Holidays mean different things to different people.
You may be a part of the camp that cannot wait to have every relative you know (and a few you never knew you had) under your roof to take part in food and conversation for days on end. Your home is decorated from top to bottom before December starts and you may have eggnog pulsing through your veins.
You may be in the camp that these festive times cause you great stress and feelings of inadequacy because you aren’t decorated like Martha Stewart and goodness knows your family situation is nothing Norman Rockwellesque at all and you would prefer to just be left alone until December 26th, pleaseandthankyouverymuch.
Is either one right? Is either one wrong? Can you belong to both camps?
Growing up, I recall putting our tree up on Christmas Eve while listening to either Nana Mouskouri or Elvis Presley. We would watch Alastair Sim in A Christmas Carol and head to bed not long after that movie ended. As the old handmade ornaments came out of storage and found a spot on the tree, the stories filled the room. I always wondered why my parents never threw away the styrofoam ball covered in green glitter and stabbed mercilessly with toothpicks. It resembled a crude sputnik.
My grandmother would be in baking mode for weeks, maybe even months, before Christmas, making sausage rolls, meat pies, nuts n bolts snack mixes, rum balls and so on. All these baked goods were off limits until all the relatives were under our roof. Truthfully, I was not a fan of the meat pies or the sausage rolls, but because they were a limited run, they were somehow more desirable and I would stuff them in like they were providing me with life itself.
My parents gave us a beautiful tree the year we were married. It was 7′ tall and so full, I could not wrap my arms around it’s circumference. I used to decorate our tree in different styles every year when my kids were young. One year, it was wrapped in wide ribbons. One year, it was done up with only lights. There was probably close to 1500 lights on it. Yes, it gave off warmth because this was pre-LED bulb days. One year, I made chocolate chip cookies and hung them on the tree. As guests came over, they were to remove a cooky on their way home, thus helping me undecorate. No lights were turned on that year, as they melted the chocolate chips (lesson learned the hard way).
Many cats later, my tree has seen better days. No, they did not pee on it or the skirt, but they did find themselves up inside the tree, bending the support branches. My majestic 7′ tree, which used to fill a room, now resembles a Dr. Suess tree, as almost all the branches are in a downward sweep with visible bald spots.
As the ornaments get hauled out, we too share the memories of the toddler fashioned decorations. The first year we had a child-made decoration for our tree, I got it. I understood why my folks did not chuck out the green glittered sputnik or any of the other things my brother and I had made. These signified milestones in our lives. Looking at the toilet roll Christmas cracker that is covered in scrap pieces of foiled paper and fruit-smelly markers, I recall the teacher they had and the friends that were a part of our lives that year. These associations are not unlike the ones an archeologist makes when unearthing traces of civilizations. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t have at least one glitter macaroni ornament or a paper Santa on their tree.
In my gluten-filled days, I baked like a fiend. I was often up until the wee hours of the morning, washing dishes, making dough, decorating snowmen and all kinds of other stuff. It was common for me to make 10-12 different types of cookies and gift them to friends, everyone getting a variety of each type. I made sugar cookies, gingerbread dudes, candy cane twists, fudge, pfeffernuise, rum balls, snowballs, lumps of coal and on and on. I would buy New Year’s Eve party hats, line them with parchment paper and fill them, cone-style, with treats for the kids who lived on our street. Each kid got their own cone of cookies, so no one had to share their goodies with their mom or dad.
I would spend hours and days shopping at the malls finding lots of things for everyone on my list. I was there on Boxing Day, getting a jumpstart on the next year’s shopping requirements. I never dared tally my spending as I knew it was ridiculous. Wrapping the presents took me days. Each wrapped gift was a work of art. I didn’t like to use the same paper on any two gifts. Everything was wrapped in a box. Sometimes, a box within a box. I used to made custom bows for each package, a lesson from one of my many awesome aunts. I was supporting our economy almost single-handedly.
My gifts have shifted to ways to share time and memories instead of something from a store. My baking template has also changed. I no longer do these things in excess because it is expected of me. I’d rather spend that time reminiscing with family over a coffee, wine or kombucha. Wrappings are trappings and we are better off without them.
Perhaps that ol’ Grinch knew something after all.