Slowing Down the Christmas Rush

If I was the only one in the house who had any interest in decorating the tree, baking the cookies, and wrapping the presents, I would power through those pre-Christmas tasks with such determination and efficiency that the gingerbread men would be saluting me by the time I set them out on Christmas day. That kind of attitude is great when I’m cleaning a bathroom and my objective is to get it done as quickly as possible; lingering over the over the toilet bowl doesn’t really enhance the experience.

But getting ready for Christmas? That should be more meaningful than checking chores off of a list. After all, these are special activities that we only do once a year. We’re building on traditions and celebrating a sacred holiday so there should be room for a little joy in the process”¦something I can quickly forget when I get fixated on achieving a goal.

That’s why I am so thankful that Valerie and Jennifer participate in all of the preparations for Christmas. They get pleasure out of everything they do because unlike me, their objective isn’t to get it done as quickly as possible. Whether it’s putting gumdrops on the gingerbread house or piping frosting onto cookies, they don’t want to rush through it. To them, it’s an opportunity to experiment and use their creativity ““ and to savor the enjoyment they get from doing it.

So when the three of us are working together, it forces me to slow down. I stop focusing on “getting it done” and instead participate in the “doing,” and I make a shocking discovery”¦whatever the project, it stops being work and starts being fun.

Let me give you an example. One of the traditions in our house is to bake and decorate Christmas cookies. When I’m the one doing the rolling and cutting out, I roll out a hunk of dough and cut out as many tree shapes as I can fit on that particular circle of dough, then I re-roll it and then cut out as many bells as I can fit, and then the next time it’s snowmen, and on and on. Very efficient, right?

But that’s not how my daughters approach it. First, they look through my assortment of cookie cutters. They’re not just interested in only using the ones that are the typical Christmas shapes. Someplace along the way, I acquired a camel, bird, and moon cookie cutters, and those, in addition to the usual gingerbread man, tree, and bell are the ones that see as having potential for some really cool decorating options.

Then as they start rolling out the dough and cutting out the cookies, they start playing around with the shapes. After cutting out a few, Valerie notices that the shape that’s left in the scraps of dough resembles a Celtic cross and she adds that to the cookie sheet. Then as Jennifer is lifting one of the gingerbread men off of the cutting board he sticks a little, so she exaggerates the curve of his arms and legs and turns him into the AOL running man icon. Then one of the cookies arms accidentally gets folded, so Jennifer folds the other one so he becomes a praying gingerbread man.

And when it comes to decorating the cookies, if I were doing it, it would turn into an assembly line: trees all get green frosting, red for the bells, snowmen of course are white. Very literal and boring. But Valerie and Jennifer use their imaginations; each cookie becomes a little work of art. I just stand back and enjoy watching what they come up with. We mix up a little black frosting, and Valerie stripes a camel with green and black and then drags a toothpick through it to create a herringbone pattern. Then Jennifer picks up on the idea and starts making a snowflake out of blue and white icing on a circle cookie. A snowman doesn’t just get sprinkles dumped on it, Jennifer gets the tweezers so she put sprinkles on one at a time to make a silly angry snowman face.

Their creativity sparks ideas in me and before long I’m caught up in the fun of decorating and experimenting. But every so often, I can’t help myself. I interject, “You know you could do that a lot faster if you”¦” and then I have a variety of suggestions for systematizing the process. Valerie teases me that I’m being a Christmas Nazi again. We laugh and then I go back to seeing what a moon frosted in blue and green looks like.

Did decorating cookies with the girls take longer than if I had done it by myself? Absolutely and I’m so thankful that it did.

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