December 25, 2013

I’m a really good gift giver. I find great things and know just who would love them. What I have trouble with is receiving gifts. This year I want to be a better gift receiver, working at kind, non-judgmental receiving…shoving aside any disappointment or disdain. I want to cultivate love for the gift giver person, and the impulse they had to gift something to me! I want to get better at nurturing gestures of giving.


Submitted Saturday, December 21, 2013 7:23 PM

The issue of Christmas is a loaded one for me.  I used to hate this holiday, and I will tell you why. 

On Christmas Eve we always went over to my maternal grandmother's house.  My grandfather on that side died when I was young, so it was my grandma, my mom and dad and her 2 sisters and their husbands, along with one cousin, and another who came along much later.

My grandmother was a difficult woman, to put it kindly, (my mother was somewhat like her).  I think in her own way grandma loved her daughters and granddaughters, but she sure didn't show it.  She was very (vocally) critical...about what we wore...clothes, makeup, hair, shoes, etc. ("Why don't you get a haircut?"  "Why do you need to wear it so long?" "I can't even see your face.")

Additionally, she didn't seem to like the men in the family, and she was always downright mean to them.  ("You're having another drink?  You don't think you snore loud enough already? Why do you have to act like a drunken pig?")

[Aside:  when my sisters and I were very young, my mother actually told her mother that if she didn't treat my father better, she (grandma) would never see her grandchildren again. I guess the above was an improvement.]

And, then, there was the food issue.  Neither of my sisters nor I were big eaters.  This is not a good thing in an Italian family.  "Why aren't you eating?"  "Don't you like the food?"  "Grace, (my mother), is she sick?"  "Here, have this  (half a chicken or whatever), you'll like it."  Etc. etc.  Pushy and LOUD.

Later when I got married, life went on like that, only eventually, I had a baby.  So, the tradition of going to grandma's on Christmas eve continued as well as going to my parents' home on Christmas Day.  (And my husband and I, eventually with baby, having our own Christmas in the morning at our home.) My baby boy, was not happy to change his sleep schedule.  Every holiday meant no nap, or staying up past bedtime and then endless hours of walking crying baby until he finally fell asleep--combined with the loud, pushy Italian relatives who now wanted to know why my baby was so fussy, why he clung to me instead of happily falling into their open arms, etc.

[Aside:  when my son became old enough to understand and use language, I had to tell my grandmother that if she kept haranguing about the "niggers" -- always a favorite topic-- I would not be able to visit anymore because I didn't want him exposed to that language or that attitude.  She did improve on that score.]

Add to this the fact that I always worked full time and the days and weeks before Christmas were jam-packed with end of semester stuff, and Christmas shopping and cooking and so on until I was so exhausted I could barely stand. And, then, there was disappointed mom when my sisters and I didn't go over to her house so we could all spend the day making Christmas cookies, or all go shopping together before or after Christmas...hello, guilt trip for not living up to her expectations, or hating myself for doing all this stuff that I really, really didn't want to do.

My personal positive change (besides the fact that all those relatives are dead) is that I have learned to cut back on what I do (one year I didn't even put up a tree,-- because I didn't want to!!-- and no one really noticed and the world didn't end and Christmas still came and went) and that it is okay not to follow every holiday "tradition" that my family holds sacred.  I have learned I don't have to put out every Christmas decoration I own/have inherited/or been given even though my mother gave me Danbury Mint Christmas ornaments every year and now I have two boxes full that, since she died, I never put out but feel guilty getting rid of.  But, I have decided that I plan to get rid of a ton of Christmas stuff at a garage sale this summer.  (Ok, I haven't fully come to terms with getting rid of the Danbury Mint ornaments.)

I have learned that I don't need or want anything for Christmas, but that my husband always does and so I have just tried to simplify.  We are down to one or two gifts instead of 10 or so, and I hope that eventually we will be down to none.

My dream Christmas would be to sleep in, wake up late and, perhaps, have a hot chocolate (rather than get ready for my family of 18 people to arrive) and have a grilled cheese sandwich or an omelet if I got hungry.  Maybe I'd spend the day watching a movie on TV and reading a book and going for a walk with my dogs.  Maybe Christmas day for me wouldn't be so fraught with the anxiety of leftover memories and anxieties and "have to's."  Maybe this would be a day I would enjoy instead of dread.

I still have a ways to travel to feel friendly with this holiday.

I'm making progress.  I'm confident that I will get there.



I give myself time for me.

What positive changes have I made this year as I prepare for the holiday?  First, something sent by Betty from Garrison Keillor. It seems just right.

A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.”

This year, I am cheating with the sweets. Baking the traditional sweets for the holiday festivities has been evolving in the last decade, but in truth I confess. This behavioral change to cheat and lie allows for greater personal freedom and less irritability, exhaustion and martyrdom.

There is nothing original about someone who does not want to be like her mother. My mission was to be the mom that could go through pounds of butter and sugar and make the most delicious cookies that would prove to my family how very Scandinavian I was. In truth, I am only HALF Scandinavian while my mother’s family were the English, Scotch Irish, Germans, and French Canadians and they actually went through plenty of butter and sugar in their cooking too. Growing up with more of my father’s family, I learned more about the Norwegian and Danish way of making food, and my grandmother in particular was instrumental in teaching me some thing about baking.

Baking had very little appeal to my mother. She was the youngest of seven children, living on a big farm and grew up watching people work and work to grow and make food. While my aunts won blue ribbons at the Ohio State Fair for their baking enterprises, my mother cleverly portrayed herself as inept at baking, and got out of Dodge (the kitchen) as fast as she could.

After marrying my dad, and acquiring a mother in law that was like Martha Stewart on steroids, she knew enough to cut her losses and volunteer to do other activities and avoid the baking.  No one loved the advancement in domestic work more than my mother, and she aggressively experimented with the foods of the ‘50s.  This included Jell-O, Betty Crocker cake box mixes, instant scalloped potatoes, and hamburger helper. Cookies came from the grocery store, isle 4 a la Keebler and Nabisco. And they were good. For my mom. She loved Fig Newtons.

So of course I was destined to make my cookies. I am sure there was a time when I thought I had to, like the little Red Hen, grow the wheat, mill it, milk the cow, cream the butter and gather the eggs maybe harvest the sugar cane and then bake the damn cake or cookies. I baked away, smugly bringing out the baked goods especially at Christmas explaining the various kinds and talking about easy and fun baking was to at the holidays. I gave days of my life to the kitchen. And every baking project started out as FUN, but then it would get to be hours, and hours and by the time I pulled out the last cookie sheet from the oven and cleaned up all the flour and mess…. and it would stop being fun.

And I would ignore these truths for a long time, and my mother just waited and waited and waited until she imagined I would say, “Yes, mom…. you were right. Baking cookies suck. It is not worth the time. I am more like you than I want to admit.” I never did. But slowly I released myself from cooking and baking. And while I love to do the crafty projects, I now cheat a lot.

In fact, just today I lied to my neighbor about chocolate truffles. She loved my little holiday offering and called to say that the chocolate was incredible and would I give her the recipe. And I told her that I just couldn’t because it is secret recipe. But I told her I would bring over more to her if she liked them and she let me off the phone.

Here is the secret recipe. I go to Costco and buy the Kirkland generic chocolate truffles. Which come basically in bulk. Then I open the bag and dump about 12 on pieces of clear cellophane that I then bring together with a bow that is of course red and green plaid, and tie it up pretty. Then I write a little note with something like “nothing chocolate, nothing gained…” and say Merry Christmas.

It works. People eat their share of butter and sugar and chocolate and believe that I have spent hours in the kitchen preparing these holiday treats for them. They feel loved and special.

I do think many people are special and I do love them but not enough to spend that many hours in the kitchen so I lie a little, and allow myself to be a relatively free woman, enjoying a few domestic moments, but giving myself time to write this confessional to my dearest friend who blogs.


I make sure to put time boundaries around visits with family. That way I leave 

before I feel uncomfortable which allows me to be the best me during my visit.