Written by: Erin Street Shaw
This weekend, as I took down the last of the boxes of Christmas decorations, I was thinking about that one time I screamed at Santa. Guess what was involved?
It started like this: every year, I hosted a grand Santa party at our house. Children came in the guise of a “cookie party,” only to discover the man in the big red suit was the surprise guest of honor. But wait … there’s more! As the children sat on Santa’s lap, he pulled out a gift just for them from his sack. The gifts had been procured from their parents weeks and months before, as I worked on this elaborate event for months at at time.
It made me happy to do this for the kids; that much is true. I liked giving a gift them and to our friends, who got Santa photos with their kids without having to wait in line at the mall. I had “inherited” Santa and the cherished first Saturday in December from a friend whose daughter had aged out. The Santa was really, really good, with a thick, real beard and twinkly eyes. He was so good he was booked solid for years.
Planning the party was stressful, and I made it more stressful on myself, but I also said things like the window for belief was small, and I was so lucky to have this great Santa. How could I give up that coveted first Saturday in December?
All true things. Also true: planning the Santa party also took up nights, weekends, and energy that I didn’t really have. At the time I was working 12 hours a day, often in other cities. Often while having an extra glass of Chardonnay or three to take the edge off. I just kept going, plunging myself into planning a party that involved hot gluing for weeks, creating a photo booth, commissioning hand-lettered invitations like the one above.
That photo is from a post in 2012, in which I lamented how busy and tired I was and how I needed the wine to get through it all. I wrote:
“The wine happened because I was in between packing for a week-long trip, and laundry to get everyone ready for the week, and some work. So there’s that.”
I cringe as I read this. As if the wine just “happened.” As if I was a martyr for hosting a party. As if I was working woman of the year. As if celebrating Christmas was something I had to do to get through.
I thought it was totally normal to drink it all of the time, and because I was such a busy and important person that I *deserved it.* There was a mimosa bar at the party, and a mimosa bar that was my life. “You would drink this much if you had to do what I do,” I said, or I thought. It makes me sad now, but that’s with hindsight, several years of recovery, and the knowledge of how many women fall into the same trap.
It makes me sad to see this photo of me holding my baby nephew, playing this role of harried hostess. “Another Santa party in the books!” posted to Facebook. Sigh.
I believed my own hype. I posted these photos and wrote cheeky status updates an endless cycle of, “See? I have it handled.”
A few years later, one summer day St. Nick emailed me to say we needed to change the date of the party. He had given away the first Saturday in December. Could I do a date in November? Could I do a weekday morning? The audacity. If I’m going to be honest, I can’t remember if I called St. Nick or if I emailed him, but I was a total jerk and told him he’d ruined Christmas. I yelled at Santa. Whether it was via phone or words, it doesn’t matter. I yelled at Santa.
Hiiiiii, that’s me.
That was me.
When not a delightful hostess I was a mean drunk. Those photos were not Christmas card worthy. But, that was then. This will be my third Christmas sober.
I hardly recognize the girl in the photos, except for one thing: the look in my eyes then. “Help.” No one was coming to help — I would have to save myself. And I did. And I do.
If I’m being honest, and I am, because I just told you how I had to get loaded to plan Christmas parties, I will also say that I feel a little empty now unpacking the decorations. We’ve long outgrown Santa parties in my house, regardless of how this one ended. My son is in middle school now and I don’t plan parties because I “should.” I don’t know why the decorations make me feel off, but it probably has to do with the memories they bring back, back when I was running around trying to make everything so lovely and ignoring the storm that was brewing inside of myself. Yes, that is why.
I haven’t yelled at any Santas lately, or commissioned any hand lettering, or designed a photo booth. I have stayed sober another day, and started building a life I didn’t need to escape from, not with one sip or with the pageantry of an event to distract me from the truth. It seems like a good place to start, this first weekend of December.
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