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Sheila Quirke Headshot

Cheating Christmas

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Tick tock, tick tock. TICK TOCK, TICK TOCK.

That ain't my biological clock you're hearing, folks. That is the sound of the clock furiously racing towards Christmas, hurtling through time and space at breakneck speed that only is possible this time of year. There is no denying that Christmas is upon us, and if there are kids in the picture, well, my friends, best of luck to you.

Christmas is complicated. Most of us have some fairly deep rooted feelings about it if it is our holiday of choice or family -- the key word being family. We can be 30, 40, 50 or 60, it really doesn't matter; our family of origin, the family we were raised in or born into, shapes our feelings about the holidays.

The holidays were always a little hard for me. Christmas, the day itself, was always grand -- one of my favorites of the year, really. The leading up to it was hard, though, even as a child. We had this old artificial tree that required wooden blocks to keep it level. At the end of the wire branches that fit into the ancient wooden pole were color-coded dots that had long since worn away. My Dad, I love the man dearly, but he was never much into the season. He was not a user of curse words, my Dad, still isn't, but the way he would shout, "SON OF A SEA COOK" at that tree as he struggled with it got his message across clear as fresh ice. My older sister took over the tree-hoisting duties probably sooner than a kid should have. I am grateful to her for that.

But my sordid family history is of no interest to you, is it? My point is, look to your holidays past to better understand how they are shaping your holidays present and future. That is very Ebenezer Scrooge of me to say, but none of us can begrudge the wisdom of Dickens, can we?

As an adult with kids of my own, I have learned a thing or two about "cheating Christmas" as I call it. I want my little one to carry as little holiday baggage as possible as he grows into adulthood. I want him to find wonder and magic in the season, all of it, not just the gift part of it. I want his Christmases past, present and future to somewhat resemble the Pottery Barn catalog -- plentiful food, warm family gatherings and a tasteful tree with a homespun elegance to it. Done, you know, but not overdone.

Here are my secrets to cheating Christmas. You can thank me later, perhaps in the Christmas card you send that I will scotch tape to my front hall.

Cookies. I am outsourcing those suckers this year. Being addicted to Facebook has its privileges, and I discovered one of them a few weeks ago. A friend of mine posted a comment to an event page that featured a stay-at-home dad who wanted to earn some extra dough for his daughter's school trip to Europe next year. His brilliant idea was to bake Christmas cookies for all those folks just like myself. I love a home-baked cookie. I do. I just don't have it in me to do it myself this year. And that has to be okay. For $5 a dozen, I will have plates and plates to enjoy myself and gift to those I love, or you know, want to impress. After I ordered my 12 dozen, the baker posted a note about his cookie baking music playlist. Top on it was Prince singing "Sexy Mother F%$#er." Those cookies are going to be sexy and delicious. Oh! And feel free to try this one at home. Put out a request on your social media feeds asking the bakers out there if they want to earn a little extra dough this year. You might luck out just like I did.

Tree. I drove past a Christmas tree lot last week that offered free delivery and set-up. BAM. That, my friends, is exactly what I will be doing. You get the fresh tree and dried needles, but without the hassle of having to wrastle it, impaling yourself in the process. Oh! And we try and keep Christmas to Christmas. When on earth did it become a six-week thing? I LOVE a sparkly Christmas tree as much as the next person, but part of why I love it is because it is so special. Like peonies in June or tulips in May. Those blooms are so special because they are so rare and time limited. Sometimes, less really is more.

Cards. My friends and relatives will be the first to tell you that I don't send Christmas cards. There have been no smiling photos of my family tacked to their fridge in years past. This is the one that always gets to me, as there are few things I love more than seeing the families in my life smiling down at me this time of year. Thing is, I never get it together to have images shot or ordered in time. It feels oppressive and expensive to me, the organization and dollars required to do this. This year, I came up with a plan. I am printing out a recent family photo and literally cutting and pasting a greeting on the front and back. These will be brought to our local printer for copying and cutting. Slap a stamp on that sucker and BOOM! It will be done. I vow it. DIY Christmas cards! Watch for it in your mailbox.

Santa. What is Christmas without Santa, right? Pfffft. Not much, my friends, not much. He is the big daddy of festive cheer, the sugar in the cookie, the marshmallow in hot chocolate. In other words, Santa is necessary for any Christmas, even a cheating Christmas. I lucked out on finding the best Santa in Chicagoland (Northbrook Court, yo). He is jolly (read: fat) and hirsute (real snow white beard) and speaks with the faintest hint of a British accent. Affected? Perhaps, but damn, he makes me want to share my sorrows and cuddle up in his lap while he pats my head and assures me everything will be okay. Trick is to visit early in the season on a weekday. Then Santa has the time to listen and visit and coax your child to divulge their list of wishes. And if you've been following along, my Santa trick is the opposite of the tree trick -- do it early. It adds to the cheer and is a GREAT way to feel like the holiday are upon us, without tarting out the house in mid-autumn.

So there they are! You, too, are now equipped to cheat Christmas! The truth of my lessons is that this really is a beautiful time of year. The traditions and practices of Christmas are lovely and a joy to be a part of. What are less lovely and joyful are the feelings of obligatory cheer, overwhelming commercialism and unacknowledged sadness and loss that so many of us feel with the holidays. I believe there is room for all of it and one not need negate the other. Be happy and sad this season; know your limitations, be they economic or emotional; and plan accordingly.

And if none of this works? Well, it will all be over soon. Tick tock, TICK TOCK.