On Avoiding Post-Holiday Letdown

We’re an equal opportunity Judeo-Christian family, so December heralds a total bonanza for my kids. They get Hanukkah presents from two sets of grandparents, then travel to get Christmas gifts from the third set. Talk about a lucky month!

What’s more, my son’s birthday falls smack in the middle of December, adding considerable bulk to the weight of his windfall.

Because his main event always stands in peril of being eclipsed by the harried mayhem of the holidays, I’ve always felt compelled to make it into somewhat of a big deal with some sort of party or activity with his peeps and, of course, plenty of birthday booty.

Traditionally, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is our time to halt activities of any kind, shake off the month’s nonstop hustle and bustle, and sequester ourselves at home to bask in the newness of the month’s bounty. All previously unopened boxes get opened, and all previously unplayed games get played. While this goes on, my husband and I sit back and absorb the looks of unmitigated glee on our kids’ faces, feeling all kinds of warm and fuzzy in the gut that we were largely responsible for these expressions.

Having experienced such a prolonged period of fun, our kids can’t help but bear some semblance of an expectation that the good times will just keep on rolling. But, the next thing you know, it’s January – time to strap on our snow boots and resume the back to school/work rigmarole for the foreseeable future, which all but smells like a sentence of ceaseless tedium for them – and for us.

These holiday/birthday extravaganzas, along with the insult of those pesky January taxes and impending afterschool expenses, have a way of burning all the way through a bank account before you can belt out another chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.” Young kids can’t possibly grasp the implications of those annoying slips of paper that come in the mail, other than they have a tendency to make mommy and daddy hang their heads and abbreviate swear words upon ripping them open. And as the twinkling lights of menorahs and trees get stuffed back into their boxes and sent back to their basement dungeons, cold, mean January sees fat cat dinners for a jolly amalgam of revelers whittled down to organic grilled cheese sandwiches for immediate family members only.

The post-holiday letdown isn’t just about the end of the loot. It’s about how grandparents, extended family members and friends come visit, then leave. It’s about how the influx of party invites suddenly comes to a screeching halt. It’s about how the endless supply of cupcakes, gingerbread and latkes dries up. It’s about how we celebrate, spoil each other and stay up late, then resume our structured lives only to realize there’s nothing immediate to look forward to.

With the mere pop of a cork and a drop of a ball, the month of “yes” becomes the month of “no.” Can’t we just stop in this toy store for a minute? I’m so sorry honey, but we can’t. Can I go to this science center with astronomical admission costs with my friend and his mom? I’m afraid not. When are grandma and grandpa coming to visit again? Not for a while, honey. Can’t I just buy this one-$10-plastic-toy-that-will-be-completely-forgotten-in-less-than-30-days? NO. NO. NO. And thus, the post-holiday letdown hits its stride. Let the frownfest begin.

Kids don’t like to hear “no,” and they really don’t like to hear it often. Who can blame them? It’s hard for anyone to downshift from shiny and new to “it’s time to make do.” Try as we might to teach our kids to be grateful for what they just got, it’s a hard lesson to teach, because to a little kid, a month is eons.

In past years, saying “no” over and over brought on my own post-holiday letdown. I hated being the bad guy, and I felt horribly guilty because I wasn’t flush enough to provide as I had the previous month.

So this year, I decided to stop saying “no” and start saying “instead.” Instead of feeling guilty, I will do my very best to find ways to make this January a virtual funfest – on the cheap or free. Instead of spending cash on fun things or experiences, we will spend time with fun people. Instead of taking a trip to a costly museum, we will cruise the parks in search of nature’s gifts, like the bluest sky or the biggest icicle. If I’m lucky, I’ll end up bringing my kids the magical glee of December, only this time without the mound of shredded gift-wrap.

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