High Style, Low Stress

Simplifying the holidays

I’ve been decorating for the holidays for about 25 years now. Before—before I was the one decorating and coordinating and fa-la-la-ing—I basically stood by and participated in the festivities. In short, I showed up. I showed up to drink eggnog. I showed up to eat tenderloin. I showed up to open presents. There was a grace period when I was a grownup and before I had children, when I had a little more responsibility like bringing an appetizer. But it wasn’t until about 20 years ago when my holiday rubber really hit the road.

Once my oldest son was born I felt as if it were up to me to make the magic. The thing is, I found creating a holiday extravaganza fun. I loved being the one planning parties and shopping for presents and creating Christmas crafts. In fact, it was a blast.

I loved the whole idea of the holidays. I wanted a house full of friends, and every party I threw gave me as much energy as it expended. I wanted my children’s Christmases to be filled with tradition and joy and magic. I love buying presents that are just right for the recipient. Fresh greenery, coordinating wrapping paper and three blonde boys in velvet shorts and knee socks were the icing on the Christmas cake.

And then we all got a little older. Suddenly, the effort to get three distinctly different boys into coordinating outfits did not seem to be worth the struggle. Besides, when you raise young people to think for themselves and express their opinions, it’s tricky to announce that they will wear blackwatch plaid no matter what. No matter what, what? As it turns out, it doesn’t really matter. All of a sudden, I realized that a lot of these ideas and edicts evolved from a fantasy of wonderful tradition, when what I had created in reality was much more wonderful. Living with confident and freethinking individuals holds a different kind of magic. Matching knee socks are less important.

In addition, we all had the need to make our holiday vacation more a holiday. More vacation. It is far more fun to have a kitchen full of sweatshirt-clad, red-nosed and slightly sweaty man-sized adolescents drinking powdered cocoa than standing in an empty house with shaved Mexican chocolate and whole milk at the ready, but no boys willing to withstand the nonsense.

In short, we learned to make it easy. Half my decorations stay in the box. Instead of a command tree-decorating performance that no one enjoyed, I put on the lights (because I do need more lights than anyone else and am happy to suffer for it), and we decorate as long as the boys will tolerate. Is it long enough for me? No, but I am happy to finish up myself while they play songs I “need” to hear from hand-held devices that were once treasured Christmas gifts and are now everyday necessities. While we are all capable of doing more, we pick the best of it and are happier doing less.

Calming Christmas Craziness

I am no Scrooge. The dark and cold of December can use a little glitter and revelry, but I am careful about where I spend my energy. I’ve learned a few things in the past two decades that help balance simplicity and excess.

Decorate with Discernment

id_nov16_2Twenty-five years in, I still buy a real tree. I don’t judge those who pull theirs from a box; whatever it takes to get you through your holiday is fine with me. But I love the smell of it even if I don’t love sweeping up the needles. The bother that I’ve eliminated is the display of tchotchkes. I have a fair number of Santa Clauses and a lot of cranberry-colored beaded garlands that I used to string here and there, but most of that stays in the box. I find I stop seeing it and that it makes me think my house looks cluttered. However, a shiny collection of silver bells always finds a home. Figure out what feeds your energy and eliminate the rest.

Sentiment Wins

id_nov16_4I needlepointed stockings for my three children before their first Christmases. My oldest was born in November. I know, I wouldn’t like the then-me now, either. Despite my mania, I do treasure these stockings, just as I treasure the one that my mother made for me that is always on display as well. Many of the ornaments I made hang next to the glittered creations that my boys brought home. Good taste has a broader definition during the holidays.

Make it Personal

id_nov16_3To that end, all decoration—holiday and otherwise—is better if it’s personal. While I marvel at the themed trees of area retailers, at home I think holiday decor should be more of a jumble. It’s unlikely you’re ever going to walk by the five gold angels you bought from a display and feel a connection, but the tray your great-aunt decoupaged with vintage cards will delight each time you set the mugs of hot chocolate on it even if it’s seen better days.