Some people are able to do it all over the most magical time of the year — I am not one of those people. I tried my best, really I did. I love the holidays. In fact, if Martha Stewart and Buddy the Elf procreated, I would be their love child. I decorate, bake, and play Christmas music from Halloween night until New Year’s. I don’t care who wants to chase after me with a pitchfork, I do it for the love. I do it because I freaking want to, and it makes me happy.
Over the years, however, I have found out the hard way (don’t we all find out about stuff this way?) that trying to do it all is a joy-suck. So I save my energy for doing the things that I feel are the most important, the things that bring my family the most joy. I refuse to spread myself too thin and stress my family out these days.
The holidays are supposed to be spent feeling thankful and spending time together. There should be no joy-sucks during all the festivities that are meant to be cherished, so I have started a few new traditions that allow me to spend more time watching the Hallmark Channel while drinking nog from the container and less time crying in the bathroom with a tray of cookies.
A few years ago, all the women in my family decided we would stop buying gifts for each other. Our families were growing, nieces and nephews were multiplying, and it got to be too much. So instead of schlepping from store to store racking our brains trying to figure out what we could purchase for each other, we spend extra time together instead. This usually involves a nice dinner out, just the girls, where no one has to cook or clean. I host a cookie swap (store-bought cookies and pajamas are totally allowed) and we stuff ourselves full of sugar and wine while singing and dancing around my living room. You have not seen anything until you have seen our performance of The 12 Days of Christmas. We put the Rockettes to shame. Memories truly are the best gifts.
With the extra money and energy we all save from not getting each other gifts, we are able to do more meaningful things. I love taking my kids to the local country store and watching them pick a name from the Angel Tree. We have been doing it for almost 10 years now, and it teaches my children gratitude like nothing else has. We donate a few holiday dinners to the local food bank, send an extra big check to St. Jude, pay for the people behind us in the drive-thru, and, my personal favorite, surprise someone we kind of know with a gift we are sure they want. One year, this sweet woman who works at our favorite burger joint repeatedly commented on a bracelet I wear. Every time she saw me, she would tell me how much she loved it. I bought her one and counted down the days until I could give it to her. I think I made it until two days after Thanksgiving.
We have let go of some traditions that feel more stressful, like sending out holiday cards. I know this brings some people tremendous jubilation, and I do love getting them in the mail. It’s just not my thing, so I decided a while ago I would forget the holiday cards because it felt like a tedious nerve-wracking chore for me.
It’s okay to give up traditions, or change them, if they don’t make you happy or suit your family anymore.
During the holidays, I want to soak it all in. I want to drive around with my family wearing pajamas and sipping cocoa, and look at the Christmas lights.
I want to crack open my recipe box and make a big mess in my kitchen with my kids and eat raw cookie dough and frosting and get crazy with the sprinkles. I know they won’t look perfect, and my son will put all the lady parts on his gingerbread man, and I look forward to it every year.
I want to pin the hell out of Pinterest and drool over projects I may or may not do. If I don’t get to everything, it doesn’t matter. A lot of the fun lies in dreaming about it anyway.
And while I love a good holiday party, I might not attend them all because there is something about staying home after a busy Friday or Saturday and sitting next to my Christmas tree while my kids are asleep with my dogs at my feet and just being.
Sometimes real magic is silent. It can not be manufactured. It is found in your kitchen while you are making the same cookies your great-grandmother used to make. Magic is the look you get from a stranger when you do something unexpected for them. Magic is watching your crazy aunt sing Christmas carols with your son and remembering when she used to do that with you when you were young and how it made you feel so loved.
And I just can’t seem to stop and notice all of the precious magic around me if I zip through the holiday season going from store to store trying to buy crap for those who already have all the crap a person could want. I am too exhausted to feel the way I want to feel if I am trying to keep up with it all, so I don’t. Holidays should be enjoyed by all of us, no matter how we choose to celebrate them.
Letting some things go so that you can make room for the things that matter the most will be the best gift you can give yourself and your family. I promise.