By Shelley Murphy
December is the month of anticipation and expectation.
With the flip of the calendar, pressure to prepare for the holiday hype commences.
Every season, I strive to plan the most wonderful holiday, but I’ve realized holiday perfection is overrated.
Today, I don’t feel the burden to buy, bake, and brighten every December day.
I’m not Scrooge shouting, “Bah, humbug!”—far from it, I love the holidays.
I decorate every inch of our house and wrap the stairway railing with pine needles and twinkling lights.
I plan the festive feast, making my list and checking it twice, to ensure I’ve included everyone’s holiday favorites.
I search online and shop in stores to track down coveted items on my family’s wish lists and wrap the gifts in boxes with bows.
And each year, I look forward to hosting our family Christmas Eve gathering.
For years, my husband and I, and later our kids, spent Christmas Eve with his family. But, after a series of unfortunate events, we started celebrating Christmas Eve with my husband’s older brother and his family.
In the beginning, my sister-in-law and I took turns hosting the occasion and, naturally, trying to top each other by preparing the perfect festive feast.
I can’t remember the catalyst for the change, but long ago, I assumed the hosting duties and ditched the over-the-top holiday hysteria.
Our customary get-together is casual; it includes takeout food and paper plates—holiday-themed, of course.
Some of us dress for the season and others dress for a comfy Christmas buffet.
During the pandemic, my husband lost track of his not-so-tight-knit family.
But, thankfully, he reconnected with his older brother, and after three years, we’re all excited to gather again.
Between our two families, we have four grown kids all on different paths. Many years ago, we spent Christmas Eve tracking Santa’s journey, but this year I’m seeking time together.
I can’t wait to catch up with my sister-in-law.
It’s said that people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
My sister-in-law comes into my life every holiday season. She is witty with a wicked sense of humor and makes my holiday merrier and brighter.
The mother-in-law we share is legendary for her gift-giving—her eccentric shopping can’t be explained.
Once, she gave me and my sister-in-law each a garish pair of salt and pepper shakers—gaudy doesn’t begin to describe the set.
So, obviously, after that exchange, my sister-in-law and I began gifting each other ugly salt and pepper shakers. The tackier, the better.
After we exchange our gifts on Christmas Eve, the high jinks ensue. The real fun is in the sneaky return of the salt and pepper shakers to the gift-giver.
My sister-in-law began the tradition when she snuck a set that I’d given her back under our tree. We shared lots of laughs the next morning after discovering the shakers hidden among the presents.
Over the years, our competitive exchanges have escalated.
At our last gathering, she somehow hid various hideous sets throughout my house. Long after all the decorations were put away, I opened a drawer to find a pair of frightening snowmen staring back at me and burst into laughter.
A few years ago, after they’d left for the evening, we found several sets of shakers stashed around our house. Not to be outdone, we hired an Uber driver to deliver them to their home later that night.
I’m counting the days until she’ll open this year’s special gift set of salt and pepper shakers—a brightly colored ceramic pair of kissing reindeer.
This holiday, I’m not expecting perfection, but I am anticipating the joys of the season shared with family and friends—including joining in nostalgic reindeer games.
For more than 20 years, Shelley Murphy and her husband have lived in San Clemente, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to Picket Fence Media since 2006.
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