Sunday, November 17, 2013

Holiday Exhale

Linking up with my friend Tara Owens  for her Coming Home synchroblog. Soul searching through the memories, traditions, unfulfilled longings surrounding the holidays. Join us?

This year, we are going “home” for Christmas. By home, I mean a log house on top of a jolly hill, where my parents have lived for over a decade. I have memories of the porch being lit up with Christmas lights, a tall Carolina Blue Sapphire sparkling merrily in the window, sending out a welcome as our car labors up the steep driveway. Our loved ones waiting with smiles and hugs; it has been too long since we’ve been together.

We have not been home for Christmas for the last 3 years. There’s an ache that goes along with the separation of close family. I look forward to the togetherness that for me has always been the highlight of the holiday. We’ll sit around in the living room, watching the fire dance in the wood stove, listening to the music of Roger Whittaker, without which there is no Christmas. “Look down, look down and see the world. Look down, and see the world rejoicing.”*

I have never lived among wealth or luxury. Christmas was hardly ever about having more things. Growing up, scarcity was a real, everyday battle for my family. We had to work hard at having enough. Chopping our own wood, growing stubby carrots in the garden, baking our own bread, buying the cheapest beef, scoring throwaways at the farmstand to salvage the good parts left. Our wardrobes were compiled of things nobody else wanted, and passed along to us via giant garbage bags. (Getting a new bag of old clothes was a lot like Christmas, by the way.) We ate lots of peanut butter. We ate lots of fruit cocktail. That time we strung popcorn on the Christmas tree, I just couldn’t help feeling like what a waste of good food it was, though one or two of my siblings may have ignored the stale and tried to eat some anyway.

What we did not do is go all out on gifts. Later on, in teenage life, when my sisters and I could scrape together some babysitting money, there were some bought gifts. But for the most part, everything had to be homemade. Friendship bracelets, paper plate, popsicle stick and macaroni crafts with maybe a school photo in a frame. Lots of crocheted tchotchkes. Cross-stitched bookmarks. Homemade doll clothes. A coveted hand-me-down that we really didn’t want to part with, but trusted the joy of giving would be greater than the satisfaction of keeping. (It usually worked. ;) )

Making Christmas gifts was a year long obsession. The red/green/white yarn was out and about all the time. We were constantly coming up with new ideas that would end with “hey, we could do that for Christmas presents!” There was a certain measure of sadness that we could not always give something to extended family members. But I do remember those years we made peanut butter and marmalade bread, apple butter, cookies, and other homemade goodies. My mother didn’t always have the energy, but when she did, we made little packages filled with our kitchen creativity.

One fabulous year back in the day, near the end of August, my family had discovered that the wild grapes that grew in our neighborhood every year were edible. With some research and a little bit of kitchen experimenting, plus a lot of cheap sugar, we were able to make mountains of grape jelly. This was more than a little bit exciting. I was ecstatic, because it was only August and we already had a way to make gifts for everyone for Christmas that year. Those who say the best things in life are free? They are not often wrong.

I guess my point is that somewhere along the way, I forgot. I began to get caught up in the pile o’ gifts frenzy, the make ALL the special foods expectations, the Christmas will not be Christmas without _________ .

It gets overwhelming, crazy-making, tear-inducing. And that’s not even close to what it means to be “at home” during the holidays. When I can’t even feel comfortable in my own skin because of the guilt of not being enough, doing enough, having enough, being able to say “enough!”

Speaking of holidays, we don't have a turkey for Thanksgiving this year. A dear friend reassured me that roast chicken is fine for a holiday dinner. We’ve done this before when things were tight. In fact, one year, we had pizza for Christmas, because I was not healthy enough to cook a fine meal. We were just happy being together. I let go and let it happen, and it was such a freeing experience.

Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with traditions. But the ones that make us feel rushed, spread too thin, gnawed on with the guilt of not having enough but not being able to create more? Those are the ones to rethink. Will anyone notice the absence of mashed potatoes and gravy. Will we die without that green bean casserole? Does anyone besides me even like cranberry orange relish?

This year, I am going to focus on the good traditions. The ones that let you breathe and smile and hug your kids (instead of yelling at them.) The ones that allow you to focus on the celebration of Advent, of "Come Thou Long Expected." We'll lift our voices in familiar songs of joy and reflection. We’ll do homemade gifts, and cookies, and caramel popcorn if/when the energy is there. Maybe my daughter will make beaded necklaces for her cousins. Maybe not. They’ll love each other just as much either way.

This year, I am letting go of the pressure to perform the rituals that cause more stress than joy; to spend the money I don't have for making memories. We can find new traditions. Or tap into the old ones that we regret letting go.

We can make it “home” for Christmas.


Are you feeling it, too? The stress of performing, planning, cleaning, buying, being the perfect host? Dreading the empty feeling after the gifts are open and the paper is strewn over and it didn't conjure those feelings you hoped it would? Do you long to go deeper, to explore ways to find rest and purpose during this hectic season? Check out Tara's e-course, and see if it is calling to you. Perhaps it's the rest and recovery that you need to make peace with the holidays.

*"Hallelujah, It's Christmas" From The Roger Whittaker Christmas Album


  1. I love this! Brings back lots of memories and looks forward to making new ones that are full of love and not stress: )

  2. Yes to the love; no to the stress. That should be our mantra, hmm? I can't wait to see you all!

  3. Having to try on clothes was NOT like Christmas. NOTnotnotnotnot!!! ;)

    Nice memories. We always had enough. Enough to eat, a roof over our heads, and more clothes than we ever really needed. We were rich! Not having extra for useless, mass manufactured junk just opened up those creative wells deep in all of us. Not having tv helped too.

  4. Haha. Yes, I recall your sentiments about trying on clothes. Or wearing dresses and Sunday shoes. It was one of my favorite things, though. I've always loved to play dress-up. Did I make it sound like we all loved it? It was unintentional. I blame the flu, from which I am still recovering.
    I do think we are the better for having to use our imaginations. I try to tell myself that when I so badly wish I could pay for Kaitlin to have the dance lessons she wants so much. But she is not unhappy. I should get some of that colorful yarn and we can make festive chains to adorn the house. She will dance with or without lessons, that much I know. :)

  5. Yay! Roger Whittaker at the front desk! The residents are giving me weird looks, but they secretly enjoy it. I just know.

    I really want to put a homemade-only tag on gifts with my family, but I'm not sure it would go over well. I might get in cahoots with my sister, who I'm sure would much rather spend the time she spends shopping baking all of us her bourbon pecan tarts (best gift ever).

  6. Now you've gone and made me super hungry! :D


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