I picked up a book a few months ago with the depressing but efficient title, "Simplify Your Christmas."
Right now, I've got shopping to finish, four kinds of cookies to bake, two or three strings of outside lights to hang, the special pork sausage to pick up and the Christmas Eve menu to plan. If I'm really lucky, and very organized, this could be the first year that I send my own Christmas cards, too.
One defining year
In a country that traditionally tramples a few people to death during Black Friday sales, and where racking up a pile of dangerous debt is as much a tradition as eggnog and carols, simplifying Christmas should be a great idea.
But while I'd love to see shoppers sleep till noon on the day after Thanksgiving and spend cash wisely and carefully, I don't want my Christmas -- and especially my little boy's -- to be simple. I want it to be grand and beautiful and bright and ringing and shimmering and all homemade. If I could, I'd blow the glass ornaments for the tree myself and whittle the toothpicks for the salmon roll-ups by hand.
Especially this year.
I hold that for each kid there's one Christmas that becomes their perfect holiday and goes on to define what Christmas means for them. My son's getting to the age (if he hasn't already) where the truth about Santa Claus comes out, followed by the years when the only gifts he'll request are online credits for music by bands that make his dad's ears bleed. This might be my last chance to make Christmas special. And that isn't simple.
My model Christmas came around second grade, after a leak damaged many of the decorations in the root cellar of our old home. I watched my mom repair or remake most of them, including several that dated from my parents' newlywed days. Mom tore apart a small Santa in a sleigh, re-covered the entire thing in green felt, sewed the jolly old elf new clothes, tied on new ribbon and replaced the lost glitter. The reindeer were a loss, but she replaced them with eight tiny substitutes from the dime store.
Time to double down
She did the same with dozens of other pieces, salvaging centerpieces and scrubbing the tarnish off angels. At 8 years old, I marveled at how much time and trouble she took. The house looked more beautiful than ever, and she kept up all the other holiday traditions, too.
Mom could have chucked the whole lot of waterlogged decorations for new ones, I suppose. It's what we'd do today. It would have been the simple thing to do.
But simple and special don't often go together. It's simple to tell a friend you'll get together to mark their birthday next month. It's special when you cancel two meetings and schedule a sitter to celebrate on the very day.
It's time and effort that are the currency of love, so as long as I can do it without going over the edge, I'm doubling down on the holiday. I'll take the extra time, make the extra effort, sleep a few less hours to wrap the perfect gift, find the big Christmas lollipop and re-hang the tinsel 10 times to get it just so.
I don't know what or how much he'll appreciate, but I bet something will stick with him in the years ahead to make Christmas special. It's that simple.
(Brian J. O'Connor is an award-winning columnist for The Detroit News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)