The Pursuit of Holiday Happiness

A friend and I met for coffee in a local mall a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Given Isabella's stroller-phobia and my general hatred of most shopping that involves my physical presence in a retail establishment (oh, how I love you, Cyber Monday), I don't get to the malls very often.

I was maddened, as I am every year, to see the stores decked out in full holiday regalia already. It wasn't even mid-November at the time. It wasn't so much the in-your-face commercialism, or the fact that retailers would like to see me and the rest of the world's shoppers skip Fall altogether and launch ourselves head-first into holiday shopping in October.

It was the fact that seeing the garland, the bows, the bells, and the sale signs everywhere I turned reminded me that the holidays are not the most wonderful time of the year for me because of this. It wasn't always this way. When I was a child, I couldn't wait for the holidays, and while the anticipation of ripping into presents was a part of my joy, it wasn't everything. Sharing the traditions of my family made me almost as happy as unwrapping my fourth Cabbage Patch Kid. And somehow, I've let the "Buy! Buy!" messages interrupting Survivor every 10 minutes kill the true meaning of the holidays for me in the last few years.

Then I stumbled across this post shortly after that trip to the mall. Tracey writes about her family's holiday traditions, and what makes this time of year special for her. And on Monday, Melissa did the same. So in the spirit of attempting to recapture what the holidays should represent, I've decided to make a concerted effort to establish some of the same traditions with Isabella that I experienced as a child. I don't want my negative energy about the holidays to rub off on her as she grows. I want to make the holidays as special for her as my mom did for my sister and me when we were young. And in the process, I hope to be a little less surly as the days tick down until Christmas.

On Thanksgiving morning, my mom would bake cinnamon rolls for my sister and me to eat while we watched the parade on tv. I continued this tradition once I moved out on my own, and this year, Isabella enjoyed her first cinnamon roll while staying glued to the tube, hoping for a glimpse of Elmo on the Sesame Street float.

Each year, beginning with the year of our births, my mom would give my sister and me an ornament that represented one of our hobbies or interests, or an event that occurred in our lives during the year that had just passed. I have a delicate china ballet slipper for the year I began dance lessons, a silver disco ball ornament for the year I returned from living in London, silver Docs in tow, and a bronze angel ornament she gave to me the year my grandfather died. Isabella received her first ornament, a small cream-colored bell, last year, and she'll receive another this year. I'm thinking a set of false teeth hanging on a string might be appropriate.

Baking is always a huge part of the holiday season in my family. My great aunt, she of the weekly Sunday dinners, bakes over 3,000 cookies each year. My mom would always bake my absolute-favorite candy cane cookies (which I attempted to replicate with less-than-perfect results two years ago), and I would eat them hand-over-fist. Isabella and I baked for the first time together last Christmas (for only being a mere 4 months old, she was quite adept at dough-rolling), and this year, we'll give it a go once again.

And I've decided that next year, I will extract from my great aunt the many cookie recipes she keeps in her head and put together a family cookbook.

On Christmas morning, my sister and I would pile our presents in front of us, and place my mom's in front of her. And then one-by-one, we would open them, as well as our practical stocking gifts, such as toothbrushes, emery boards, and bookmarks. I enjoyed the calm and unfrenzied pace of opening gifts this way, and while it may not always be possible to do things this way when Isabella is very young, I'm hoping to teach her as she grows to take things a little slower (advice I need to follow myself).

All is supposed to be calm this time of year, right? Please help me step off the hamster wheel by sharing some of your holiday traditions, so I may steal them and make them my own.

10 Responses to “The Pursuit of Holiday Happiness”

  1. # Anonymous Lis Garrett ~ a writer's woolgatherings

    Great post, Kristi! It's funny how as we get older, the holidays becomes just a few more stress-packed weeks in our lives. I'm suffering ANOTHER eye infection, and I am convinced it only happens when I am feeling particularly frazzled. I'm thinking about posting little notes around the house reminding me to "Slow Down!" "Don't Worry About It" "Everything Will Be Okay." Over the years, I've begun to put out fewer Christmas decorations. Now I decorate the fireplace and Christmas tree - that's it. My kids still like to get into all the decorations, and that never ceases to add to the stress.  

  2. # Blogger Jesser

    It's a very timely issue and I've been thinking about this stuff too. The last few years have been really disappointing and stressful for me at Christmas ... and mostly because of my hubby's family. They just don't seem to "get it." In my family we really enjoy finding special gifts for one another ... something you open and have never seen or thought of that the other person took some real time, effort or thought to produce or find for you. I love giving gifts that make my parents cry. But in his family, it's all about the $$. How much was spent. His brother got pissed off at us because we bought him something that wasn't on his wishlist (that I'm sure he returned). His sister only wants cash. Ever. And everyone wants to rip open presents in about 2 minutes ... whereas I'm used to going slowly and chatting and seeing what everyone got, etc. etc. *sigh* It is just not much damned fun. But this year, I am too making a real effort to bring back the wonderful aspects of the season ... the little traditions and the fun that can be had. I'm making a special stuffed animal for Tabby and though I know she won't get much of it this year, it's time to start enjoying the holidays again and bring back the fun stuff.  

  3. # Blogger Tracey

    Glad to hear you're dedicated to bringing back the magic of the season! Your daughter will appreciate it as she grows up. It's not the big presents or the perfect scenarios that they remember, it's the traditions, the excitement, the smells and the sounds. Mostly, it's the love that you teach her to share with others.

    Merry Christmas!  

  4. # Blogger M

    We don't have any fancy traditions. We put up our Christmas tree and decorations on Thanksgiving while watching the Macy's Day parade. I decided to buy Madelyn an ornament each year, this year's I think will be Elmo which has become her choice character, and I'll be doing the Christmas pajamas as well. We are also adopting a family this christmas so we'll be compiling a food basket and gifts and delivering it to their house. I think this might become a yearly tradition.  

  5. # Blogger Damselfly

    I think I'll adopt your mother's ornament tradition. Great idea!

    Wishing you a less hectic and more joyful December....  

  6. # Anonymous Linda

    Retail outlets frighten me around the holiday season...I tend to get a little claustrophobic when fighting to sift through the skeleton piles of rejected clothes and toys already picked to the bone by mothers and grandmothers snatching up every single item listed on their child's encyclopedia of Christmas desires.

    My favorite part of the holidays is the time I get to spend at home with my family; decorating the house, baking Christmas cookies, pouring myself that first huge glass of eggnog and then remembering how thick and rich it is, and pouring myself only half a glass from then on. With all the rushing around of the holidays, it's a wonder every mother doesn't have a panic attack! I enjoy cozying up on the couch with my family and popping in the DVD set of the Original Christmas Classics (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Frosty the Snowman, just to name a few). You can get this limited keepsake edition set at any place that sells DVDs, and it even comes with a bonus music CD! You can also get it at

    I find that slowing down and watching a movie can make you forget about all the hustle and bustle for a while :) I work with Classic Media, and when I'm feeling a little nostalgic, I don't have to hunt around for my dusty Rudolph VHS anymore! I hope you have a lovely holiday! It sounds like you're well on your way :)  

  7. # Blogger Marie

    Another vote for the traditional Christmas movies & classic tv specials (the OLD ones)... And classic carols... And caroling...

    I took K to the Eastman House the other day to see the gingerbread house exhibit. Then out to lunch on "the avenue." I'm thinking it might need to be an annual tradition! At least as long as my little boy doesn't mind being in public with his mama.  

  8. # Blogger sher

    OK, as Christmas approaches I start the decorating. There's the oppressive (because I'm fed up with it) Christmas scene. My bird loves it because she tries to kill all the little figurines, and it makes her feel so good. Then there are the 10 million Christmas ornaments that my mom gave me. I love them, but it takes 2 days to put them all on the tree!

    But, after I'm done with the decorating--I feel very happy!  

  9. # Blogger kenju

    Many of us have been brainwashed by commercial decorations and the urging to buy, buy, buy and don't be late. What gets me mad is that it is insinuated all over TV and print media that if we don't already have all our presents bought, cards sent and decorations up by Dec. 1st, we are hopelessly behind. BAH HUMBUG!!  

  10. # Blogger Shannon

    love your post!!  

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