Roach: Heavenly peace

My understanding of Christmas has morphed.
Roach: Heavenly peace

As chronicled previously in this space, my relationship with Christmas is uneasy.

I soured on the holiday as I became a working adult, husband and father. Money was tight. Work schedules were jammed. Shopping was a frantic exercise staged in the last hours. I am haunted by memories of being alone, confused and sweaty as I prowled Hilldale Shopping Center for an idea, any idea, of what to buy for those I loved. Worse yet, I knew that the day after Christmas, my work life would immediately resume its bedlam.

In retrospect I have realized that I came to dread Christmas for one simple reason: I did not leave time for it.

To enjoy Christmas, you have to make room for it in your life. So now I try to observe practices that leave a few days to savor what is, for most folks around here, the biggest holiday of the year.

First, I say “No” to almost every Christmas party. There is altogether too much noise, alcohol and food — three things that make me less of what I want to be. There is nothing better than not going to a party where the most thrilling activity is trying to remember names.

Further, to allow more time for Christmas, I no longer festoon the exterior of our house with complicated Christmas decorations. I simply refuse to make use of multiple extension cords. We throw up two large wreaths on the front of our home and some red ribbons on two big tree trunks. Ten minutes of work with no risk of electrocution. Done.

I look back and wonder whatever possessed me to hang from the branches of a sugar maple with the cold wind blowing to string lights that were guaranteed to be cruelly inconsistent in their ability to offer exterior holiday illumination. Now, as Christmas approaches, I feel smug in the knowledge that I figured out how to beat the conspiracy of those short-lived bulbs. I simply refuse to play their game.

I also did something I thought I would never do. We bought a wonderfully fake Christmas tree. No more traipsing around a farm or a repurposed parking lot, hoping to find the perfect conifer. No more strapping the tree to the roof of the car with hope that it doesn’t blow off on the Beltline Highway, which happened once and has contributed greatly to my holiday PTSD.

Nope. As November ends, we are secure in the knowledge that we already have the perfect holiday tree already in its stand, waiting patiently in a corner of our garage alongside the hedge trimmer. I am a little embarrassed about this, but I am comforted by having one less thing on the Christmas to-do list, thus allowing more time for Christmas.

As for presents, there are fewer because our children are now adults. Christmas has become less a time of material consumption and more an appreciation of what we already have. Christmas morning is now about watching videos of our three kids when they were young tearing open presents on mornings long past. Instead of a living room littered with wrapping paper, we watch videos of that litter. It’s much tidier.

It is also fair to say that my understanding of Christmas has morphed. When I was a child growing up in Wisconsin, I had no comprehension of a world that wasn’t white and Christian. Now I do. That realization doesn’t mean that Christmas means less. But it does mean that there is less cultural narcissism involved, which makes it less selfish.

Uncluttering Christmas allows you to relish those hours when the world becomes quieter. Even still.

In such noisy times, it is pure joy to step outside on Christmas Eve and not be subjected to the drone of Beltline traffic or the bleating of trucks backing up. And not a siren to be heard.

If you can make it happen, the beauty of Christmas is in its quietness. Which is a present unto itself, because it quiets the soul.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at