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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Best Holiday De-Stress Advice

I came from a family where holidays were a big deal, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have wonderful, wonderful childhood memories from my dad playing Santa for local businesses, to Christmas caroling many nights in Dec., and yes, I even loved the fruitcake the Jaycees sold. I have 2 sisters and no brothers and we loved to decorate, oooh and ahhh over ornaments, listen to Gene Autry Christmas albums, and bake candy cane cookies. We really did it all.

I wanted my kids to have the same. My husband came from a family where Christmas was not much more than a special meal. Grandma put a string of lights around the window but that was about it, not even a tree.

So, I made more and more of Christmas each year, until----until I went back to work full time and was doing Christmas for my students and for my own kids at home. I actually had 21 must-have items on the Dec. baking list. I decorated every room, yep, even the bathroom. The kids had mini-trees in their rooms. We read a Christmas book each night. The kids saw Santa at several places each year. We went to the Y and did gingerbread houses and later had friends over and did them annually at our house. I painted and carved and crafted Christmas decor.

Then I went back to work full time at a juvenile detention center, where Christmas is full of emotion---not always good. After 16 years I can vouch for one pattern that occurs in a residential place for troubled teens and that pattern is that they both love and hate Christmas. Christmas in many of their homes is a time of stress, lack of money, domestic violence, heat being turned off. On the other hand, being in "jail" over Christmas can be pretty distressing too. They want Christmas and we do it, tree and music and all. For some it is wonderful and they refer to it as their "traditions" because they have none at home and for others it can bring dealing with the fact that their home isn't what they see on Hallmark Christmas Specials.

I found myself being stretched too thin and decided I needed to cut back at home. My boys were 10 and 14 when I went back to work full time in January 1998. By November I knew I had to make some changes. I just could not keep up all the traditions and activities that I had worked so hard on when I was a SAHM.  So, I sat down with the family and suggested we decide what was most important. What a shock to find that some things that I put the very most time and effort into, were not the things they said were most important. In fact, the whole talk was very eye opening. I learned that candy cane cookies, fudge, and date rolls were the only must haves. We loved our gingerbread house night and kept that up until my boys were through college (yes, even their HS and college friends still wanted to do that each year at our house). Turns out that outside of a tree and some outdoor lights, they really didn't care much about swags, garlands, and candles in the bathroom :)  It also turned out that they wanted to scale down the gift giving, which in our family was never huge to begin with. They weren't that interested in the Christmas parade and I had had no idea about that. Once we found out what each person "needed" for it to feel like Christmas, I found that probably 2/3 of what I had been doing could either be scrapped or only done every few years.

I also kept things that I really enjoyed. I hand make about 100-120 cards each year and love addressing and sending them. I love the vintage Christmas and craft sales in the area and I hit as many of those as I can. Some years I see or am in the Christmas parade and other years I let it go. I really enjoy doing much of my shopping online as long as I get one fun shopping Christmas day in Tri-Cities around the end of November just because I love seeing all the glitter and sparkle.

Also, this year we are starting a new tradition--a holiday dinner for the whole family and extended family that is not on Christmas or Christmas eve. It was just too hard with the kids grown up and many new families joined with ours to work around those days. I am just as happy with a family dinner the weekend before.  Christmas Eve at our house is now just our immediate family and maybe driving around to look at lights after a light supper.

I find that I enjoy Christmas more, have more energy to get through the holidays with my students and their emotional needs, and my sons told me a few years ago that they liked it the way we do it now. If I add something in, it is only because it is something I really love to do and makes my holiday better. Yes, I still overdecorate a bit, but I don't feel like I have to. I take things out one at a time and some years it is mainly just the tree and outdoor lights and some years I cover the place with decorations simply because I am in the mood to do it and enjoy it.

I wonder how many mothers are doing things they feel they have to? You might ask your family if it all really matters to them. It will change over the years. My boys outgrew the Santa visits by the time they were 10 or so. Gift giving really changed once they became teens. They no longer wanted stockings by the time they were mid-teens. They never wanted anything to do with caroling (probably because my singing voice ruins it for everyone). Anyway, consider making your holidays more joyful and more relaxing.

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