Holiday debrief: Now, that was fun!

This past holiday season, did you notice the barrage of articles about coping with stress and fatigue? Even my usually sunny yoga teacher started prefacing classes with advice about avoiding "Christmas illness".

On Dec. 24, The Globe and Mail headlines read, "Last-Minute Holiday Survival Guide" and "Unassailable Advice for All Your Holiday Crises".

The holidays were so often presented as an ordeal. Where's the joy?

Here are stories from two friends who asked that question; each changed the game so that her holiday brought peace and good times.

Mar M. struggled with a family tradition (usually code for "the women do even more work"). The M.'s Christmas Eve smorgasbord–a dozen complicated Scandinavian dishes, once her mother's masterpiece–had fallen on her shoulders for the past four years because of her sister's travel schedule.

Mar spent two to three days cooking, after the shopping.

Her young-adult nieces and nephews protested when she suggested simpler fare this fall. "I'm exhausted just thinking about it", she told me over coffee in mid-December. I suggested, Ask them to come over and cook with you, learn to make the recipes.

She tried it. One nephew said, "But Mar, it's work." The niece was booked both days: spa visit, meeting friends–but could come a half-hour early to set the table, "probably".

All right, Mar replied pleasantly. She made two of Mum's star recipes and filled the rest of the buffet with carriage-trade takeout. She reported, "We had so much fun, I wasn't a wreck, and there were still tons of leftovers for Christmas lunch!"

My poker buddy Jane discontinued individual Christmas gifts for her large family and instead told everyone she'd bring a turkey and a Berkshire ham to their dinner.

Everyone was delighted except her eight year old nephew, who said "What? Aunt Janie gave me meat?"

The last story is mine, as an example that sometimes life changes the game for you. We had no tree! We waited till son Etienne was home; when "the men" went out on Dec. 22, trees were sold out everywhere in our part of town.

So we hung origami ornaments on a four-foot Sharry Baby orchid. Christmas orchid: could be a new tradition.

Without obligation, of course.


Rebecca said…
Now that WAS fun! As I see it, "holiday" is what YOU make it--not what OTHERS make it.
Marguerite said…
My sister had the same "problem" with finding a last minute tree when daughter arrived home for Christmas. They started a new tradition with buying a living tree. In this case, the twisted juniper was gaily but simply decorated and planted the day after Christmas. Lovely. Happy New Year, Duchesse!
Susan B said…
Your orchid with the ornaments is so pretty!

I love that people are looking for ways to make their holidays meaningful without driving themselves round the bend. Where's the joy, indeed?

I've begun a tradition of a New Year's Eve open house. We keep it simple (relatively) and people drop in and out based on other events to attend or just the desire to get off the road before midnight. I still get to do something festive, that has no particular religious connotations, and most people don't have a lot of baggage about. Win-Win-Win!
Duchesse said…
Rebecca: Mar was shocked at how inviolate the tradition was to her niece and nephews. Sometimes people can get really insistent on what they "must" have! But when introduced to change, they were fine.

Marguerite: We noticed that at Christmas '09 so many trees languished unsold, and speculate they cut inventory for '10.

Pseu: LOVE open houses, IMO the way to go- people can stay as briefly or as long as they wish.
Mardel said…
We had no room for a tree this year, I am still in the throws of reconfiguring and the part of the house we live in most does not need extra obstacles blocking my spouses ambulation with a walker.

I also did simpler, but still festive meals. Instead of spending a day making handmade ravioli I just served a grand antipasto for Christmas eve and we were all very happy and relaxed. If anything it was more festive because we were less exhausted, and the idea of nibbling through dinner, rather than a "heavy" meal seemed like a party.

I'm increasingly all for celebration without obligation. And I think I will eventually opt for an open-house type event somewhere during the holiday season since I miss entertaining.

Your holiday orchid is very festive indeed.
Toby Wollin said…
We were shocked to be notified the day before Christmas that the traditional dinner at my daughter's MIL's house had been canceled. So, there we were. We made a big pot of soup, snuggled down with some movies and were quite content.
I do like how people are reinventing Christmas to what suits them...
no bitter martyrdom awards

Embrace the new and be joyful.

I must say a 4 foot orchid is a stunning achievement!
Very inventive!
Rubiatonta said…
My parents had an open-house on January 2, and I convinced my mom that it would be perfectly fine to buy all the nibbles "pre-fab" at a warehouse club. We made a couple of easy dips, and that was it.

There was lots to eat, plenty to drink, and people stayed and stayed. And I think Mom actually had a good time at the party, rather than being run off her feet -- her usual MO.
LPC said…
I love the holidays. This year I took on too much at Thanksgiving, but that was my own doing. Christmas and New Year's were perfect, small in scale but very nice. I think this all may be much easier when the original marriage has fallen apart:). With the big decay, people don't chase after the smaller ones so much.
Anonymous said…
Yes to Christmas orchids and origami! Something definitely seems to be in the air this year--maybe it's just all of us baby-boomers simultaneously shrugging off the weight of other people's expectations. . .

I was between two houses this year: a big new house in the mountains where my husband is already working at a new job, and our old, little house, where I'm staying with our younger daughter until she finishes high school. Overwhelmed, I decided to slow down and do only what felt comfortable. Our older daughter and her sweetheart drove all the ornaments up to the new house, and--heavenly reprieve--decorated the tree. I plunked a few evergreen branches into a vase, and draped a string of lights and a few baubles on them to scent and brighten the little house. We all spent the holiday together in the mountains, joined by a funny bachelor friend, and ate potato latkes with frozen pomegranate margaritas for Christmas Eve dinner. As so many have described here, sometimes it's necessary to jettison the traditional in order to rediscover the festive.
I don't get why people take on and make it their ordeal. I make everyone bring a plate or a bottle so there isn't a burden on one or two.

Happy New Year!
Duchesse said…
Mardel: The buffet or antipasto or whatever assemble-your-own meal is one I so appreciate. (Of course I tell myself I eat less but actually not.)

Toby: last minute cancellations leave no time for one to really cook, and maybe that's serendipity!

hostess: Our local florist got them in, we'd never seen one before and it was only $40, a lot of bang for the floral buck.

LPC: I well remember your Thanksgiving dinner, with its highs and lows, and it was on my mind at Christmastime.

Anonymous: Best wishes for life in your new home; you certainly held that first holiday housewarming in style!

Imogen: I hope you mean "a dish or a bottle" as people arriving with only a plate would not reduce my stress very much :)
materfamilias said…
perfect! focus should be on having fun, not perpetuating work-heavy traditions. . . cute that just as I finally put up a tree again (and had fun, this year), yours took some time off . . .
Tiffany said…
I admit that I took it all on this year (hosting three gatherings in four days), but the moment I started to get mildly frazzled, I just reminded myself that I LOVE cooking and I LOVE having friends and family in my house. And I really enjoyed it ...

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