December 17, 2013

Simple Christmas

Christmas day dinner is going to be at my house this year, as it was last year. And my mother is not super happy about it. As the years go by, there is an increasing divide between us as to how to spend the holidays. It's not major or anything, but it's there and I thought it would make for an interesting blog post topic.

I grew up with mega Christmases. Mega. In high school, one year we had a 16-18 foot Christmas tree. One year my mom got really sick, so my dad took over Christmas present shopping. That year was a particular ordeal, as he had alphabetically coded each gift and they had to be opened in a certain order. It was insane. And it took HOURS. The whole present opening thing was a PROCESS. And in the years leading up to my parent's divorce, the Christmas thing got bigger and more lavish, bewilderingly. My parents started throwing this mega Christmas party every year. Some of their biggest blowouts took place on Christmas eve, when we would go out to dinner at some fancy place. It was all kind of surreal, especially the Christmas when my brother and I ran into David Duchovny (of X-Files fame) in the lobby of a Hawaiian hotel, as we were taking a walk to get away from my parents, who were having some argument.

The first couple of years after my folks divorced, it was just me and my mom; my brother spent the holiday with my dad. We had simple things for Christmas eve dinner, like homemade cream of mushroom soup; one year we had cheese fondue for two, I LOVED IT. It was so calm and peaceful. My mom was fairly miserable because she missed my brother and was still processing the divorce, but I loved those particular Christmases, and I think a large reason why is because of how quiet they were.

A few years after I met Andrew, (my parents were well and good divorced by then), my mom went on a ski trip with one of her best friends. It was the first time I had ever been apart from my mother for Christmas. I was shell shocked. But it turned out to be a really lovely Christmas. I went with Andrew over to his parent's house for Christmas breakfast, and we all had cinnamon rolls and bacon for breakfast. I discovered his family tradition of everyone getting socks in their stockings from Santa, a tradition that my mom-in-law now shares with us and Julia on Christmas morning (Andrew's dad passed away the year we got married).

And then we all sat around, and later, we went for a walk. Drank tea. Hung out. In the later afternoon, Andrew, and me, and his twin brother came back to our place and the guys played video games and we had mac and cheese for dinner. I had this vague sense that I had sort of missed Christmas (b/c there was no big Christmas dinner extravaganza) but I also felt overwhelming peace. No one had fought with each other. It was a happy time. It was CALM.

I'll always remember that Christmas so fondly!

Anyway, while I appreciate the lovely place settings, the wonderful food, the EFFORT that my mom put forth in creating these epic Christmas dinners....I have no desire to replicate them in my own family, and I don't really care for them anymore. I'm now drawn to simple tablescapes, a cozy one dish meal, and more simplicity, more simplicity. 1) because I'm a bit lazy and like to cut corners, and 2) I just feel uncomfortable with too much pomp and fuss.

Julia likes to stay home on Christmas day and although my mom and I don't agree on How To Do Christmas, the way I figure it is....we've had decades of over-the-top Christmases in my family as I grew up, and now it's my turn to do it my way. So I think I might be making a permanent move to having Christmas day dinner at my house.

I found this post VERY inspiring, as I find all of Jodi's posts on practicing simplicity. What do you think? Have you experienced this in your families? Especially families with divorced parents? I've heard many people say, No no no, we're just not driving the kids around from place to place to place anymore. My dad is in Hawaii so we don't have to deal with that scenario, but more and more, the perfect Christmas sounds to me like having a bowl of stew or soup, playing games with my kiddo, and watching 'A Christmas Carol' (the George C. Scott version!!).

22 comments:

  1. I like your idea of a simple Christmas day at home. So much easier with a child. What do you serve for Christmas dinner?

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    1. well I wanted to do Swedish Meatballs and mashed potatoes. I was going to make the sauce but get meatballs fro, Trader Joe's or Ikea. My husband was like, you're going to feed your mom meatballs from Ikea??? But then Julia asked if we could have ham. So we're going to do ham, which my ma is bringing. Score!

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  2. I'm the most over-the-top Christmas person in our family, but my family is small. Dinner is at my house, and it's just my sister's family, my dad, and grandma as guests. At some point during the week, my mother might come up to see us, usually with my brother and sometimes my step-dad in tow. We used to find time to go to Missouri to see my husband's parents, but his mother passed away two years ago, and we don't see his dad as often now. So while I'm over-the-top as far as my decor goes, it's still pretty quiet. Mr. B and I make what we feel like making for Christmas dinner, which might be turkey, or it might be BBQ we buy the day before. I agree, I like simple. We were very broke a few years ago, when Mr. B was furloughed, and that Christmas was actually very peaceful. We couldn't afford much for presents, so we baked cookies and bread for everyone to take home, and fixed the dinner. Am I rambling? My coffee's ready now...

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    1. Andrew and I got into a thing for New Yrs, which I'd love to also do for Christmas sometime, where we choose some exotic recipe from another country and then try and make it. I'd love to switch around and make a seasonal Christmas dish from around the world each year!

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  3. Melissa, what a touching post. I do think how our parents did (or didn't) do the holidays has such an impact on what we want for our own kids. I love the idea of fondue dinner.

    We do two celebrations since our families are both local but its not too bad - one Christmas Eve w/ the hubster's family and then Christmas Day with mine. I prefer to keep our Christmas morning low key & just us (sticky buns, sausage & oranges from the stocking). We won't have family over until later in the afternoon that day so the girls can play with their toys, stay in their jammies, etc. As kids we had to rush right off to my aunt's house for a brunch (with family we'd just seen the night before) and I hated it. I can remember trying desperately to sew on a kid sewing machine in the car one year and being so mad! Turns out my mom hated it too (her family to boot) and she respects our wishes to stay home. My parents now have a low key morning, dinner with us and then go to a movie that night. I love the idea but haven't mustered up the courage to take the girls out.

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    1. I didn't mention Christmas Eve. We do that night with Andrew's family, and it's a potluck gathering at his cousin's house, and it's really lovely and fun! Potluck and casual, not a formal sit-down dinner. The kids under age 18 get presents from all the aunties/uncles and it's such a nice time, I love it! One year we couldn't go b/c it snowed too much, but usually we always go.

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    2. we also do some sort of sticky bun and sausage or bacon thing for Christmas AM!

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  4. Thank you for sharing your story! I so agree with you about keeping it simple. My husband's family is huge so every Christmas is very big. It is fun for the kids but I am exhausted after such a big party! Especially when it was done at my home! Most of my sister-in-law love to throw huge parties and I don't want to be the party pooper and not show up or do my share but sometimes it's nice to have just a little family dinner. I did have big Christmas parties when I was younger but also smaller ones and I think quality does always outshine quantity :)

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    1. I think it's nice when you can do a fun family gathering and then a simpler affair. B/c we go out on Christmas Eve, I very much like to stay home on Christmas Day. Otherwise we're just driving to place to place and back again, which I am not down with AT ALL.

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    2. Exactly! I think a day should be a day off! Time for staying home, enjoying your family and your home!

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  5. This is such a great post, Melissa. It's amazing how much our own childhood experiences shape our thoughts on Christmas as an adult - giving them context. We've had a pretty decent system in place ever since the kids came along: we don't go anywhere for Christmas Eve (one set of grandparents come over for a very simple dinner and gifts that night) and travel to the other set of parents' house after opening gifts at home and going to mass. Then we switch who comes over and where we go the following year.

    That being said, in the last few years I've felt a growing discomfort over the sheer amount of gifts my kids receive for Christmas. We have a tight Christmas budget, so we don't go crazy. But the grandparents have sometimes just showered them with a mountain of gifts. And with two days of gift opening, you can see that the kids get in a bit of a mindless zone by the end of all that present opening.

    Most of the gifts are tossed aside and forgotten right away. Last year, my son received a bunch of toys that he never, ever played with. They were nice toys, too. It made me kind of sad and lit bit uncomfortable. So this year I had a talk with our parents about choosing one toy for each of the kids, something from their lists (which are so incredibly short and sweet). And I told them that they will appreciate and enjoy a single toy that we know they really want rather than a bunch of other toys that they'll forget about.

    Everyone seems on board, so we'll see how it goes. I know the grandmas can't resist spoiling the kids – and I appreciate it, because it is very sweet – but hopefully this year it will be a little more modest.

    xoxo

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    1. I have had to have this conversation with my mom -- otherwise she would just go crazy with gifts. This year, she and Julia and I discussed it and Julia really wanted her very first American Girl Doll. We planned a whole outing around it, going to the store and having lunch, and J got her doll as an early Christmas present and LOVES it -- but I had to caution my mother "ONE doll. Not two. An outfit or two. NOT TEN. One accessory. NOT FIVE." I have to spell these things out.

      I've had to wrap this concept around my own head as well. Because I grew up in Hawaii with no extended family around, I have to keep a vigilant eye on what we give Julia, b/c she will also be receiving 10 or so presents from various cousins/aunties/grandparents etc. And you can see it in their eyes! After the 3rd or 4th present, they lose focus, and just want to play with what they just opened.

      I used to think the 'something to wear, something to read, something you want and something you need' idea was very draconian, esp coming from my background of more is more. Now, I see the appeal!

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  6. I loved this post SO much Melissa. You are so good at conveying your feelings in writing. Christmas as a kid was always always low key. In fact I always kind of felt like we wasted our Christmas Eves because we did so little. (Christmas Days were always perfect tho, and always spent entirely at home with a good amount of chill time, nap time, video game time) NOW Christmas Eve is NUTS because Trappers family has way way way too much going on! I guess that's just karma since I didn't like they way we had it as a kid and now it's different. Anyway. I completely agree and feel the same way. Simple is better.

    lovely lovely post

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    1. golly geez thanx Miss Robyn! In a way, I'm glad Julia and I both were sick last week. It was a respite from holiday mania. I'm feeling it very acutely this year, not sure why. But we spent nearly 2 hours in my bed making Christmas cards for her school friends. It was the bestest time I've had all December!

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  7. I hear ya. Sounds like your mom should come visit you. We've decided to spend our Christmas morning at home. Then we'll drive the hour and a half to open presents with family. Christmas morning are quickly becoming sacred. I think each family has to decide what's important and strike a balance. FAB post.

    I'm with you btw, I love simple sweet holidays.

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    1. I think I've decided that the day after Christmas is way better than Christmas! All of the fun, with none of the stress!

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  8. It is always interesting to find out the "back story" on why things get done a certain way. I come from a big family (me and five siblings) and an even bigger extended family, so our holidays were always full of fun and excitement, but in a kid-friendly way. None of the families had a great deal of money, so the presents were never over the top either. We'd always spend Christmas Eve with my mom's side of the family, have Christmas breakfast at home, and then drive to my dad's side of the family for Christmas dinner. As the grandparents started to get fewer and less energetic, my mom just started having everyone who was in the area over at our house. It was (and still is) an organized potluck-type meal, and you find a seat where you can. It's loud and busy, but it really works.

    The tricky part for me has been fitting in my husband's family's traditions. His parents are divorced, so we had to set up a holiday rotation, so everyone got "fair time". Even so, there are at least three schedule changes every year, since the holiday wouldn't be perfect if a single relative were missing. It is very different from my own style and I still struggle with it after ten years.

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    1. I can't imagine the hoops families have to go through when you have 2 sets of parents, and both are divorced. I know there are tons of families like that!

      I truly believe the potluck party is the only kind of party to have. My mother never grasped that notion, and would do everything herself and then pass out. She told me once, 'you're going to faint when you realize how much work this is' and I was like um no I'm not b/c I would never do that much work to begin with! :)

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  9. Lovely post from a lovely lady. Love ya' sweetie.

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  10. I am right there with you in preferring a quiet Christmas. This is not to say that my house is not beyond overdone with glitter and tinsel right now, it is. I love that part of Christmas and so does my 5 year old so we went hogwild with sparklies and retro findings (our tree is a nightmare of clashing eras and pure garishness) and way, way too much garland. But the day itself is a quiet one around here.

    Thankfully, my parents broke the tradition of big family get togethers when I was a small child. Neither side of the family was much fun to spend time with (guilters and drama queens) and after two Christmases spent shuttling between his side and her side and all the ensuing unpleasantness, they bailed. My childhood Christmases were really nice as a result, just a quiet day with my parents opening presents, Christmas Mass, a lazy afternoon playing with new toys (OK, who am I kidding, that afternoon was all about devouring new books, to heck with toys), a nice fancy-ish dinner Using The Good China and maybe a movie before bed. The Christmas we do now pretty much follows this pattern, but we ditched the good china and eat a ham instead of turkey. Because nothing beats ham to snack on all week afterwards:) I do go all out and make a ridiculous amount of cookies, but its because I like to and not because I feel I have to. What a difference that distinction makes!

    My husband's family didn't do much for Christmas, no big traditions or anything, so we now do a minor sort of Christmas with them when we go back home for Thanksgiving. My parents come down to see us for New Years and we exchange gifts and do a child oriented version of a gala party, replete with princess ball gowns (for her, we settle for really sparkly cardboard crowns) elegant canapes (mini weenies and chicken nuggets on fancy toothpicks) and sparkling grape juice. By the end of it last year she was laughing hysterically on the kitchen floor covered in paper confetti. Which I guess is the hallmark of all truly good parties:)

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    1. thank you Becca, for sharing your traditions! I think it all sounds grand, especially the cookie part. :) our cookie making is ramping up this weekend. I ADORE your story of how you all do New Years! What fun and what a great idea!

      I should have put into my post that while I prefer a calm Christmas day -- I like Christmas deco -- A LOT. I have 2 trees! A regular tree and a mini kitchen tree. It makes me so happy! We like garlands, and cuteness, and homey and cozy. We like our lights in a jar!! And our Ikea star garlands! I'm all about Christmas lights. :)

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