Merry & Bright or Simply Uptight

This time of year can become a time of extreme stress for moms. 

The bar has been raised on how elaborate a holiday should be or could be. I am a bit surprised that there is not a certification to be an ultimate holiday event planner. I could nominate some great candidates. I was thinking about “the good old days” when we had traditions, but they were simpler, and, you know what? I did not love the holidays any less because they were simpler.

When I was growing up, I did not have a  Martha Stewart Mom who baked a lot of cookies, or planned a lot of outings, or decorated extravagantly, but she DID do things that meant a lot to us year after year.

A simple tradition that built everyone’s anticipation was the paper chain that my Mom made and hung in a prominent place, removing a link each day, to count down to THE DAY. We fought to be “the one” chosen to remove that day’s link.

We always had a real tree, always a Scotch pine.

She set out the manger scene. It came out every year.

We would have an in-home photo session during which my Dad would honestly take HUNDREDS of shots of us (5 kids) and it was STILL difficult to get one that had everyone smiling and eyes open.

We all gathered around the organ and sang Christmas carols together on Christmas Eve. Then she lit a lot of candles and we sat and listened to more holiday music. It was beautiful.

A plate of cookies and a carrot were left out for Santa and Rudolph.

My Dad was an amateur radio operator (ham) and he would give us the updates on where Santa’s sleigh was sighted.

We were made to wait until Christmas morning for stockings and our Santa gifts. We had to remain behind the mom-constructed ribbon barricade to the living room until mom or dad deemed it “not too early.” 

We then went to church and endured the longest hour of our lives before getting to open our presents. It was more than heightened suspense – it was agony!

And we always had the same menu – turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, gravy (which was special because we only had it twice a year- Thanksgiving and Christmas), cranberries, and our funny family standby – 7 Up Jello Salad (I think there was a color thing going on with the red cranberries and the green jello).

When I had my own family and started my own traditions, I found that I was drawn to some ideas that served to keep our celebration centered on the right things and some have followed us into our adult celebrations.

 Here are my two favorite:

First, we wanted the gifts for our kids to not get out of hand, and to have a meaningful connection to the holiday. I heard an idea to give each child 3 gifts that went along with the 3 gifts given to the Christ child by the Wise Men (gold, frankinscence and myrhh). Each child would get one gift for learning (book), one gift for a need (clothing item) and one gift for enjoyment (usually a toy). This took away the score keeping by the siblings of whether one would get more gifts than another, they were not overwhelmed, and it made mom and dad’s life manageable.  They still received other gifts from relatives.

Second, was a tradition we began when our kids were older, but I wish I had learned of it much earlier. It is a “Word Gift.” Each family member writes a note to all of the other family members that gives some affirmation to them.  We didn’t give a lot of direction and it is wonderful to see how heartfelt and creative the “gifts” are. We gather for Christmas brunch and each person reads their “word gifts” out loud. It is a time that no one wants to miss. I have heard my kids mention that they want to keep this tradition when they have families of their own.

Simple but rich.
 Low cost.
 Low energy.
 Low Stress.
High Value.

If you are feeling pressure, self-imposed or others-imposed, I am going to give you permission to simplify things. Sort out what really means something to you and yours, and possibly let go of something. You may be the only one who notices that you left it out. (If I leave out the green jello salad, I will hear about it).

Create some moments to just “be” with each other.
 To sit with music playing and candles burning, cuddled together.
  To just stop for a bit.
To read a Christmas book out loud.
To be playing games.
To be singing. If we don’t sing traditional holiday songs, our kids will not learn and love them.
 To be sharing “Word Gifts” together over a simple but comforting meal.

And take one of those Mom “snapshots” that you can keep in your heart. The one where everyone (or mostly everyone) is smiling, comfortable, and content without an overly planned program or agenda.

 That will be the remembered tradition of love.

Merry Christmas!

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Ann Lahm

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I love the opportunities to support parents and Moms in particular, that All Done Day has provided me.

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