Make the holidays your own

Do you look forward to or dread the holidays? I’ve been in both frames of mind — depends on what you have to look ‘forward’ to, doesn’t it?

This time of year, with longer darkness and — at least in my part of the world — an ever-present chill in the air, bears considerable emotional impact.

With all of the season’s challenges, it’s really important to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. Have some quiet times, soften the lighting, play a board game or watch a gentle movie.

One of the nicest Christmas breaks my hubby & I ever had was the year he got a bad cold. He wasn’t dreadfully ill, but tired and bedraggled enough that we had to bow out of all invitations.

We spent our days snuggled up inside by our Christmas tree, with a fire crackling, mugs of hot tea and our favourite movies on the television. I made chicken soup and other comfort foods that didn’t tax my hubby’s tummy. When my hubby snoozed in his favourite chair, I read or indulged in some retro paint-by-number artistry (which is not as low-demand as you might think, and remarkably engrossing).

It was probably the most relaxing Christmas we’ve ever had.

One Christmas a few years ago, we, with our nieces and nephews, decided to take over Christmas dinner at my hubby’s sister’s place and have soup and grilled cheese. She was slightly appalled at not putting on a big meal, but she was outnumbered. Several of us brought tabletop grill pans, and everyone contributed something interesting — my hubby and I brought the perfect grilling bread (golden and crispy on the surface, but soft and chewy underneath), our niece made two pots of soup, people brought their favourite kinds of cheese and some delicious add-ins. We banished my sister-in-law from the kitchen and created easy, delicious melted masterpieces in very short order. Then we all sat casually around the dining table and shared the goodies.

My family’s holiday celebrations centred on Christmas Eve. One year, after several busy weeks at work, I decided to keep things simple. I made a huge pot of chicken, sausage and shrimp gumbo a couple of days ahead. All I had to do to serve it was reheat, put out a basket of fresh crusty bread and a big salad. My parents were no longer alive, but my brother came with his kids, partner and her kids, and my mother-in-law wasn’t going anywhere else so we invited her as well. The recipe turned out to be delicious, granted, but I think the cozy and simple meal struck a chord, because that enormous cast-iron pot of soup got cleaned out, even with a big bowl of delicious English trifle waiting on the sideboard.

There was a Christmas when we had both families over and expanded our meal to invite our neighbours from across the street, who had lost both their son and daughter-in-law that year and were now raising their grandsons. We weren’t sure they’d feel comfortable enough to join us, but they did, and our families welcomed them, and it made for a really special Christmas.

The point of holidays, whichever you celebrate, isn’t to drive yourself crazy tracking down gifts, or make everything look like a Hallmark moment, or grit your teeth while relatives behave badly.

Warmth and fellowship are the point. Spend quality time with people who matter to you, and include people who or hurting or would otherwise be alone. Have easy, good food and easy laughter. Put aside differences, because lost time can never be recaptured. Be kind to each other.

I wish for you whatever brings you peace and contentment this holiday season.

A holiday break for tea

I’m sitting here by our Christmas tree, with a fire log burning in the fireplace and a lap blanket keeping my legs warm. There’s a holiday mug with gentle Keemun tea beside me to sip on, and some shortbread cookies to go with the tea.

I love these quiet times — they’re my antidote to all the holiday craziness going on outside our little subdivision. We’re having friends over for dinner this weekend, so I braved the already growing hordes at the grocery store for cooking supplies this afternoon. This evening I made the lentil and herb soup to put in the fridge, and the spice cake that will be the base for a fig and persimmon trifle for dessert, then put my feet up to watch a retrospective of vintage holiday shows on PBS.

The holidays can be challenging, pressure-filled and emotional. Here’s some hard-earned wisdom I can offer:

  • be gentle with yourself and everyone around you
  • don’t try to make everything perfect — that’s usually when things go wrong
  • keep your sense of humour when things do go wrong — believe me, everyone around you has been in the same boat at some point in their lives
  • being a great host means making your guests feel truly welcome in your home, and making sure that you’ve taken into account any food issues so that everyone has something they can eat
  • step away from the craziness periodically and enjoy some quiet time — it will replenish your flagging energy and holiday spirit, much better than running yourself into the ground

As you may have noticed, I’m switching my posts to a biweekly schedule, i.e. every other week, but I will do a special holiday post next week. Take care of yourself in the meantime and have a nice cup of tea from time to time 🙂