The Christmas "Shake It Off"

Christmas is usually a time of profound joy for me.

abstract watercolor illustration of christmas holly berries lightly covered in snow
Image created via Midjourney

My 11-year-old likes to run around in the backyard. Almost every single day, he'll announce, "I'm going outside!" and grab his coat. Our backyard is oddly shaped and not flat. He'll run - back and forth, back and forth - between two trees on the uneven terrain. Says he needs to "think and get my energy out."

Christmas 2020. For our family, it is similar to past Christmases. We never have big family gatherings. I usually have a friend from New York that stays with us for a few days along her trek to see her family in Wisconsin. Then my parents will visit, arriving later in the day on Christmas or the day after. But Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for us are generally just the people in this house. So in many respects, this year was like any other.

I told the kids that they would need to wait until 6:00 am to see what Santa brought. For the first time, we forgot to leave out cookies. On Christmas Eve, we always drive around the city and look at houses that have the best light displays. Stuffed with food and tired, the kids went to bed early. I remembered Santa cookies later that evening and arranged a few on our Santa Plate, taking the necessary bites for them to look "eaten." Ger and I stayed up until nearly 11:00 pm to ensure that the kids were really asleep before playing Santa.

The presents part of the morning was over by 6:15 am. Exhausted, Ger and I agreed to alternate and take naps, with him going first. Naptime for me arrived around lunchtime.

I was almost asleep when I woke with a jolt. Nothing had startled me awake; I was just... awake. And panicked. This happens to me every once in a while, like a mild panic attack. My heart rate goes up, and I feel like I cannot get calm. I took a bath, one of my usual remedies, but it did not work.

With the rest of the house napping, I looked at the backyard. There was an ever-so-slight dust of snow, but really a disappointing answer from Mother Nature for a white Christmas. I put on my jacket and hat and went outside.

Following the same path my son usually takes, I walked back and forth among the trees. The 18-degree weather barely felt cold. In fact, it felt refreshing.

Christmas is usually a time of profound joy for me. I love the magic of Christmas and particularly experiencing it through the eyes of my children. Even though it was different this year, we still baked holiday treats and watched Christmas movies. I didn't feel like I was missing out on much compared to other years.

I think my bout of Christmas anxiety came from an overall "stuck" feeling. Stuck in this house for 287 days. Stuck in the grind of daily life with such little variation.

It was like I had a sudden burst to get out.

Going outside did the trick. I felt my heart rate slow. I'm not even sure how long I was out there. I came back inside and drank a cup of peppermint tea. I have recently discovered that I love having candles nearby while I write, so I lit one called "Twilight Opal" and sat down.

It won't be forever, this stuck feeling. The end is in sight. I'll be around the people and things I love again in the not-so-distant future.

The rest of the day will be slow, and that's just fine. We can eat leftovers and watch The Nutcracker Ballet on YouTube and fill ourselves with more cookies. We are lucky. I can see that, even though those moments where my body reacts in a way that would suggest otherwise.

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