Posted by: Hannah | 11/29/2012

holly jolly

Last week there was a lot of chatter on Twitter about holiday plans – precipitated by American Thanksgiving, but it soon became about the entire festive season because the Canadians didn’t want to feel left out.

We’re like that. Please like us and include us! We are fun even though we had Thanksgiving a month ago!


One thing that kept coming up again and again was the dreaded Family Holiday Feast of Turkey and Hurt Feelings™. As more and more anecdotes came rolling in – everything from bitchy mothers-in-law to drunken brothers to out-of-control children – the overwhelming sense was one of obligation. Big heaping helpings of obligation served cunningly concealed in a chocolate pecan pie.

All I could do was shake my head and marvel, because several years ago I made the decision to just stop fulfilling other people’s obligations over the holidays. They are my holidays, too. And I also came to the realization that I need to make traditions within my own family, because the extended family will not be there someday, and what then? I don’t want to be trying to build and develop holiday rituals when my kids are disinterested teenagers.

Not to mention, when they all have families and traditions of their own someday, I don’t want them to feel obligated to come home to me. I would love to celebrate the Christmas season in different countries and places, when I’m all grown up.

So! Our own Christmas tradition, in case any of you want to borrow some of it. It’s the least-stressful Christmas I’ve heard of yet, because we focus strongly on trying to make it that way. Anything that doesn’t enhance our joy during this most restorative time of the year gets turfed. Because Christmas is for us a totally secular holiday, I explain it to the boys as “a time for good eating, resting, wearing pajamas all day long, spending time with the people who make us feel happy and avoiding the people who make us feel tired or sad… a time to pause in our usual day-to-day craziness to just enjoy each other’s company… a time to be peaceful.” (Or, in other words, an introvert’s dream vacation. I realize I keep bringing that up but it really was, to borrow a word from a friend, a revelation.)

Our season starts in mid-November with a small local Santa Claus parade. There is a big gross sponsored thing that happens in the heart of the city, but after stubbornly attending for years we gave up because the crowds! the traffic! the ten-minute pauses between floats because the 18-wheelers get stuck going around the same sharp turns every year! No thanks. We found a smaller one that doesn’t have people lined up ten deep on the sidewalks, that has ‘hot spots’ with free hot chocolate and snacks, and is over in less than an hour.

The following week I put up the outdoor decorations while the weather is still not too bad, although I don’t turn the lights on until November 25th at the earliest.

During December there are a few non-negotiable family-togetherness activities that must happen:

  • getting & decorating a real live Balsam fir tree
  • decorating a gingerbread house (from a kit, because it’s supposed to be fun, not stressful)
  • making the world’s best sugar cookies, ever (WordPress isn’t letting me link right now. When that sorts itself out I will link to the recipe because it should be shared)
  • decorating indoors (our stuff is pretty kitschy & kid-friendly. or tacky, depending on your point of view)
  • taking the boys shopping to get gifts for us, and for each other
  • baking gingerbread men
  • watching “Scrooge” with Alistair Sim & wrapping Christmas presents while drinking Bailey’s (OK, that one is just for me, really)

We have all had some input into these and everyone has at least one thing that is particularly important to their holiday.

On Christmas Eve I am closed all day. That’s my line in the sand. I realize not everyone gets Christmas Eve as a holiday, but the main reason – really the only reason – why I’m offering home child care is so I can be more present for my family. So! Bye bye on December 23rd. It’s been a slice. See you after New Year’s.

I spend the day making a big ol’ turkey dinner, with all the trimmings. Two batches of bread stuffing because there is never enough stuffing. We’ve had the same two couples as dinner guests for the past several years, and it’s really nice. They don’t have kids of their own but they enjoy ours, and our kids love them to pieces, so it’s a great way to have Christmas Eve be a fun experience rather than twelve hours (or more) of over-excited children waiting for their presents.

We eat dinner between 5 and 6; then the kids get into new pajamas and hang out until the turkey/pie combo makes them good and sleepy. That is our secret weapon. Our house is a split-level and so the living room and all bedrooms are only feet away from each other. For Santa to come without waking everyone up is a bit of a trick. Helping them sleep by putting them in a food coma makes it possible.

In the morning, there are to be NO CHILDREN OUT OF THEIR ROOM until 6AM. They have clocks and know how to use them. They’ve never broken the rule yet, although last year I was woken out of a sound sleep at 6:01AM by a bony, cold, 6 year old’s finger poking me rhythmically in the left armpit. Festive!

It’s then a mad free-for-all under the tree. Harry is an unrepentant “rip-it-all-open-NOW-before-it-disappears!” kind of a kid. Ron is more methodical. They both are good at expressing sincere appreciation for what they’re given, which is good to see.

Eventually, we have coffee and breakfast (although chocolate for breakfast is perfectly all right.) I do not cook on Christmas Day, once breakfast is out of the way – it usually involves bacon and/or sausage. The rest of the day the kids can eat whatever they please; there is always lots of food available, and I’m not worrying about nutrition. I usually have a vegetable tray with dip all ready to go, and I find by noon they are looking for something healthy anyway.

No one gets dressed. All day. We call the kids’ grandparents to thank them for their gifts. I’ll usually call my sister in Charlottetown later in the morning. Sometimes Michael’s sister comes by for a couple hours, sometimes she doesn’t. It’s all very relaxed and low-key.

And there is LOTS of Lego.

Boxing Day, if we feel like it, we head to my parents’ in the afternoon. This year we may not go until the 27th. We’ll see how everyone is feeling. There’s no pressure on either end – I realize I am very lucky in this – and so we avoid the dreaded Forced Family Outing, or FFO. We go and do what we want, and it’s AMAZEBALLS. Like, we’re talking double-rainbow levels of joy and merriment.

Toward the end of the holiday week we start cautiously venturing outside, sometimes to visit friends, sometimes just to take the kids out for dinner or to drive around and look at the Christmas lights.

We gradually rejoin the wider world in preparation for the day after New Year’s.

This year, of course, we’ll add a birthday celebration of some kind for Baby G right at the end, on Twelfth Night. A nice wrap-up to the season.

How about you? Do you look forward to Christmas, or do you dread it? Is there one obligation you can choose to let go of this year?




  1. That sounds really, really nice!

  2. My husband cooks a turkey on the 25th. But sometimes on the 24th. Usually my parents come for a visit (they live in another province). That’s as close to traditions as we get. Truthfully we are just too lazy to remember what we did the previous year and neither of us is nostalgic.

    • NO WAIT! I remembered a tradition: my husband and I argue every year about putting up outside lights. I think they’re ugly. He thinks they’re magical. Feelings are hurt. Tempers are frayed. I hide the lights from him. He buys new ones. EVERY YEAR!

  3. That sounds relaxing! Although I am a total introvert, for some reason I LOVE the holidays and the family GTG’s (though my feeling is that if I can make it, I do, but if not I’m okay with it – my mother does lay on the guilt but I just don’t care – it’s her issue, not mine) I love the decorating, the making/baking of gifts, the visiting, etc. I think partly because I am home every day, the holiday season makes a nice change of pace with its parties and gtg’s and events. I get to dress up! And wear make-up! And no one is snotting on me!
    Oh, and I am always closed the week of Christmas – and this year I also took off the Friday before…too many times in the beginning of the day care did I stay open thinking people had to work, only to find they took it off and sent their kids to day care…no more!

    • Oh, I did put my foot down when my kids were smaller. We stay home on Christmas Day. Everyone is welcome to come, but we are not going anywhere. Bliss!

      • I feel like that most of the time, if I’m talking to people with no kids. I have three and their toys are all here. Are you SURE you want them in your toyless, non-child-proofed and probably very clean home? ARE YOU SURE? (And then I wiggle my eyebrows in a threatening fashion.)

  4. This is all so smart, and lovely. Our Christmas holidays are similar, and always great – all the drama happens on my husband’s side of the family, and we seldom see them at Christmas, except his grandparents. We’re big on pajama days and reading and eating whatever you want too. We walk around at night to look at the lights and watch Elf, which is the only time I can abide Will Farrell. My sister and her family often come, and this year they’re coming on Boxing Day, which the grownups think is great because everyone gets xmas day at home, but the kids think it’s ruining the tradition. They’ll get over it. 🙂

    • ELF IS THE GREATEST CHRISTMAS MOVIE EVER!!! We watch it every Christmas Eve.

  5. This year, for the first time, it just happens to be working out that almost everyone who usually ends up at my house on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day are going to be other places. And I’m not even remotely disappointed or feeling bad in any way about. I am rather excited, and feeling very liberated. I will still cook on Christmas Eve so we have leftovers on Christmas Day. And my parents and maybe my sister and her hubby may show up for a bit that day. But nobody will except anything big of me. And, for the first time ever, I am off from Christmas Eve through New Years. That may be the best part of all!

  6. When my oldest reached the age at which he understood the concept of Santa, I put my foot down and we stopped driving all over creation and staying in other relatives’ houses for Christmas. It’s 6 years later and I haven’t looked back.

    Our traiditions include getting a real tree, decorating, and the day of eating cinnamon rolls while opening gifts. The last couple of years we’ve had over friends with kids of similar ages for dinner, but this year they are out of town, so we’ll wing it. Christmas Day itself is just for what we want to do. Since we have three sets of parents between us, the week before and after can get full satisfying all of their pressure to dine with them and see the kids. But at least we have the one day for just us.

    My personal tradition is taking off from work the week between Christmas and New Years from work because I don’t need work nonsense in the midst of all of the holiday stuff 😉

  7. That sounds absolutely perfect. I aspire to do the same, but right now we still have the family visit obligations – and everyone’s in another city, so after Christmas Day it’s always drive, visit visit visit, drive home. Someday :).

    I love your idea of the turkey dinner on Christmas Eve. That works especially well for us as we’re leaving town Boxing Day morning, so we’d have an extra day to eat leftovers. That’s a new tradition for us, for sure!

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