Monday, November 22, 2010

Holiday Hurrah

I've never been a traditionalist. There are a millions of winter holiday traditions from many countries, regions, faiths, and families. I've read and heard so many different stories about how families expect their holidays to be. Many have very high expectations. If they don't have the right color candles, and the right brand of mincemeat, and the perfect weather they complain. At work, if we run out of the brand of stuffing they always use they will slap the counter with their fist and yell, "Now what am I supposed to do?"

Long ago, even when the kids were little I decided not to join the madness. I still bought toys for them each year. I never shopped on Black Friday, and never bought into the hype surrounding the newest toys which ended up being available the following season for half the price.

Working retail for two decades can suck the holiday spirit out of you. I've worked a department store on Black Friday and witnessed people fighting over junk and hitting one another with shopping carts, and screaming at clerks. I've worked in mall stores during the holidays that weren't quite as bad, but gave me a ringside seat to the "merriment" at the larger stores with the big four hour only specials and at the toy stores which thank goodness I never had the misfortune to work at. Crazed parents actually hid out behind the trash bins in the alley behind the toy store at three in the morning. They thought that by waiting there they could be first somehow to get a Furby when the shipment arrived. If I opened my back door to find a mob of Furby crazed parents limping out from behind the dumpsters like zombies in a horror movie I'd be scared, I'd turn the fire hose on them.

If you're trying to lead a frugal life and the holidays are stressing you out, opt out of the big to do. If the environmentalist in you cringes at the thought of all that tinsel and wrapping paper ending up in the landfill, opt out of the fancy expectations. If you hate cooking and cleaning and would rather sleep in a box full of spiders than spend another holiday with Uncle Frank and Aunt Edna, opt out and go on a mini-vacation instead (or at least pretend to.)

I used to stress over being poor during the holidays. I wanted the children to be happy and have a magical season. I wanted the meal to be perfect and the gifts to be packaged beautifully and well received. I also worked full time hours through the holiday season. I worked open to close often on holidays themselves, so often we would just have it on a different day. One year, when the kids were of middle school age I decided the wrapping paper is thrown away anyway, why am I spending this money on something that goes straight to the garbage? The recycle bins always say that wrapping paper is non-recyclable too. The kids were upset for a few moments when they saw a black plastic garbage bag with their name on it in the morning but after they opened it they quickly forgot their resentment.

Do you need six different types of pie, or a turkey as big as Manhattan? Do you have to make the cranberry souffle you make every year just because you always have it? Do you have to risk life and limb to hang a bunch of lights on your house? Save yourself the frostbite and the high electric bills, opt out.

Take what traditions you want, and drop the rest. Have a wonderful holiday season, whichever holiday you follow if any. Just remember not to stress yourself trying to keep up with the Jones', or worse the Kringle's.


  1. What a voice of sanity! I have an empty nest now. We haven't had a tree, etc. in several years and our gift-giving has been more focused on our young adult children's "needs" rather rather than their wants. Last year it was gasoline and groceries!

  2. I like the thought of dispensing with wrapping paper. I received a gift once, that was wrapped in a new dish towel. I have been doing that ever since.

  3. A balance of course.

    I like katy's idea of using a bag, towel or a pashmina to wrap items rather than wrapping paper. It's a real waste.

  4. We opted out quite awhile ago. Our grown married daughters spend T'giving with their in-laws. We get roast duck and side dishes from Chinatown for ourselves.

    Christmas everyone is here - but we do "brunch" not dinner. Prior to Christmas I take each daughter, by herself, shopping for something to wear at one of the more upscale stores and then we go out to lunch. SIL's get tickets to a sporting event. The like going to those things together.

    Now that our Granddaughter is nearly 14 I've started the shopping trip with her but in her case she comes home with me and we eat a dinner Grandpa has prepared in our absence. Then we play a board game or watch a movie.

    I don't have to pick out or wrap gifts and no one has to return anything. Plus I get to spend time with my "girls". Nothing could make me happier.


  5. This will be my first year without the big family dinner. My mother is off to HER in-laws and I don't want to go. My brother is in another state with my cousin. My BF's mom is going to his sister's and he doesn't want to go. So it's just us chickens and the dog. Maybe now is the right time for the Porterhouse that I could never afford because we always had too many people over? A porterhouse and creamed spinach with a bakes sweet potato and chocolate ribbon pie sounds delicious.

  6. The Holidays are way too commercialized. Now that my boys are grown its Crab Legs for Thanksgiving (they will come over after making their rounds with girlfriends and to their Dads, why have another turkey?) and Christmas Hibachi on Christmas Eve then looking at Xmas lights.

  7. Terri, I'm guessing the empty nest changes some peoples traditions when they simplify everything. I'm enjoying my empty nest. :)

    Gasoline and groceries are wonderful gifts! Just think of all the junk and trinkets clueless shoppers grab because they have to get something and this gift pack looks nice, and the item ends up in a donation bin three years later because it was never used. I like gift cards but this year my kids are just getting a small amount of cash. We are all just working and paying our bills. I bought one nice toy for the grandbaby and that's it.

  8. Katy, I really like that idea. I've heard of people using the comics section as wrapping paper too. That material can actually go in the recycling bin afterwards.

  9. FB, balance what a beautiful word. Balance, Sanity, and Peace are what we need this time of year.

  10. See you there, I love your tradition and I bet they treasure those times when they get one on one undivided attention from you.

    I cracked up when I read that you have roast duck because it reminded me of the scene from A Christmas Story when they are served the duck with the head attached and the waiters try to sing Christmas carrols to the family.

  11. Sandy, see you don't need a sting turkey. Enjoy the peace and calm.

  12. Sandy, oops that was supposed to say stinking turkey. :) Sting turkey sounds scary!

  13. I like wrapping in the Sunday funnies, too. Someone once told me that she looks for free newspapers in Chinese or Japanese (it helps if you have an Asian neighborhood nearby) and wraps in those. (Very striking graphically.
    Or you could just wrap in the free shopper newspapers, write the recipients' names in big black letters and leave the gifts in a jumble. The kids should get a kick out of pulling the pile apart: "Here's one for Mom! Here's one for Sis! Here's one for me!"
    I'm having pork chops for Thanksgiving, myself. Two days after I will leave for a month in Anchorage, to do the holidays with friends and family (thank you, friend who gave me the airline buddy pass!), so I don't want a fridge full of leftovers. Besides, I'm too busy getting ready to go that I don't want to cook a big meal. Extra frugal points: The pork chops were FREE thanks to a coupon my daughter brought back from BlogHer.
    As for overdoing it during the holidays: I just posted something like that myself. Is it okay to leave the URL? If not, just delete my comment. :-(

  14. I always love your posts, dear heart, but I REALLY LOVE the pragmatism that defines you.

    If more of us would adopt YOUR way of thinking and living there would be much less stress in the world and lots more joy.

    My good friend, I wish you and yours a JOY FILLED holiday season...and beyond.


  15. Donna, your links are always welcome. It's funny I have a Thanksgiving article planned with links to a variety of posts including yours, so stay tuned. :)

    I've been reading here and there just not commenting much (overwhelmed by work and dog), so I've read the one about your upcoming WILD and zany Alaskan adventure. Have fun you wild woman you!

  16. Connie, thank you for stopping by. I hope you have a wonderful stress-free holiday season.

  17. You are quite right ... when I left home I thought about the memories of holidays ... all of them good ... could I replicate them? No, I could not. But bits of some I could so every year despite what manner of Christmas lunch is to be had I always have the same special xmas day breakfast from my childhood, back bacon, freshly squeezed orange juice, raisin bread toast etc. Makes me happy sad & calm which is what one wants.