Speak Softly and Carry a Big Peppermint Stick, or, How to Survive the Holiday Season


photo courtesy Getty Images

photo courtesy Getty Images

It’s the holiday season. Christmas trees on the tops of cars. Shoppers bustling through the stores, peppermint mochas in hand. Squeezing into that little black dress for the holiday party next weekend. It is indeed a wonderful (albeit Spanx-ridden time). But if you’re like me, there are moments when it all seems a little overwhelming. When trying to balance the spirit of goodwill with the holiday to-do list seems almost impossible. Yesterday, I was trying to get a little Christmas shopping done at BroadwayPlaza, the ringing of Salvation Army bells in my ears. I was looking through the window of the Kate Spade store (pardon the drool) when a woman (you know who you are, my dear) literally pushed me into the wall with her shopping bags and muttered “move it” as she passed. And as initially irate as I was, I recognized in her that frantic holiday feeling I get sometimes – that feeling that everything has to be absolutely perfect and Martha Stewart-like in order for it to be a happy holiday at all.

I knew how she felt – shopping bags askew, gift list a mile long, cookies to bake, school holiday parties to plan – and I realized that I, too, could be just like her. Forgetting what the season is all about and becoming mired down in the details. But not this year. No, this year I’m going to approach the holidays with a little less zeal and a little more Zen – and here’s how you can too.

1)      You don’t have to cook everything

Here’s a little secret. When it comes to food, most of the time people can’t tell if something is homemade or store-bought. Certain things, yes. Like chocolate chip cookies, for example. There is literally nothing in the entire world like a homemade Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie. Except maybe two Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookies. But typically, there’s not a whole lot of sense behind driving yourselves bonkers making puff pastry from scratch or chopping basil for 3 days to craft homemade pesto. Now, I’m not saying you should never go all out and cook every single thing from scratch. I committed to doing it for a month this year (don’t ask) like some sort of crazed pioneer woman. And, while there were fleeting moments of blissful domesticity, honestly, I couldn’t wait until the month was over.  For some reason, when the holidays come around, there’s this sense that if you didn’t make it, you’re going to ruin the entire holiday season. I can’t tell you how many women at dinner parties feel compelled to confess that they’ve “cheated” on the dinner by buying certain dishes. That’s not cheating. That’s mitigating insanity. And I’m all for it. So for yourHoliday party this year, lay down your apple corers and pasta makers, pry your clenched fingers from the rolling pins and juicers and do yourself a favor. Hop on down to Trader Joe’s and treat yourself to some frozen appetizers, pop them in the oven and, when everyone asks how you could have possibly made such delightful delicacies, smile and proudly tell them you bought them in the freezer aisle. Cause that’s how you roll.

2)      Your presents don’t have to look perfect

Now, if you know me at all, you know that I’m obsessed with paper. I’m the crazy lady who strolls through the container store admiring the wrapping paper for fun. And for many years, I succumbed to my inner demons and worked my fingers to the bone creating “the perfectly wrapped present.” A lot of this is genetic, since my mother is the quintessential present wrapper. Her gifts are like pieces of fine art – gorgeous papers, exquisitely tied ribbons – and my DNA is programmed to follow in her scotch-taped footsteps. But last year when I found myself covered in paper cuts and muttering under my breath with each package, I realized that I was only doing this to maintain some sort of image. Do my children care if the ribbon picks up a subtle accent color in the wrapping paper? Do they really mind if the corners aren’t creased perfectly as they tear through each present like little hurricanes? No. What’s more, why, oh, why didn’t I allow those nice teenagers at Barnes & Noble to wrap my presents for me? This year, I’m taking a deep breath and when someone offers me free gift wrap, I’m going to say “Of course!” and watch them as I sip my non-fat peppermint mocha in peace.

3)      You don’t have to decorate every square inch of your house

Now, I truly need to take a dose of my own medicine on this one. Every year I am compulsive about filling every nook and cranny of my home with Christmas decorations. The tube sock snowman my son made in kindergarten? Right here! The oversized German woodcutter nutcracker? Over there! Enough lights on the tree to illuminate a small village? Of course! And I do it because I think my children can’t survive without living inside a replica of Santa’s workshop. But it’s not necessary. Yes, there are certain decorations with lovely sentimental value, like pickle ornaments and stockings my husband’s grandmother made, but overall if you find yourself going crazy as each plastic storage box of decorations is emptied, then take a break from the madness. Decide with decorations you adore and which ones you just put up because you’ve gotten into the habit of it. This year I left a lot of decorations in the box, like the paper mache Santa from our old neighbor. Because, honestly, the paper mache Santa from our old neighbor belongs in the box.

4)      You can stop and smell the fruitcake

Finally, the best advice I can give during this busy holiday season is to take a moment and enjoy it. Before our wedding, a dear friend told gave us a piece of sage wisdom – to, at some point during the reception, just stand quietly and take it all in. Reflect on the fact that all of your friends and family are there to celebrate you and remember what the day is truly for. The same advice works wonders for the holiday season. Take a minute. Smell the fruitcake. Sit in your living room next to a nice fire, listening to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald sing “Baby it’s Cold Outside”. Put on your pajamas and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with your kids. Meet a friend for coffee and laugh. Just take a few moments for yourself. Remember all that makes this season wonderful and give your loved ones an extra squeeze from me. For that is worth more than homemade pesto anyday.

*Originally published December 2010 Walnut Creek Patch

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