Women, the magic elves of Christmas . . . but no pressure

Xmas stressYesterday while waiting in line at the post office, I did an unofficial count: nine out of the ten customers ahead of me were women.

There we were, each weighed down with packages to ship to far-flung family members. I’m going to go out on an evergreen limb here and guess that these women were also the ones who had chosen and wrapped the presents in question.

I’m also speculating they were the ones who hung the stockings by the chimney with care and baked cookies for their children’s class party. And figured out workarounds for everyone’s dietary allergies for the Christmas menu. And remembered every December morning to stick each child’s piece of candy in the Advent calendar, because the kids  weren’t going to get nearly enough sugar the rest of the day.

In any case, we all had one thing in common: we looked very tired.

Last night one of my cousins posted on Facebook that she was sick of worrying about getting the perfect  present for everyone and just wanted to skip the “Santa crap” to get to what is at the heart of Christmas for her: Family and Mass.

I think a lot of women can relate. It’s not that we don’t love Christmas. We do, or most of us do. But the holiday comes with more baggage than Santa’s laden sleigh—the struggle to create the perfect Christmas (or to be perceived by others as having created the perfect Christmas), the worries about money and overscheduled calendars, the 11:59 Christmas Eve struggle to put together the ^^*(%#ing toy train set so it will be just right a few hours later when the youngest family members tear downstairs.

And it’s not that men don’t help with Christmas. Most do, in my experience. But there seems to be an unspoken and unwritten rule in even the most feminist-forward households that Women Are in Charge of Christmas. Women are the wonder-makers, the elves. We may delegate some responsibilities, but the red-nosed buck stops with us.

For me the stress results in a desire to slip away for a mug of hot chocolate, a good novel, and my annual Christmas Day nap—the only problem being that I want to do this routine every afternoon from about December 10 to January 1.

My girlfriends and I feel a good deal of pressure this time of year. Everywhere there are reminders that the yuletide clock is ticking—only six more shopping days till Christmas!—and we’ve yet to find the right gift for a teenage nephew or figure out the sleeping arrangements for all the guests who are coming to stay.

I just rediscovered something funny and true in this vein, from Rachel Held Evans’s excellent memoir A Year of Biblical Womanhood. It gets to the heart of what many women are feeling right about now when—did we mention?—there are only six shopping days left until Christmas.

There seems to be some kind of universal agreement that the advances achieved through women’s liberation need not apply during the holidays. It’s as though the first trumpet peals of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” sent blasting over the PA at Bed, Bath & Beyond are designed to trigger an internal short that shocks us all into Stepford mode, donning aprons and strained smiles and sweaters that have no business surviving another decade.

From the baking aisle to the post office line to the wrapping paper bin in the attic, women populate every forgotten corner of Christmas. Who got up at 4 a.m. to put the ham in the oven? A woman. Who elbowed you for the last reindeer pillow pet left on the shelf? A woman. Who sent the Christmas card describing her eighteen-year-old son’s incarceration as a “short break before college”? A woman. Who remembered to include batteries at the bottom of each stocking? A woman. And who gets credit for pulling it all off?


That’s right. A man.


P.S. If you haven’t read A Year of Biblical Womanhood, it might make the perfect gift for someone on your Christmas list now that THERE ARE ONLY SIX SHOPPING DAYS LEFT TILL CHRISTMAS.

As for me, I’m off to bake four dozen muffins for a faculty luncheon. Don’t ask.