The tree looks sad today. Like it knows its fate. The object of so much attention and anticipation just a few days ago, those branches have peaked. It’s just a matter of time before they become brittle, a nuisance, trash.

The presents will eventually follow that path, too. They may enjoy the spotlight for a while longer. In my house, I suspect the toy piano will entertain (my pre-schooler, if not me and my husband) through the winter. My 4-year-old’s card-making kit? Maybe not as long.

Was it worth it?

Of course not. Not in actual monetary value anyway. Forty dollars for the last-minute wooden nutcrackers were a particularly bad financial decision on my part.

But even if that tree and those presents weren’t crucial to the holiday season, they were part of a few weeks that were sprinkled with unexpected moments of the sublime. I doubt I’m the only parent who feels like the answer, overall, is yes. The Christmas Hangover might have been worth the chaotic frenzy that created it.

For me, I’ll remember the way my 4-year-old struggled to write her backward “S” on her first note to Santa. (When she asked for a nutcracker, how could I not comply?) The determination her sister displayed in lighting her first Hanukkah candle (“I do it myself!”).

When I was younger, I thought the holidays were about getting presents. Once I became a (righteous) young adult, I saw them as religious ceremonies trampled by mass consumption. As a parent, I added to the definition, “an extended episode of stress.”

Now, the Day After, I feel a tiny bit like I did after I gave birth. Tired, drained and utterly ecstatic. It was a slog, but parts of it were fun.

Part of that forgetting may be the human condition, part may be a cultural amnesia that keeps us coming back and reviving the economy every Black Friday through Christmas Eve.

Whatever the instinct, it keeps us pushing through the rough parts so that we can catch glimpses of the truly great.

Several years ago, my now adolescent niece was 3 years old, sitting on her mother’s lap on Christmas morning. It had been a hard year for our family and for my sister’s family in particular. Still, one of the most deeply rooted memories I have from that time was of my niece after she opened a present.

I can’t remember what the gift was or who it was from, but I remember my niece looked up at her mother, my sister, and saying “Oh, I’ve wanted this ever since I was a baby.”

What were the high points of your holiday season? Was it worth the preparation stress?

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