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For years, my holiday season was a stressful mess of excess. From Halloween and New Year's Day, I totally went all "Martha Stewart." Too much shopping and too many parties. Hours of gift wrapping and long lines at the post office. Days of cooking for teeming masses of revelers, followed by hours of clean up. Too many obligations (also known as "traditions"), too much travel and too little actual fun. It was expensive, exhausting and, frankly, about as far from the true spirit of the holidays as one could get.
Putting on the holidays at that level was like listening to an album I didn't like over and over again. Everybody knew all the words, yet we were all ready to smash the record. It went something like this: On the twelfth day of Christmas my family gave to me ... twelve days of shopping, eleven burned potatoes, ten office parties, nine million cards, eight hours of wrapping, seven airplane tickets, six package mailings, five panicy moments, four drunken uncles, three rolls of stamps, two migraine headaches, and a stressed-out Christmas Eve.
As a younger woman, before I was The Mom and was expected to put on a holiday extravaganza for a large, extended family, I had tons of Christmas spirit. That was before going over the river and down the interstate required six suitcases, two toddler seats and a box of Dramamine. The family and the circle of friends and colleagues grew exponentially, to the point where "Santa's overhead" and workload completely snowballed. As I became increasingly more responsible for making everyone merry, my holiday spirit sank and I turned rebellious. As often happens to exhausted parents, I began to resent accommodating everyone else's needs, schedules, expectations, and traditions. Overtime, I was one cranky little elf.
It was time for some new holiday music. Certain members of the extended family resisted changing their tune, but I persevered. I decided since I was the one orchestrating the holidays, I was entitled to music that didn't drive me insane. I wanted a holiday season that wasn't overly produced, with too many competing musicians singing different keys. A simpler song, less discordant and more in harmony with the intended spirit of the season.
I gradually purged one "song" off the album at a time by eliminating activities I didn't enjoy. Then, I either replaced that "song" with something new or allowed some much-needed silence. Bit by bit, my holidays quit sounding like the overwhelming bombast of the Tran-Siberian Orchestra and more like some neighborhood carolers belting out a simple yet joyful rendition of Jingle Bells.
It took some soul searching to figure out what was off-key. Four areas that need major revision were the "drunken uncles," excess gifting, excess spending, and travel. We decided that holiday travel was too stressful and expensive and prevented us from enjoying our own traditions. It also meant spending too much time with people who drank far more than I was comfortable with.
And then there were all the presents to brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews, friends, and coworkers. My list rivaled Santa's, except I didn't have a posse of elves to produce, wrap, ship, and bankroll the goods. Once I identified the problem areas, I "re-scored" Christmas. It took several years for some of my family members to get comfortable with the new music, but now everyone is humming this different tune, and we're happier.
Santa's updated motto: Less is more. We don't do tons of shopping and shipping anymore, but I still love exchanging thoughtful gifts with my husband and kids. I love making simple things for friends. My extended family now contributes to a common charity in lieu of exchanging gifts. I send out fewer Christmas cards. I don't go to "obligation parties" anymore, but instead attend the few that I really like. I serve more sparkling water and less wine. I put on fewer events and ask people to help out more. I don't try to cook the entire menu from the cover of a gourmet magazine. I'm happier with tried-and-true recipes and potluck offerings. A burnt potato or two is no problem.
These days, I've got the holidays tuned right where I want them. Sure, there are still a few off-key notes, but we're singing a pretty pleasant song. I'm not saying everyone should eliminate gifts, grog, cards, and parties. If you're ready for new music, though, try simplifying the arrangement.
Here's my current rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas: On the twelfth day of Christmas my family gave to me ... twelve roaring fires, eleven Christmas carols, ten awesome friends, nine hand-made bobbles, eight dozen cookies, seven perfect presents, six family dinners, five fun parties, four fresh-baked pies, three favorite aunts, two old movies, and an old-fashioned Christmas tree.
About the Author
Jeanne Faulkner is a freelance writer and registered nurse in Portland, Ore. Her work appears regularly in Pregnancy and Fit Pregnancy, and she has contributed articles to the Oregonian, Better Homes & Gardens, Shape and other publications.