Monday, December 3, 2012

Simplifying (and Savoring) The Holidays

After reading  The Plain Dealer article by Terry Plato "Make Holidays More Meaningful by Saying No" (December 2, 2012), I could not agree more, yet it is SUCH a tricky balance.

Link to article provided below...

The Night Before Christmas? Check.  Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer? Check. The Elf on the Shelf? Check. Frosty the Snowman? Check. Charlie Brown Christmas? Check. How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Check. Llama Llama Holiday Drama? Check...OK, OK, OK, you get the idea! You start out enjoying the holiday season, but overload quickly turns into "ENOUGH ALREADY!!" You want to engage in plenty of holiday festivities; however, you do NOT want to over-schedule, often resulting in seasonal burnout.  It is like when the hostess of a dinner party spends hours cleaning her home, grocery shopping, and arranging for a nice dinner party, anticipating a fun evening celebrating with friends...when in reality, she is too exhausted from the grind of putting it all together to actually enjoy herself!  My friend Katie and I often talk about this phenomenon as "The Curse" since we recognize it would be far less stressful to throw a paper-plate gathering, but we are 'cursed' by our Mothers' Martha-like tendencies...

When you have little ones, this tricky balance becomes all the more elusive.  You realize there is only a short window in your children's lives when they can experience the magic and wonder of Christmas.  So, you feel a heightened pressure to attend anything and everything related to Christmas they MIGHT enjoy: the neighborhood Christmas tree lighting, the horse and carriage ride through light-filled winter wonderland, ice skating with Santa, The Nutcracker, a train ride on the Polar Express, Christmas caroling, a Jingle Bell 5K...not to mention the requisite Christmas cookie baking/exchange, gingerbread house making, Christmas card mailing, kids' craft projects, home decorating, tree trimming, gift giving, toy/food drive fulfilling.  The holiday to-do list is endless.  Don't get me wrong, all of these activities are wonderful and worthwhile as they stand alone.  Yet, packing too many into an already busy month of December can create havoc on the 'fun' odometer.  Furthermore, they often distract us from focusing on the main celebratory purpose: the birth of Jesus Christ.

What this article points out is that although there are millions of festivities in which to participate, we do NOT have to say YES to them all.  Perhaps to truly celebrate the season and enjoy the spirit of Christmas, we need to pick and chose a little more.  We do not have to attend every holiday party.  Rather, if it feels more obligatory than enjoyable, we can respectfully decline and opt for low-key dinner/movie/walk-around-and-soak-up-the-holiday lights date night with our spouse instead.  Such a relaxing evening is increasingly sounding like heaven to me! We need to 'get OVER' the idea of decorating the perfect home, selecting the perfect gifts, sweating over the perfect Christmas card, hosting the perfect dinner party.  It is OK to have high standards in the realm of Martha Stewart-isms, but when it makes us exhausted, stressed-out, and cranky, (along with everyone around us) this quest for perfectionism will certainly backfire.

I embraced this 'good enough' concept this year while decorating our home.  After engaging in bizarre yoga poses to retrieve every box labeled 'Christmas' off our basement storage shelves, I decided to simply forgo the tedious (and physical) process of trimming our banister with garland, bows, ornaments, the works.  Of course it always looks pretty once it is up, but since we traveled this year for Thanksgiving, our home decorating weekend was reduced to an afternoon.  After reading a December 2012 Better Homes and Gardens article by Berit Thorkelson, "Sanity Savers", I learned a few tips about how to "skip the holiday stress and keep things simple." Thorkelson suggests to align your home decorating with your extent of holiday simply stated, if you are traveling more, decorate less.  As it turns out, my simple singular swag across the banister is actually more graceful and beautiful than expected!

With regard to kids' art projects, I could spend days sitting with them while we cut, color, glue, paint, and create just about anything from intricate snowflakes, to elaborate Christmas trees, to colorful ornaments, to gingerbread houses.  And along with all of that creativity and fun comes a HUGE mess to clean up.  But, this year I have decided to swap out a few of these projects with some store-bought foam-sticker 'projects' the kids can enjoy, complete independently, and perhaps with some Hershey Kiss bribery, even clean-up by themselves! A win-win for everyone!

Similarly, rather than sweating it out slaving over every 'amazing' holiday cookie recipe, I have decided to simply stick with my sister-in-law, Barbara's 4 ingredient recipe: box of yellow cake mix + eggs + oil + variety of sprinkles for the kids to decorate = easy, fun, and delicious holiday cookie baking! Of course every year, we tear out new recipes that would be fun to try, but knowing my (mis-)baking tendencies, it would likely send me over the edge.  I'll stick with my tried and true, thanks.

Also, when it comes to gift giving, which I always truly enjoy, I have always gone to great lengths researching and selecting gifts for family members or community food/toy drives.  But as our nieces and nephews are getting older, I recognize that they likely do not want their Aunt Claire picking out their books, games, and clothes (how embarrassing!)  Rather, I have decided, gift cards added to simple wrapped gifts are likely to please them more, and keep gift giving simplified and streamlined. Similarly, I have decided that whatever I can gather and give to local charities will surely be appreciated versus scrutinized.

Finally, when it comes to hosting a gathering of any kind, I have discovered it is OK to take short-cuts! As I tend to do, I recently hosted a little neighborhood girls' get together, and I literally planned it ONE day in advance! Rather than cleaning the house top to bottom, I focused on the areas where guests were likely to gather: the kitchen, living room, guest bathroom.  I limited the flower, wine, and food selections to a trip to Trader Joe's.  Was all the food gourmet or homemade? Or course not, but did everyone (myself included) have fun? Of course we did!

With each passing year, I am learning more and more about how to keep it all in perspective when it comes to truly enjoying the holidays.  Sometimes I need to keep "The Curse" at bay, and embrace a 'good enough' approach to the holidays.  I need to read, write, draw, exercise, and laugh more, shop and stress less. After all, when our kids look back on their memories of Christmas, they are likely to cherish those that were spent with family and friends, laughing and having fun....MOM included!

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