I’ve always admired women whose homes are flawlessly and beautifully decorated for each holiday – every theme executed with seemingly effortless perfection. I admire, but I no longer compare. I decided years ago that when it comes to holidays, it’s not the décor that matters. It’s also not the Christmas cards, the gifts or the baking. And it’s certainly not the lights.
And as I so often like to say (and frequently need to remind myself) life is not about comparisons and competition. My home does not need to look as if I’ve spent week’s painstakingly placing garland or trimming the tree. Some years, that happens. Some years – not so much.
Years ago, when the kids were little, I went all in with Christmas village decorations. I had the train track running around the tree. There were miniature houses with miniature lights sitting on flocking throughout the house. I baked candy cane cookies and cranberry bread and made fudge. I still enjoy baking but I’ve found that fewer mouths to share treats with results in a chubbier version of myself. As a result, my kitchenAid mixer gets lonelier each year.
I’ve also scaled back on sending Christmas cards. In years past, I’d scour my photos for the perfect family ensemble (dogs included) which I then uploaded to Shutterfly, choosing the perfect border and messaging for the perfect holiday card to send to friends and family. And then I skipped a year. And the world didn’t end.
Now I send cards whenever the mood strikes – the last one was sent in 2019. We had just moved and I happened to have a great vacation photo. Always the practical one, I figured I’d send an address update along with holiday greetings. I have many friends who embrace this holiday tradition and I genuinely enjoy getting their cards and seeing their smiling faces. If and when I get back on the card bandwagon, they will be at the top of my mailing list!
So what do I do if not sending cards, baking feverishly or painstakingly arranging the Christmas village? Before you start thinking I’m some version of the Grinch, let me assure you that I do engage in typical Christmas traditions – what I don’t do is put pressure on myself to have that perfect holiday. I do what brings me and my family joy.
I decorate – some. This year, I’ve set up two Christmas trees. One upstairs and one in the basement. Both of my kids will be spending Christmas with us along with my mother-in-law who hasn’t visited since BC (Before Covid). I really do want the house to be festive, so I’ve gone big on the tree thing.
We also have lights on our house – a colorful row of bulbs along the roofline. A few years ago, we went the route of hiring a service, thereby reducing the odds of injury as a result of lighting aspirations gone awry. There comes a time when it makes sense to ask for help. They even come back and take them down so we don’t have Christmas in July.
I have a simplified gift list for my immediate family and both grandmothers – as well as a few gift exchange items. I do love a good gift game and the challenge of finding memorable stocking stuffers. I also search for unique gift items – browsing at bookstores and local shops with friends, and then stopping for coffee or tea to enjoy the company and conversation.
As for holiday food, my family has a tradition of getting take-out for Christmas Eve dinner and then I cook on Christmas Day. Sometimes its fancy (like mom’s beef tenderloin recipe) and other times its comfort food (lasagna anyone?). No matter what I serve, there’s always plenty of dessert, a hold-over from my own childhood experiences. So the mixer does see the light of day after all.
I’m from large family and we had big, joyous holidays growing up. There were piles of presents under the tree, ten stockings on the fireplace mantle and bountiful holiday meals – thanks to a mother who knew her way around the kitchen. But the real happiness came from the love and togetherness we all felt. Plus, Christmas is just fun with a lot of kids around.
After my siblings and I had families of our own, we would descend on our parent’s home for all major holidays. As a result we have a healthy respect for our mother who hosted these huge get togethers with ease – and the bar for family holidays was set pretty high. To date, none of us have taken on the challenge of hosting the whole clan and instead celebrate with our (smaller) families at our own homes – with our mother often being the guest of honor!
Looking back on so many family Christmases – after the last of the wrapping paper was stuffed into the trash and the kitchen tidied up, after we’d all said our good-bye’s and gathered up our offspring to head home, the memories of family togetherness is what always stuck with us. Not the décor, not the gifts and not even the dessert table (well, maybe the dessert table).
Holidays don’t have to be as stressful as we make them. We don’t have to go overboard to make things special. The tree, the decorations, the cards, the presents are just the outer trimmings. They set the stage but they aren’t the main attraction – which of course is spending time with loved ones.
As I write this column, I’d be remiss in not mentioning that the best way to change the focus from holiday stress to holiday joy is to reach out and help others. There are many organizations that collect gifts and food for needy families. Having gratitude for what we have and helping others will in turn lift our own spirits – during the holidays and throughout the entire year. Happy and stress free holidays to you and yours.