The Minimalist Woman’s Holiday Attitude
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Well, here we are, on the cusp of the 2010 Holiday Season. My mom has decided she is giving Thanksgiving dinner another go, which is brave of her as she is still a bit delicate after a bout of stomach flu. I did a trial run of Thanksgiving dinner for my cooking blog the other day (go here if you want a look). I felt I could easily do it again for my family, but Mom has her independent/martyr streak, and so I’ll just pitch in wherever she needs me. There’s only six of us, so a small bird and a few small sides is all that is needed or wanted. None of us are into the parades or football games. It’ll just be a simple gathering that happens to have turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie.
Black Friday can go to hell. To tell the truth, I’ve never shopped on the day after Thanksgiving, and have always thought it was an insane idea. To be really honest, I’ve never even felt that badly for people getting trampled when the doors of Mega-Mart finally opened at 3 a.m., any more than I sympathized with idiots getting gored during the Running of the Bulls. I figure if you live by the sword, you’ll die by the sword, and I’m not getting in the way.
This will be my 56th Christmas, and I am happy to announce it will be the simplest one, save for perhaps the first two, which I don’t remember at all. My itty-bitty family has agreed to skip the exchange of presents (there are no little kids…yet) and just get together and eat and visit two or three times. We might experiment with a flaming plum pudding one day and sample it, or crack open a better grade of wine than we usually imbibe. Simple stuff, enjoyable, but doesn’t require storing or dusting or something.
Don’t get me wrong, I like warm and jolly and festive as much as the next person, but what I’m not too keen on is being the Prime Mover of Holiday Spirit year after year after year, as are most domestic goddesses. F**k that. I started really cutting back last year, just tossing one strand of lights each on the two shrubs flanking the front door, a doodad on the door itself, and a tiny little tabletop tree in the living room. There was something on the dining room table, too, but that was about it, and that was about enough. I had food and spirits on hand to share if we had unexpected guests, such as when our neighbors stopped by one night with a plate of holiday cookies. We invited them in for some leftover plum pudding and we had a great time just yakking away and having some good port. That was a nice memory. It would not have been a better memory if I had once again adorned all the trees and shrubs in the yard with a mile of lights or had up big bows and candy canes on every object in the house, not to mention a big tree groaning with ornaments and bubble lights. I would have been too pooped to make a plum pudding (and it was a WONDERFUL plum pudding).
When we had our giant Give it Away Day a few weeks ago, I added my vast collection of artificial pine garlands (compleat with little white lights and beaded garlands woven in) to the pile, and some poor fool actually took them. Half of them used to adorn the porches of both my current and previous houses, and half used to adorn the doorways and tops of windows. It would take me hours, even days, to do all my decorating, a habit I first developed during what I call my Martha Years. That was back in the 80’s, about which I need not say more. With rare exceptions, it was like setting the stage for a heart-warming play that tanked because the actors refused to play their parts or learn their lines. Or even show up.
This year I’m decorating with a very light hand, and if it can’t go up or come back down within 20 minutes, it isn’t happening. Face it–it only takes a little bit to evoke Christmastime: a candle, a pine bough, a small strand of lights, a plate of cookies or cuppa spiked mocha. You don’t need to transfer the entire holiday decor section of Target to your living room and yard in order to feel the season.
It’s easy to understand how so many of us have gotten caught up in artificially high expectations for The Holidays. We remember the magic we felt when everyday life gave over to decorated trees, miles of colorful lights, music everywhere and singing songs, Santa Claus or Kris Kringle or St. Nicholas or Father Christmas popping up in unexpected places such as K-Marts and Coca-Cola ads, and all that talk and frenzy around presents just sent your infant emotions and imagination soaring to sugarplum heights. Even if your family didn’t celebrate Christmas themselves, you couldn’t get away from a world saturated in it. That feeling is the one we want to get back, and we try to do it by recreating the original scenario, and possibly even outdoing it, as if a bigger and better display of spirit and more wrapped packages under the tree would surely make Santa come alive again.
Nah, the holidays aren’t in the stuff–they just are. They’re a lot more fun when done with a light hand, a wised-up but still warm and kindly hand. Don’t be shamed by the Joneses when they outdo your efforts, just smile and enjoy their bright lights and lavish spreads, because they mean well (you hope). Have a little something on hand to share when friends drop by, and if they don’t, enjoy it yourself or take it over to their place. Don’t worry about doing “Christmasy” things if they mean not being able to relax over a board game and a glass of wine, or curling up with a book and a cat.
Lots of people make a point of doing charitable deeds during the holidays, but I’m not too keen on that. I think it is better to do charitable deeds on a regular basis, and not fall into the trap of pretending to be Christ-like or an angel or some kind of Santa Claus. Donate to local food pantries all year long, buy a cow for a family halfway around the globe, whatever turns your crank, there’s enough need out there to go around. And don’t worry about what others think, either.
Treat the holidays with a light and mindful hand. Shop as little as possible, and if you shop, support local artists and craftsmen. Decorate lightly, without tiring yourself out or buying more stuff. Consider the ecological impact of the way you celebrate. Talk to your people, see if they’ll agree to no gifts, or only consumable gifts. Don’t let others’ expectations throw you or make you feel inadequate or guilty. If you want your friends and family to have fun, it’s easier if you’re having fun yourself. Be like my cat. You think my cat cares? She does, but only up to a point. And she really knows how to relax.
Tabitha the Tabby--Adopted on Thanksgiving Weekend 2003