It’s started.

The lunatic race to the perfect Christmas has begun.

The stores are swelling with garland, light strands, and good tidings of joyfully packaged perfume sets. Pinterest looks like a red and green glitter bomb exploded on its cover page, and TV commercials are running their cringe worthy “Give your family this $50K luxury car for Christmas!” ads. Bucket lists like 25 Things to Do to Have a Merry Christmas, 10 Must Take Christmas Photo Ops, 30 Christmas Movies You Need to Watch, 20 Christmas Dinners You Need to Make, and 15 Easy to Make Organic Free Range Christmas Gifts, are spreading across the internet. The 24 hour Christmas music stations are already streaming, Christmas party obligations and dates are filling up datebooks, and mail order catalogs selling everything from toys to actual nuts are spilling out of the mailbox.

Sigh.

I already want a long winter’s nap.

I am your average 40 something mom with a large family and busy household to run, and truthfully, the holidays scare the hell out of me. I felt the pangs of Christmas anxiety for the first time a few days ago, strolling through a store littered with holly berry and pine scented candles, 20 foot blow up reindeers, and shelves overloaded with peppermint bark and giant wheels of red velvet ribbon. It was then that the mom’s to do list maker in my brain cranked up.

All the Christmas bucket list crap.

Decorations unpacked and put up.

Baking, baking, cooking, baking.

Awesome and appropriate gifts for teenagers – which don’t actually exist.

Christmas card family picture – need to buy dress clothes that actually fit all the kids, then find time we’re all together and liking each other. And a patient soul to take the picture.

All the family’s present shopping – all of it!

Church plays, school plays, practices, costumes.

Wrapping.

The damn ELF.

Parties, cookie swaps, gift exchanges.

Christmas crafting with the kids.

Mailing, shipping.

Charity toy drive, food drive.

And those were only the thoughts off the top of my head.

Imagine what’s below Santa’s surface.

I walked out of that store sweating with more yuletide anxiety than Rudolph with a low nose battery. All I could think is I want the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” to hurry up and “Jingle All the Way” to New Years Eve. Like NOW. And then I realized my holiday to do list was really just a written collection of first world mom problems, and I needed to put my Mrs. Claus panties on and start decking some damn halls. But even that doesn’t feel right. Instead, it feels like my first world mom Christmas problems list were borne of first world Christmas ideas; ideas that come from big box retailers, Madison Avenue, social media, and the Jones’.

Is everything on my list really necessary? Can I do less and still provide a memorable and joy filled holiday for my family?

Well Oh Holy Night! The answer is a Hark Heralding Yes!

What do my kids and family actually NEED to have a Merry Christmas?

Well, I think just one thing really.

Time.

Just lots and lots of just time spent with a happy and sane mom and dad.

So if that means less decking of the halls and more saying no to obligations that only bring stress to me and the rest of the family, then so be it.

But will I feel like less than a great mom for not beginning to make it look a lot like Christmas from now until the 25th of December?

Can’t peace on Earth start within the four walls of our own homes? Yes it can.

The only obligations I truly have this Christmas are the ones I choose to put on myself, and I need to ensure they remain the ones that also bring joy, peace, and maybe an actual silent night to our family. I refuse to let what was once considered a sacred holiday-but now wreaks of door-busters and debt inducers- bring resentment, impatience, and frustration to my family.

There is nothing in a store, an online cart, or on the cover of shiny catalog that can take the place of a joyful parent. There is nothing worth pinning, baking, or creating that is worth more than peaceful time spent with my family. There is no Christmas office party, white elephant gift swap, or holiday open house that is more meaningful than an evening spent on the couch surrounded by all the kids, popcorn, and the movie Elf on TV. They will remember that.

As a child, I once caught my mom crying while listening to Christmas songs. I asked her why the songs were making her sad. She told me that Christmas, the time of year where people are supposed to be the happiest, is often the time of year where people are the saddest. It wasn’t until many years later I understood this unfortunate truth-that for many, the cheerful explosion of the holidays are a stark reminder of another season of their suffering. It is a time when grieving spouses, parents, grandparents, and widows, are all trying to gracefully navigate an inherently joy filled time.

Perhaps it is those people that can teach us how to embrace the holidays; how much more important it is to make moments, not molasses cookies.

They can remind us there is only one thing on our holiday to do list that is mandatory. One thing that needs to be done above all the others. One precious gift we need to give our family every year.

The gift of time.

And that is all I want this Christmas. I want to live the holidays in the present, not because of presents. I want to wrap my patience and my arms around my children, not boxes. I want to hang on their every word, not hang more wreaths. I want to picture my family in their best selves, not their best clothes. I want to swap stories with my family, not baked goods with strangers. I want to create organic memories, not forced traditions. And I want to keep perspective and keen awareness in my thoughts at all times, reminding me that the only one true thing on the holiday to do list that is a MUST DO is this.

To be together with the people I love.

That is the gift I am giving myself, and my family, this year. 

Moms, let’s help each other keep Christmas joyfully simple this year, and remember that ourselves, our sanity, and our time is the best gift we can give our families this Christmas.

Are you in?

This article originally appeared on Huff Post

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Melissa Fenton

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer, adjunct librarian, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Awareness Ambassador. She writes at http://www.4boysmother.com/. Her writing can be found all over the internet, but her work is mostly on the dinner table.

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