Soon after that self-inflicted fiasco, I marched myself down to the nearest library. I wanted to find something, anything that would help me learn how to do things differently the next year. That’s when I stumbled across Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli’s book. The book is entitled, Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season (Quill, 1991).
Within the very first pages, the authors explain their mission. “We have written this book to help people create more rewarding Christmas celebrations,” they write. They contend that there is no one right way to celebrate the holidays. “The people who find the most pleasure in Christmas are the ones who have taken control of the celebration and shaped it to conform to their own wishes and values,” they add.
The book starts by examining the traditional roles men and women play in the Christmas celebration. It examines how these roles cause problems. According to Robinson and Staeheli, women typically are the Christmas Magicians. “Like their mothers before them, women are responsible for transforming their family’s everyday lives into a beautiful, magical festival.” This added responsibility, along with all the other duties women fulfill, often pushes the level of stress beyond toleration.
If women are the Christmas Magicians, the authors explain, then men are the Christmas Stagehands. “Like their fathers before them, men expect to play a subordinate part in the celebration.” Many men are happy to let their wives take charge. However, they often find that being so uninvolved is one source of their dissatisfaction with the holiday.
Then there’s the role of children. The authors state that children are one of the prime targets of the Christmas Machine. This is because toys make up such a big, dependable part of holiday retail sales. Unless parents work hard to teach their children otherwise, children quickly come to believe that present-opening is all there is to Christmas.
The authors also discuss the problem of dealing with difficult relatives at family gatherings and cultural mores surrounding the gift exchange. The remaining chapters give ideas for simplifying and enriching the holiday celebration.
Return to Balance
Reading this book gave me great insight into some of the reasons why that particular Christmas had gone so awry. I was trying to create an unrealistic, magical holiday while totally excluding my husband. I also put an inordinate emphasis on the gift exchange. This book helped me to see that although my intentions were good, my plan for a “perfect” holiday was destined to fail from the very beginning.
If you’ve ever felt disappointed with Christmas and longed to do something about it, this book is a must-read. It’s not too late to get hold of a copy and begin unplugging the Christmas machine in your house this holiday season.
Nancy Twigg writes from Tennessee.
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