelor, I always went home for the holiday and lazed about for the week between Christmas and New Year while enjoying being doted on, sleeping in and not having a care in the world except which childhood friend I’d be seeing that day. That lazing about is now a distant dream, with the kids home from school that entire week, waking up at 5:45 a.m. and demanding attention.

Now it’s all about creating their childhood memories, right? So we decorate the house, and we go to a dozen holiday displays, shows and events. Family flies and drives in. We host a Christmas lunch, and along the way, we’ve managed to create some budding traditions of our own. For instance, I made a buche de Noel one year, otherwise known as a yule log cake, because I saw a beautiful picture of one and thought our oldest would like it, and I fancy myself a baker. Well, it was a hit. So now — darn my amazing baking skills — my hands are basically forced to make it every year. We also went to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens one year for Lights in Bloom, which was amazing, so now we do that every year. Oh, and we accidentally trespassed on someone’s property and made good use of their play set one year, so now we do that as well. I’m kidding on that last one, but this is how traditions are made.

In total anticipation of its contents, Alexander embraces his full stocking and a skeleton that he kept requesting from Santa that December.

Whether by accident or by hope, you do something and see that it is good, so then the next year it just becomes part of the answer to, “How are we repeating the greatest hits from last year?”

There’s the buying of the tree; the visiting of various Santas, Christmas villages and displays; the adorning of the yard; the planning of the gatherings; the unearthing of the holiday movies; and the buying of groceries, which always includes delightful items that we never otherwise stock, such as currants, confectioner’s sugar and sweetened condensed milk. This is probably a product of my poor planning skills, but I don’t think I’ve slept more than four hours on Christmas Eve since I became a parent.

For better or worse — probably for better — there’s no shortage of holiday “stuff,” so there persists an ever-growing list of amazing ideas that we can cram into Advent season. Since our first child could recognize Christmas, all of our December weekends have been carefully planned and scheduled before Target got its first shipment of inflatable Santas. And at this point, it probably wouldn’t hurt if the whole month were overseen by a project management professional.

And it doesn’t stop with the big day either: It’s not until the family’s gone back home, until everyone’s back at work and school, until the new year wipes the slate clean (and the HOA has made us take our lights down) that it all returns to somewhat normal. Otherwise known as the uneventful, unlit, unmagical rest of the year. 

All of a sudden, the hustle and bustle is very noticeably absent. It’s like the sweet adrenaline rush of the Christmas season has gone, which on the one hand is good because how long can you keep up that pace? But on the other hand, I miss it. And I almost immediately — after having caught up on some sleep and actually having found myself getting bored a couple of times — look forward to the hubbub next year. It’s like the house in “Home Alone” at the beginning of the movie, with all the cousins and craziness, versus when Kevin wakes up the next day, all alone.

Yes, the gleeful craziness is unsustainable, but it absolutely has a place — a limited place, but one that we look forward to year after year.

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