or something like that

Up until this last week, I’ve been uncharacteristically chill about Christmas. The reasons are varied. 

1. Thanksgiving was late, so we were still riding those lingering festive fumes well into December.

2. I mostly stayed out of stores (except for one day when I went on a mad and desperate hunt for jeans, I HATE CLOTHES SHOPPING).

3. There’s been no snow, which makes everything decidedly unfestive and ordinary.

4. We’ve been drifting in and out of illness.

5. Schedules have been wack. With the kids running hither and yon — on Friday the older two returned from their Colorado trip just a couple hours after my younger daughter left for Puerto Rico for two weeks — routine flies out the window, and there’s not much time or energy to dedicate to festivities. 

Mostly, I just pretended Christmas wasn’t happening. The lack of pressure felt amazing. How far could I take this, I wondered. We already skip the gifts, but what about nixing the stockings, too? Do we actually need a tree? And who really cares about a Christmas Day turkey or ham anyway?

Days ticked by and still no tree, no thought of stockings, no nothing. Well, except cookies. I like the cookies part and happily baked trays of peppernuts and butter cookies, gingerbread men and Russian tea cakes.

It was lovely.

I’d seen articles (didn’t read them, though) about how women shoulder the bulk of making the Christmas magic, and it’s true: it probably wouldn’t occur to my husband to do anything to celebrate Christmas until the 24th at 7 pm, if then. So, with the older kids beyond the magic stage, and my younger daughter gone, why bother stressing myself out over something that no one particularly cared about? 

But when I ran my brilliant no-stockings plan by the kids, my younger son gave me such a beseeching, pleading, crestfallen look that my very soul was pierced. I’m already aware that he is growing up in a very different family from the one his older sibs grew up in and that, just because the older kids are poised on the edge of the nest ready to leap, it doesn’t mean he is. This still-cuddly, lanky, as-tall-as-me boychild of mine fiercely loves, craves, and needs our togethering traditions.

So we reversed course, but with a couple changes: my husband would be in charge of the stockings (this is how I delegate responsibility so I don’t have to take responsibility for everything) and the older kids are in charge of each other’s stockings.

Or something like that.

We did eventually get a tree, but just barely. (My younger son had gotten so desperate for holiday cheer that he’d resorted to making miles of paper chains and stringing them all over the house. Getting the tree was the only way to make him stop.)

Saturday, four of us drove over to the farm to get the tree, and then I played Christmas music and baked cookies while my younger son quietly decorated the tree all by his lonesome (until I texted my husband to please come help because the youngest child decorating the tree all by himself is heartbreaking), all the while feeling mildly guilty about our last-minute slapdashness until I realized that it was solstice, and, Oh hey, look at us being all light-up-the-dark intentional!

So here are the questions I’m mulling over: How to shift celebrations to accommodate a changing family while still respecting everyone’s needs? How to steer clear of consumerism without being grinchy? How to create togetherness and tradition without it becoming a burden?

There’s no answer, I know. Just, flexibility coupled with selfcare and trying to be generous and prioritizing relationships.

Or something like that.

For sure, there will be no Christmas ham this year. My suggestion of a giant salad was met with a minor revolt, so I switched to a lasagna. But then this morning as I was making my grocery list, my older son said, What about hamburgers? and everyone lit up so I switched course yet again. Christmas burgers, here we come!

This same time, years previous: rock on, Mama, sex for all creation, the quotidian (12.21.15), the quotidian (12.22.14), fa-la-la-la-la, how to have a dunging out date, toasty oatmeal muffins, Christmas pretty, homemade marshmallows.


  • Margo

    I haven't been reading your blog faithfully and I MISSED this amazing post until now, after Christmas, which once again made me nearly lose my mind.

    So refreshing to read your approach to Christmas. How did you nix Christmas gifts!? I am in favor, but there would be war in camp if I proposed that here. The big kids definitely do make things festive for Phoebe, which is great and takes some of the weight off my shoulders.

    • Jennifer Jo

      We got rid of Christmas gifts when our oldest was two, so the kids grew up without that tradition, which made it easier. They're not exactly fans, but they're used to it at least.

  • Kirsten Reinford

    The awareness that our youngest is experiencing life so differently than the older kids is growing in me,too. The things that we so fondly remember–books, trips, neighbors at our old house, etc–are not part of her memory, and I feel like I'm running out of energy to be intentional about creating family touchpoints.

    As far as new Christmas traditions, some friends with kids who are flown charge each person with planning an activity for the whole family to do when they are gathered (in lieu of gifts). Whether it's going ice skating (paid for by the person who planned it) or making sushi or playing The Price Is Right, they are spending time together and sharing the responsibility of making memories. I hope to move in that direction as the kids get older.

  • Lissa

    We are good friends with 2 families that have 8 kids. And needs and desires are quite different. Especially the parental energy and a feeling of "been there and done that many times". But all are troubled by the very different childhoods the youngest ones are having. My one friend commented that "we wanted a large family because of the traditions and fun of having the energy that comes with a big family". I have only 2 grown children with their spouses. The desire to come home and have Christmas is still quite strong. Funnily enough, when we are at their homes, they realize that the energy needed to make Christmas is harder to find. I'm around your mom's age and still feel the longing to go home for Christmas where my parents and grandparents made it so special. I guess my thought is that your youngest is entitled to his own magical Christmas memories the same as the first two. He will be your best source of what matters most to him. (And some day there will be grand babies ). How did your mom manage?

  • Gigi

    The one thing I have discovered over the years – other than the fact that my child does NOT like a change in any tradition – is that if nothing else happens – those stockings NEED to happen. This is, by far, his and his father's very favorite part of the frivolity.

  • katie

    I love these questions. I hope you discover your answers, even as they change. They change for us every year as we face each different holiday season as a family split by divorce. I question deeply my feelings, motivations, traditions, and how to move forward (or not) with them, and how to interact with the world from this place. I have holidays (like today) mostly by myself in a situation largely unimaginable from the way I was raised and yet have to come to terms with it one way or another. They aren't bad now. It's just different. So different.

  • Anonymous

    Jennifer, Merry Christmas!! I really enjoy following your blog and using many of your recipes!! Thank you!!
    Janet -Woodway, WA

  • farm buddy

    Since I raise grass-fed beef, I am making prime rib for Christmas dinner for my friends. You still have some of your home-raised beef, right? Prime rib is EASY to make and oh so special and delicious!! Baking cookies is fun too, but being so busy on my farm and always being short of ingredients (no vanilla? who needs that? No brown sugar, well I guess white will work), I just made a bunch of thumbprint butter cookies (I have a cow, so I actually HAVE butter!). Anyway, I hope your family thoroughly enjoys your Christmas and every day!

  • Unknown

    We have usually traveled far after Christmas, so our meal celebration is usually Steak which doesn't leave leftovers. We are moving in a few weeks and are going to see a new struggling grandbaby so we did minimal Christmas (we are empty nesters which does make a difference.) and put up a ceramic Christmas tree and a few decorations. We also celebrate at our grown children's house. But you have to find what works for you and it does change and adjust as you go.

  • Jennifer Jo

    Argh, I've been meaning to post this recipe! Maybe I will later, but for now, from an email my mother sent me when I requested the recipe:

    1 c soft butter
    1/2 c 10x sugar
    1 t vanilla
    2 1/4 c flour
    1/4 t salt
    3/4 c chopped pecans

    chill dough
    roll into small, firm balls and bake at 400 degrees
    roll twice in 10x sugar–as soon as they come out of the oven and again before serving

  • Karren

    Sounds like you tried to stop the whole parade all in one season. I started stopping years ago, one tradition at a time. Still do the ones that bring me joy, real tree, the decorations the kids made and we all remember, but stopped most of the other stuff. We haven't gone to hamburgers, (yet) but oyster stew and shrimp over hot coals are in the plan this year, and we had brisket for thanksgiving. Go slow, and they probably won't notice at all. Or if they do, just say oh, I forgot, and recruit them to help. It's all good.

  • mamateach

    Well, bless you, I think! When we moved last year I thought it was a perfect time to nix traditions and begin new ones, especially the oyster stew on Christmas Eve. No one likes it anyway, well maybe one or 2 do but even from those who don't like it arose such a revolt. So, again this year, we will have oyster stew on Christmas eve (even if Christmas Eve is Friday) and ham for Christmas dinner. Traditions are important, I guess.

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