Ho, ho, ho! How do we have the best possible Christmas without going insane? How can we make it fun, spiritual, communal, satisfying, comforting, novel, traditional, easy, and magic? Well, you can’t. It’s impossible. But you can rearrange your priorities, let go of what is not important and concentrate on what feeds your soul. Let go of musts and have-tos and figure out love-tos and want-tos.
Ho, ho, ho! Easier said than done, you say and I agree. But delving into what parts of the holidays you really enjoy and which parts you dread is a good place to begin. If you were starting from scratch, with no Christmas traditions or family obligations, what would your holiday season include? The answers are different for different people. Sometimes, we’ve grown beyond traditions we used to enjoy. New circumstances require new adaptations. Losing or adding family and friends in our circle may call for and or allow changes in our customs. Give yourself permission and dream space to ponder a holiday season that truly lifts your heart and allows joy to truly shine.
Ho, ho, ho! First, let’s think about the things you look forward to most. The list might include chopping down a tree from a snowy lot, attending religious services, baking holiday cookies, decorating the house, exchanging gifts. But for some of us, the preceding list has some or all of the things we dread the most. That is why you need to be honest with yourself about your true feelings. Though you may have made your special cocoa mix every year for friends and family and hosted a hot cocoa and caroling party each year for twenty years, you’re actually totally bored with cocoa and long to do something else. Is it AA that tells you to make a fearless inventory? Do that about holiday likes and dislikes. If you hate turkey, now is the time to admit it.
Ho, ho, ho! Shall I share some of my inventory with you? My loves: looking at Christmas lights, covering everything with red tartan, going to the woods to hunt for fresh mistletoe and greenery, baking the Italian Christmas cookies with my Suzi, staying cozy in the house while my man makes tamales, watching the black and white version of A Christmas Carol on television, playing with Christmas crackers with my mom. My loathes: mall shopping, tacky decorations, secret Santa-ing, mandatory gift-giving, football, excess consumerism. Your lists will be completely personal to you.
Ho, ho, ho! I can just hear the parents among you say, “The children want things to stay the same! Grandma has to have her Polish candy fruitcake loaf!” If your children are small, now is the time to introduce new customs just for your family or try different activities or foods. Their childhoods will be richer for it. If your children are grown and settled in their ways, now is the time to let them try out some independent holiday activities. If you’re in charge of making holidays for older folks, now is the time to have heart to heart talks with them. You may find that grandpa has never liked big family gatherings and has secretly longed to spend Christmas in a cabin in the mountains. Or your mom would love to go to Thanksgiving dinner at a fancy hotel. You don’t know until you ask. If you change things, there may be complaining, there may be pleasant surprises. Best of all, you may find what feels meaningful and joyful to you, making the holidays feel magical again.
Ho, ho, ho! I do like a holiday party. Several years ago, I tried a cookie exchange party with my gals. I’m a baker, have a best friend that’s a baker, come from a family of bakers, so I assumed that everyone was enough of a baker to look forward to being part of a cookie exchange party. I was not correct. By casually Googling “cookie exchange party” you get lots of ideas on how to throw a successful party, what to serve, and tellingly, lists of rules. Rules? Is this supposedly festive party complicated enough to warrant rules? The most complete lists of rules is found here: http://www.cookie-exchange.com/rules_of_the_cookie_exchange.html by Robin Olson.
She’s so good, she even wrote the book on the subject, http://www.cookie-exchange.com/the_cookie_party_cookbook/index.html
Ho, ho, ho! Perhaps her guests are much more willing and compliant than mine or just much less busy but it was like pulling teeth to get about 6 gals to bake 6 dozen cookies each and show up at a party. Six dozen may sound like a lot of cookies but most cookie recipes make 3 or 4 dozen. Thus, one double batch of cookies would cover it. The questioning and complaining by guests was matched only by the cajoling and threatening by the hostess! Not a recipe for a relaxed and enjoyable gathering. Luckily, one of the younger guests showed up without cookies but with all the ingredients for a hot apple cider toddy. Another party saved by the judicious application of alcohol.
What have I learned about myself, my friends, parties, cookies, and life? All very good questions. I still enjoy baking cookies for loved ones during the holidays and that not everyone does. Parties should be as stress-free and as rule-free as possible. If you want to bake cookies this holiday season, check out Rose’s blog which lists a baker's dozen of the most delicious and reliable cookies EVER. If you don’t feel like baking cookies this holiday season, please don’t. No one has ever starved for lack of Christmas cookies. Please yourself by finding Christmas cheer that feels right to you and please those around you by giving them a less frazzled and happier you.