Keeping The Holidays Simple

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Christmas in New York, 2007

Christmas in New York, 2007

Here we are just a little over two weeks before Christmas and I’m not in panic mode.  I don’t think I’ve ever spent a Christmas without being completely overwhelmed by all that had to be done and the impossible expectations I set for myself.  I’ve run into a number of people over the past week or two who have mentioned that they have way to much to do and little time to accomplish even the most important things for them.  That sounds very familiar to me but I’ve had to smile at myself and pat myself on the back for not being driven to distraction by the usual holiday stress mess. So what’s the difference between this year and the past?  Firstly, we usually go down to North Carolina to be with our daughter, her partner and grandkids.  Last December we all decided that it might be fun to just have our own individual holiday celebrations this December.  It sounded like a great idea to me and though I’m especially going to miss Noah and Zoe, I think it will be good for them to just be with their two moms, doing something more laid back and simple, than entertaining their grandparents. I’m extremely grateful that I don’t have to prepare for a trip. I generally don’t like to travel on holidays of any kind because of the traffic and the rush-rush attitude I tend adopt in order to get ready to hit the road on time.  And to be honest, long car trips are not one of my favorite activities at this point in my life. Being fairly active, even an hour of sitting in the car, brings on joint stiffness and it takes a lot of work to iron it all out. It’s at least a six hour trip down to North Carolina, without pit stops. After our trip to London in October and the almost eight hours of sitting on the plane, one-way, I’m particularly happy to stay put this year. Mark and his family, who live nearby, will be away, so Bill and I are planning a very quiet day.  We will  go to a few parties in the neighborhood during the week and treat Christmas itself as a day to relax, without stuffing ourselves with way too much food.  Maybe we’ll go out a see a movie, and if the weather is nice spend some time wandering about with our dogs, who always love to visit new walking spots.  The smells are different from their usual stomping grounds and they may well get to make friends with dogs they’ve never met before. The other thing that’s helped keep my stress at a low level is that since the day before Thanksgiving I haven’t been shopping except to go to the grocery store.  Everyone in the family will get gifts, but they’ll be things I’ve purchased on line, and sent directly to the recipient. In other cases a gift of some money will help those out who need a little extra cash this year.  By staying away from all of the stores, I keep myself from being in contact with the holiday grouches and those in such a hurry that they mow everyone down in front of them. We’ll keep our Christmas meal simple like we did at Thanksgiving when I made Eggplant Parmesan, a big tossed salad, and apple crisp for desert, all gluten-free and delicious. I haven’t yet decided what I’ll make for Christmas dinner, but you can be sure it will be something simple. Gone are the days when I enjoy an overloaded table of food and then have to take five mile hikes for the next two months to lose the pounds I gained. If there will be any stress, it might be over some renovations our house will be undergoing come January sixth.  We’re getting a new hardwood floor installed in the kitchen. The hard, uneven slate floor that was in place when we bought this place has not been easy on my legs and back. I’m very excited about spending more time cooking comfortably.  We’re also demolishing the powder room on the main floor and will be moving the washer and dryer into that space from the basement, making it unnecessary to climb steep stairs while clutching an overloaded basket of laundry. They’ll be situated right next to our bedroom, making doing laundry much more easy. I’m sure there will be stress enough living without a kitchen and laundry facilities for about four weeks. But in the end when it is done I’ll be able to swing back into my regular life and proceed as usual, but much more easily. In the meantime I’m working on Part Three of my memoir.  I am pleased that I allowed myself to forget my October first deadline for finishing the first draft of the entire book. The trip to London, even though I was sick for part of it was just what the writing doctor order.  Taking my time with it has opened up a new avenue for the way I’m handling the last part of my story and so far it’s it’s really going well. It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to reduce strain and worry, especially during the holiday season.  Do you have special ways of handling holiday stress?


  1. Joan – We, too, keep it joyfully simple at our home. Other than the holiday music playing in the background, you might not know it from any other day…we intentionally live each day with kindness and grateful hearts.

    We’ll probably see “Philomena” at the theater on Christmas Eve, and “Saving Mr. Banks” on Christmas day.

    • I’m so glad to have a companion in simplicity! And we too live with kindness and gratefulness on a daily basis. It’s the only way to stay sane in a crazy world.

      You will LOVE Philomena. We saw it here at our annual film festival. We were told that Judy Dench is losing her sight and this may be her last work. Very sad. She is such a wonderful actress.

  2. Our Christmas will be pretty much a non-event this year. I spent too many years consumed with the anxiety of trying to make it a joyful, exciting occasion for my children, all the while carrying the underlying burden of insufficient funds. Then many more feeling less-than for our inability to offer gifts of equal value to extended family members. The holiday season has always been our businesses slowest season of the year and many years were spent not knowing when or if we would even have a Christmas tree, let alone gifts. Even as I knew the gift of the season had nothing to do with money, I was not able to remove the expectations firmly implanted in my habitual thoughts. That all changed over the last ten years and I am inordinately grateful for the awakening. I long to begin to create new celebrations throughout the year that have meaning to me, and ways of celebrating with those I love, but I have yet to determine exactly what that looks like. Traditions are important to the structure of our lives, and I miss that, but what has gone before has no relevance to me now. Taking in a holiday show, or two or three, is definitely on my wish list. We will likely be content to view what is available on TV. We typically watch George C. Scott’s version of The Christmas Carol and the very first Santa Clause with Tim Allen, oh, and It’s a Beautiful Life. I love music of all kinds, and always look forward to singing the Hallelujah Chorus at least once!

    • Dorothy, Holiday expectations can kill the spirit for sure. And I agree that they are very hard to let go of. I hope you have a wonderful “nonevent.” It’s the only way to go!!

      If you get a chance to take in a movie, don’t miss Philomena. It is wonderful!

  3. You and I are definitely on the same wavelength this year. I am SO looking forward to spending Christmas day at home, just Jim and I and the dogs. I’m also thinking a movie, (I’ve heard great things about Philomena from others!) hopefully a good long walk, a fire in the fireplace and maybe soup and homemade bread for dinner.

    • Becca, I was told by someone that they envy me for my quiet holiday season. Then she asked me how old I was and when I told her, she said, “damn I have a long wait!” I!m glad you’re not waiting! Have a happy one!