If you have no idea what Festivus is, please stop reading immediately and find Seinfeld season 9, episode 10, and watch it at least three times. Once you pick yourself up off the floor, you'll have a renewed sense of seasonal joy.
Well, my friends, today is Festivus. A day of airing grievances, competing in feats of strength, and raising an aluminum stripper pole in place of the Christmas tree. I'm actually not sure it's a stripper pole, but it is quite reminiscent of one. Everyday events can be called a "Festivus Miracle" and the magic of the holiday lives on. It's also a day in which one is encouraged to blow off work for "religious purposes." It's the perfect holiday
The premise behind Festivus is that, unable to get the toy of choice for his child, Frank Costanza invents his own holiday to counter Christmas and the commercial mania that goes along with it. I don't think this is a bad idea, and have been casting about for a way to invent my own holiday for years.
This year, the "hot" toy is something called a Hatchimal. I praise the Lord every day that my kids are too old for hyped toys (and also that I escaped the ridiculous Elf on a Shelf mania, but that's a whole other post). Apparently, Hatchimals are some sort of creature hatched over several hours out of an egg. They look pretty cute, and like something my kids would've enjoyed in third grade.
Upholding the Christmas spirit and traditions of greed, stress, and money-grabbing, people who have a sixth sense about what will be the "it" toy of the season snatched them all off the Wal-Mart, Target, and Meijer shelves back in the days of yore before Trump became president and everything went south. These toys are now selling for upwards of $200 on e-bay and on Facebook garage sale sites. I witnessed a rather ugly back-and-forth on one of these sites, in which an angry mob of Hatchimal-seeking parents vilified a capitalist just trying to make a buck this holiday. I expected the headlines the next day to be about desperate parents marching with pitchforks and torches on the mansion of the scrooge holding Hatchimals hostage for huge ransom.
Pinterest has climbed on board with this madness, offering letters of condolence and promises of post-Christmas Hatchimal delivery signed by Santa himself for parents to give their grieving children on Christmas morning. There will be no Hatchimal under the tree, kids, because avaricious capitalists are selling them for more than mommy and daddy can afford, but you'll get one soon when the hype dies down.
Festivus counters all this. Instead, you get to air your grievances and get out your aggression, which seems much healthier than sweating to death in stores for trinkets. So here are some of my grievances, and I'll exhibit my feats of strength later in what will surely be a gruelling Orangetheory Fitness class far beyond my meager physical capabilities (burpees, anyone?):
1. My stepfather, in addition to hauling me into court with frivilous contests to my mother's will over the last two years, took all our family heirloom Christmas decorations after she died.
2. It's winter. There are enless months of gray, cold, and miserable days still yet to come.
3. People where I live do NOT know how to drive and it makes me stabby. Also, pedestrians here walk WAY too slow and down the MIDDLE of the parking lot aisles. MOVE IT, PEOPLE!
4. I have friends who are really hurting right now and I don't know how to help them.
5. No matter how much I work out, I still have the body of a creature that would result if Bilbo Baggins mated with a manatee.
See, now, that felt good, although I'm right now countering these things with positives so I don't feel icky (which goes against everything Festivus stands for). I'd encourage you to look at the holiday season through the Festivus lens, and I hope you all experience a Festivus miracle or two today. And maybe even find a rogue Hatchimal at sticker price on a random shelf today.
This is not my manifesto. Credit belongs to the late E. Paul Torrance, a leader in gifted education. I learned of it during a most fantastic conference of the Indiana Association for the Gifted, of which I am privileged to be part of the conference committee and soon-to-be board member (knock on wood). Torrance, who prized creativity and independent thought, gives these wise words to children in his Creative Manifesto:
Take a moment and let that sink in. How many hours are spent trying to make kids "well-rounded" and learning to regurgitate what is told to them to earn a letter grade based on rather arbitraray measures? How often do the kids come up with the questions, the passion, the learning objectives that are meaningful to them, as opposed to answering the questions given them? Right now, in my Vera Bradley teacher bag, I have about 5 inches worth of level 2 and 3 questions about The Crucible to grade. Questions I think are important. Questions the kids were motivated to answer (in complete sentences with proper punctuation) in large part because it was for a grade and there's a test Thursday over the material. Looking over this list, however, it's hard to fit the expectations of school in with these very impactful words on how to be successful in life! It's as if school and life are compartmentalized. As if, as an adult, my work and my life are compartmentalized. How often do I waste energy doing things that aren't my greatest strengths, ending up frustrated and feeling like a failure? How often do I put my intense passions on the back burner to attempt to be "well-rounded"? I doubt Steve Jobs, George Lucas, JK Rowling, Ernest Hemingway, or any great leader in a field cared much for fitting into a box or checking things off a list of what makes a well-rounded person.
Going forward, I will put this manifesto on a little laminated card on my desk, and try to hit as many as possible when planning, and make sure my students get a copy. It'll be a challenge to fit state standards into all of these, particularly with students who decidedly do NOT have the passion for English literature that I do - but I want to show students how to funnel the skills they learn into their passions.
I'm fortunate to work at a school with a maker space - that's just one way the creativity and impulse to CREATE rather than simply USE goods can be developed in the students. I don't know any answers right now, but one of my passions (and something I love and can do well) is teaching kids. But I need to go beyond teaching and focus on developing student life pursuits of their own interests and strengths. Perhaps that will be what I create for myself. Perhaps I'll fail a whole bunch of times before I sort of get it right, but isn't that the point? To never actually reach perfection, but spend a lifetime in passionate pursuit of it?
"Mom! Hey, mom!" I heard a cherub chirp from around the corner as I washed up the dinner dishes, wondering why *I* am washing the dishes when I have a house full of able-bodied children whom I could force to do it. "MOM!" The chirping turned to screeching when I didn't immediately reply. I turned off the water so I could hear the most urgent need of this darling fruit of my loins.
"Yes, precious muffin. What can I do for you? Please let me know." (Hey, it's my revisionist history. Shut up.)
"When are you going to put up the Christmas decorations?"
"I'll do it in between my manicure and leisurely lunch that I have planned tomorrow, as I have nothing better to do." (This is not true. I said something along the lines of probably over the weekend, if I have time at home at all between trips to drive "you kids" places, or between meals and cleaning up. I laid on the guilt so thick that said child slunk upstairs and wasn't heard from again until morning.)
What I really wanted to do was cry and/or shout, "Put up the d$#& decorations yourself!" What kind of woman/mother/homeowner am I? It was the third of December, and I had nary a twinkly light nor a Christmas village house adorning my home. The Christmas plates were still ensconced in their box in the garage. I hadn't even thought about a Christmas card. I'd been working 10 hour days for weeks and still felt behind, and I didn't WANT to put up the Christmas decorations, even though I knew I'd love it once it was done. I was exhausted, empty, and resentful, because let's face it - even though the cries of feminism and equality ring through the air and over social media on pages like Pantsuit Nation, the brunt of these things is borne by the woman of the house.
So this past Sunday, after guilt grabbed hold, I dragged in the boxes of yuletide cheer from the garage and began halfheartedly decking the halls. My children helped some, my husband carried heavy things; they all wandered off at some point, leaving me alone in the room to put the finishing touches on what now resembled a Christmas explosion.
As I set up the Christmas village, I was rendered immobile by a fit of nostalgia. Many of the houses in the village were my Nana's and then my mother's. Mom gave me the Dickens houses a year before she died, as I had coveted them for years. She said I could have them for that year, and she'd take them back the next. She didn't live to see another Christmas. I thought of the hands that had touched these houses; the places they'd lived. The boxes bore handwriting of women who'd decorated their homes before me. Familiar, warm, distinctive writing which exemplified Nana and Mom both. I thought of the care that had been taken to set out and pack away these precious family decorations, and tears pricked my eyes. I miss my mom. I miss my Nana.
I realized that my lack of motivation is tied up in the sense of loss that comes out the most at the holidays, not necessarily my work/housekeeping/driving kids around schedule. Family is everywhere this time of year. People doing things with their parents and loved ones. I have loved ones galore, but the loss of parents is acute and leaves one feeling decidedly lonely.
Once everything was set up and the happy lights of the tree and village cast a warm glow over the front room, I loved it, as I knew I would. I doubt the loneliness of the holidays and the wish for just one more Christmas with my mom will pass, but I can speak her story and handle her things, and hope to give the gift of love to my family this season.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.