Sunday, November 27, 2016

HOW TO KILL THE JOY IN YOUR HOLIDAY SEASON

By Sonja Stone


HOLIDAYS WITH A PERFECTIONIST

Fruit and cheese platters: the breakfast of champions

Well, the holiday season has officially begun. I know this because a few nights ago I had my recurring seasonal nightmare. It happens every year, usually not for a few more weeks, but here it is: It’s Christmas Eve, about 11:55 pm, and I’m tucked in bed. Suddenly I wake and realize that Santa forgot to fill the kids’ stockings. There are no gifts, no wrappings, no bows. They’ll be up in a few hours. They’ll pad out of their bedrooms to the Christmas tree with hopeful little faces and discover that Santa didn’t come this year.

The same dream. Every. Single. Year. 

For whatever reason, I have a terrible fear that I won’t create the perfect holiday.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: THE FOOD

The seasonal festivities are launched with Thanksgiving dinner, hosted by yours truly. I prepare for days leading up to the event, usually accompanied by tears and cursing (I do the cursing, not the crying). Every year I vow, “Never again!” but by the time I’m halfway through the meal, basking in accolades, I’m planning how I can kick it up a notch the next time.

The reason I stress so much is, of course, due to my perfectionism. This year it was the pumpkin pies. 

Though I carefully covered the hand-crimped edges of the pies for THE ENTIRE BAKING PROCESS, each pie came out of the oven with a half-burned crust. Maybe I wouldn’t be so obsessive if I hadn’t used fresh-roasted pumpkins, the flesh carefully scooped from the hot shells and forced through a potato ricer, then lovingly mixed and poured into my made-from-scratch crusts, the edges of which were adorned with tiny fall leaves, complete with etched veins. The pies tasted delicious, but each compliment was batted away with, “Do you not SEE the burned parts?” 

Let me tell you how to suck the enjoyment out of your guests’ meal: refuse to accept compliments. Who wants to spend Thanksgiving with a neurotic chef? 

My very public humiliation: burned edges.
AND THEN THERE’S THE TREE

Later today I’ll put up the tree. It’s the same one we’ve had for a decade. It’s the right height, fullness, width. The branches are strong enough to hold my heaviest ornaments. It’s the perfect shade of green. It used to be pre-lit but the lights burned out and I replaced them with spools of warm LEDs. For years I’ve searched for a suitable replacement—an easy-to-assemble, already-lighted tree. But the newer models just aren’t right.

Last year it went like this: after I assembled the tree, I decided I didn’t like its location, so I dragged it across the hardwood floor. Not far—maybe four feet; still not quite perfect. But it moved so swimmingly that I continued to drag the tree (rather than disassemble and move it properly). Except by now I’d reached the area rug. So I negotiated the flimsy stand onto the low shag, then got down on all fours to push from the base. Just so you know, a Christmas tree cannot be pushed across a carpet. The base began to buckle—which I didn’t realize until I’d stood to pull the tree toward me. It fell onto me, scratching my arms and jabbing into my eye. 

After returning from Urgent Care, I decided to string the lights. I wanted a brightly lit, twinkling tree, so I painstakingly wrapped each strand around each branch as I circled the tree. More scratching of the arms, but it would be worth it. I got three-quarters of the way done and realized I was out of lights.

Here you might think, “Big deal. Go to Home Depot and get more lights.” Nay nay—my lights are from Balsam Hill. Gorgeous, ridiculously expensive, and not something I cared to reorder due to poor mathematical skills. And I CERTAINLY wasn’t going to have a Christmas tree with mismatched lights. 

I’m sure you know where this is going—I ripped off the lights and had to redo the entire thing.

THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM

As with everything that goes wrong with anyone’s life, I blame my mother. She created the most magical Christmas mornings. My sister and I continue to hold the expectation of a perfect Christmas. Sometimes we meet the mark, sometimes not so much. 

It might be time for me to let go of my expectations. My kids aren’t little anymore. It probably doesn’t matter if I can’t find quince preserves for the cheese platter or the ornaments don’t hang perfectly from the tree (I like them to gently sway for passers-by). Maybe I’ll deliberately place the strawberries next to the raspberries on the fruit plate (I’m sure you know, two red fruits should be separated by a fruit of another color—blueberries, or slices of bananas sprinkled with cinnamon sugar). Perhaps I’ll purchase store-bought bows, instead of wrapping multiple colors of coordinating curling ribbon around each perfectly wrapped package. 

I get it—I do. Intellectually, I completely understand that if I’m going to enjoy the holidays, I need to set aside my perfectionist tendencies. I’ll have more fun, the kids will have more fun… They’ll stop referring to me as “the big angry head.” I’m not like this the rest of the year; I don’t feel the compulsion to make people happy or comfortable or create the perfect home. So what gives? 

I think that’s it—I feel like I fall short for the rest of the year, and maybe I can make it up in the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Be the perfect mom, the gracious hostess, the thoughtful friend.

You know what? I’ve just made a decision: This year will be different. This is the year I will *gasp* delegate.

Who knows… With enough therapy, I might even be able to replace my Christmas tree.

What about you? Anyone else suffer from Seasonal Neurosis? Leave your stories in the comment section below!




4 comments:

  1. This is funny. I had a similar nightmare for years.. As an interfaith family, we celebrated both Jewish holidays and Christmas - and it was pretty much on me. Every year, the same dream. It would be Christmas Eve. The kids would be gathered around the Christmas tree wondering what Santa would bring - and I'd remember - I'd forgotten to shop. In the dream, I would run out to the stores, and there would be nothing - or almost nothing. For about ten years I had the same nightmare, repeatedly in the holiday season. As they grew and learned the truth about Santa, the nightmare gradually stopped. It's funny, though, isn't it, how seriously mothers take the holidays.

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  2. Oh Sonja, I totally sympathize with this "I want to make it perfect for the family" syndrome. But as you said at the end, now you will "delegate" -- and I'm sure that the whole "spirit" of Christmas will be evident from now on. Oh, by the way, here's a "solution" for the "burnt" pie crust edges....take an old pillow case and rip it up into long strips about 2 inches wide. Dip a couple of them in water -- then stretch one of those strands around the edge of the pie - just covering the crusts. (Save the others for next time). It should come out of the oven OK. Good luck!

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  3. S. Lee, I can't believe you had the same nightmare! Thank you for sharing--misery loves company, lol!

    Karna, thank you so much for the pillowcase tip! I used store bought pie shields because I got tired of fighting with tin foil, but I've never heard of the pillowcase trick! I absolutely will try that.

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  4. I had never heard about the pillowcase tip either. I'm going to try it, too.

    I have to admit, I strive for perfection during the holidays, too. Actually, I'm a perfectionist all year long. I inherited the tendency from my father. Unfortunately, it's hard to live up to your own expectations. I'm all for lowering the bar.

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