Making the Holidays Merry Again
As a kid, I always loved the holidays. I grew up in that house, with that mom. You know the one. The mom who always made the holidays so much fun and made it all look effortless. The mom who sat around the kitchen table and co-created hand-made ornaments made of toilet paper rolls, and baked cookies with us in the shape of candy canes, and made it to all the pageants, performances and parties.
In fact, my mom threw the biggest jam of the whole season. Every year on Christmas Eve my mom would single-handedly host the entire neighborhood over for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres that even Martha Stuart would drool over. I always had a holly jolly Christmas, and my mom was the biggest factor in that.
As I grew up, I lived all over the country (and the world). I often missed out on the holiday season, or at least parts of it, and always with huge regret. But whenever possible I still took joy in our family traditions. Those traditions, as the years went on, became fewer and farther between.
As it turns out, my mom didn’t love doing all of it. You see she lost her dad on Christmas Eve, and hurling herself full-force towards every holiday event and activity possible was her way to escape her painful memories. As the years wore on, she grew tired of the work involved. But man, she put on a hell of a show.
When I became a mom, I was determined to make the holidays memorable for my kids. But I would do it differently. Rather than rushing about town, driving myself crazy trying to tick every box on everyone’s list, I decided I wanted to enjoy the holidays as much as possible, just as I had when I was a child. I put a lot of thought into what that meant for me.
Focus on the Joy
The first major move was to cut all obligation crap. Anything that felt like a “must-do” item instead of a “can’t-wait-to-do” item got slashed from the list. If the invitation gave me a little internal squeal of joy when I thought about it, then we’d accept. If the event made me shrink and groan on the inside, it got cut. I try to keep the focus on things we all truly enjoy, including myself.
One of my favorite little life hacks comes in particularly handy at this time of year. Anything I can do in advance, I do (including writing this blog post). As I am typing this it is a balmy September afternoon. But I know come December, I would much rather be sipping eggnog by the fire with some good friends, then sitting in front of a computer screen. This tip is particularly effective for shopping, wrapping, writing your holiday cards, virtually anything that could be done before December.
Share the Giving Spirit
I made sure we had one activity centered around giving to those less fortune. Ever since my oldest was an infant, I book a day in my calendar and we go down to the Eaton Centre, look at the shop windows of the flagship Hudson Bay store (something my parents did with me, because my father worked there). Afterwards we stroll on over to Toy Mountain in the mall and donate some new, unwrapped toys. Even when they were too young to understand, I explained to my kids that this is what we do because some kids don’t have as much as we do. Now they are older they fight about who gets to drop what toy in the box. And then we take our spare change and put it into the Salvation Army bowl. And we have lunch. We make it a day for family and for giving, and I remind them that this is what the whole thing is about.
Santa Pictures (Without the Line Ups)
Pictures with Santa is an annual tradition but we go very early in the season before the lines are too long and the crowds are too loco. We choose Fairview Mall because it’s a lovely and jolly old Santa who really enjoys his vocation. Parents, two words: ‘Weekday’ and ‘Daytime’. It’s the only way we roll.
One day of the season I set aside for baking with the ladies of my family. My mom, sister, niece and daughter and I all take great delight in gabbing and laughing while we roll, cut, bake and decorate our treats. They turn out horribly. What do you expect? We let a 4 year old do it! But I’ve been baking with my mom since I was 4 and it’s something I want to pass on.
The new tradition I am most thrilled with, we have cut out gifts. No, not all gifts (the minimalist in me wishes!) but amongst the adults on both mine and my husband’s side, we don’t do a gift exchange. It took me a few years to win this battle, but I have to say, it cuts down on stress, clutter, waste and spending… It is all things merry and bright to me and everyone still has a good time. My own kids get one gift from us and one from Santa and then get spoiled rotten by several other adults in my family whom I have no control over and who live for this stuff.
As a mom, I am far from perfect, but I do want my kids to look back on this time of year and have fond memories. To me that means I must be present and in the moment. I must not let the stress of the season overwhelm me. I must turn down invitations so that we are not over scheduled, even if it means others might judge or be disappointed. I try to keep the focus on family and experiences and making memories. After all, isn’t that the idea?
Lianne Kim is the founder of Mamas & Co.