The holidays are here.
Are you excited? Did you plan your Thanksgiving meal weeks ago? Has a frozen turkey claimed a shelf in your freezer yet? Is there some type of greenery up and decorated for Christmas in your living room?
Or, are these questions adding to an ever-growing anxiety that started earlier this week when you realized you haven’t taken down the Halloween decorations yet and the calendar on the wall still shows the month of September and the kids are home from school next week with nothing to keep them busy and you have no idea what to fix and this is your year to host?
Whew! Take a breath. Never fear because the holidays are here. Instead, try re-thinking how you get through them.
Merriam Webster’s dictionary offers four definitions of the word holiday.
- A holy day
- A day in which one is exempt from work in commemoration of an event like July 4th.
- A vacation
- A period of exemption of relief
Thanksgiving and Christmas embody each of these definitions. They are holy days. They are days we commemorate important events. They are a time of vacation from school or work.
But relief? Can’t honestly say I’ve always seen them as a time of relief or exemption. Instead, I find myself occupied with menus and schedules, running in five different directions feeling as though I’m meeting myself coming in the door as I run out the door for another errand or responsibility.
So how can we find relief during a season when pressure around us screams we must be perfect cooks, hostesses, party guests, gift-givers, family members, neighbors, spouses and parents? My amazing mother taught me the secrets to this, and I’ll pass them on to you.
First, don’t be afraid to simplify your holidays.
My mother served fantastic pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving and scrumptious pecan pies at Christmas. After I was married, I asked her for the recipes.
Mama smiled. “My pumpkin is a very simple recipe. Just go to the frozen desserts aisle of the supermarket and grab a pie.”
My jaw dropped. “You’re kidding.”
Mama shook her head. “We have over forty people here for the holidays and some of them I see only twice a year. I’m not going to wear myself out making everything homemade. I want to save my energy for talking and loving on my family.”
“But what about your pecan pie?”
“The recipe is on the back of Karo Syrup bottle. I buy the crust in the frozen foods section too. I bake the pies the day before so it saves even more time.”
And did my family care? Not. One. Bit. Every year those pies disappeared behind satisfied smiles.
Second, stop trying to create holiday scenes that rival something out of Hollywood.
We’ve all seen those movies. Homes decorated with perfect, symmetrical trees, covered in color coordinated, designer ornaments. Staircases festooned with red velvet ribbons and fresh greenery that neither sheds nor browns. Matched sets of Christmas china and silverware adorn polished dining room tables. Guests are dressed in holiday finery rivaling every Christmas catalog known to man. The hostess glides between her guests, every hair in place, her smile radiant as she anticipates their needs.
My mother had her own version. She bought cute Thanksgiving and Christmas napkins from the grocery store.
She served food on matching red plates. PLASTIC plates. And plastic cups.
We never ate at the same table, either. With forty plus people in attendance, we scattered about my parents’ home in small groups, with kids seated at designated tables on non-carpeted floors to minimize messes.
The house was noisy, bustling and few of us were catalog ready. We never felt let down that we didn’t eat on the good stuff. To us, the food and the conversations we shared was the good stuff.
Third, delegate, delegate, delegate.
As our family grew, mother spread cooking responsibilities among all of us. She chose the meat, usually ham since none of us are huge fans of turkey, then directed us to bring sides to compliment. She arose early in the morning, placed the ham in the oven and slow cooked the meat until dinner was ready. Boxed macaroni and cheese for the grandkids, mashed potatoes and gravy plus store bought rolls rounded out her contributions.
The rest she left up to us. The food table was always spread with a wide variety of yummy dishes and desserts. I have four older brothers and scads of nephews. No man in our family ever went without at least two refills of their plates.
When it was time to leave, Mama sent leftovers home in empty butter or Cool Whip tubs.
We all helped with washing the pots and pans while she sat and played with grandkids or caught up on family happenings.
Lastly, she taught me how add and subtract activities while still creating holiday magic
Mama loved making magic, especially during the holidays. But raising six children and helping Daddy with the farm left little time for special activities. She found a way to infuse the holiday spirit into every day without running herself into the ground.
You can too with these simple suggestions:
Use those plastic plates. No washing dishes or worries about little hands breaking a beloved heirloom and folks can get a clean one without extra fuss. They come in festive red or green and you can choose coordinating holiday napkins to add some flair.
Make slice and bake cookies rather than cookies from scratch. They’re quick, cute, tasty and kids love to help. Our college aged boys still ask for them every Christmas.
Instead of sending Christmas cards and newsletters, send Christmas emails or texts with a funny family photo. They take less time and when you think about it, they are much more personalized.
Gift cards are fabulous. Many in my family prefer them. The kids can have the fun and responsibility of shopping for themselves and the adults can have a shopping spree on you.
Don’t wear yourself out baking for neighbors, coworkers or church friends. In previous centuries, people created baskets with nuts and fruits to give as gifts. Buy holiday themed gift boxes, create an assortment with apples, pears, oranges, nuts, chocolates, etc., and give those to neighbors and friends instead. We’re all trying to eat healthier and would appreciate fewer pounds to lose after the holidays.
Buy rolls of plain white shelf paper or butcher paper. Have your kids decorate the rolls with Christmas designs or pictures. Let them use it to wrap gifts for family members.
Create a holiday job jar. Write tasks your children could do on red and green construction paper and put them in the jar. Have them pick two a day to help you get ready for the holidays. Find a special “holiday salary” like candy, extra TV or video game time, etc. as payment for completion of the job. They will have something to keep them busy and your to-do list is shortened.
Keep those well-loved holiday traditions that bring the magic. They will be what your family remembers and cherishes. Make new ones whenever you can.
Go back and re-read those definitions. Plan how you can make all of them a part of your holiday celebrations.
Wishing you a wonderful, restful, relief-filled holiday season.
Be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead! 1 Peter 1:6 NLT
See you in the new year, and keep striving to thrive!