There was a time when my preparations for Christmas began as soon as I’d packed away the Halloween decorations. Baking was the first priority, interspersed with endless treks to the malls in search of the perfect gifts. Back in the day, that also meant days of wrapping, ribboning and bowing, not to mention handwritten and mailed Christmas cards. We gave up the wrapping and the cards many years ago, but the baking and decorating have remained as honoured annual traditions.
Not only did I serve platters of homemade cookies at our home when we entertained during the festive season, but I took them everywhere as hostess gifts and handed out 40 to 50 tins as gifts to family, friends, staff and colleagues. At its peak, that meant producing 36 batches of cookies, and we’re not talking drop cookies here. Rolled, cut, layered, piped, pressed, dipped, filled, drizzled, they were the fanciest and most festive confections I could produce. I enjoyed it immensely at the outset, cranking up some rocking Christmas favourites and kicking off with a classic shortbread cut into various yuletide shapes like trees and stars. By the 20th batch of elaborate laborious bonbons, my enthusiasm usually waned a bit. Cleaning up the post-baking mess got old long before that, but I loved serving and giving them. It was always worth the effort.
And decor! Emerging from the days of cherubic Santa faces and reindeer everywhere for the kids, my festive style evolved into something I quite enjoyed creating, in the harmonious hues I love. The bronze, silver and champagne tones that welcome the yuletide in our home are reflected more modestly in my living room, both current and prior, with tans and grays. I enjoyed the process and, undeniably, the result of bedazzling my tree. As we entertained frequently, the house was always thoroughly bedecked by December 1st, at which time we would launch our holiday celebrations, host friends every weekend and maintain a packed schedule of parties and corporate events, culminating in a large-scale party at our home on the Saturday before Christmas, complete with mulled wine and over-the-top hors d'oeuvres.
Although the baking side has downsized enormously since our relocation, I’ve continued to uphold the custom and I've yet to miss a year. My tree and my home have always been enthusiastically decorated by December's arrival. We still host a Christmas party on the Saturday before the big day.
Over the past number of years, I’ve been watching the societal phenomena of Christmas on fast-forward. We’re still a week away from December, and social media posts announcing the completion of festive decor have been appearing in my feed for weeks. Gorgeous they are, too, and if you’re motivated by your love of the season and a desire to prolong it, then I wish you and yours a most joyous one. If your motivation comes from a more practical desire to get the festive trappings out of the way so you can focus more fully on shopping, baking and socializing, kudos to you for your advance planning. Life can get quite hectic over the holidays.
This year, I uncharacteristically feel no urgency at all about Christmas. None. It is, in fact, our turn to host the monthly neighbourhood gathering at our home on December 1st. We’ve drawn the month in previous years and have never even considered holding the event without being able to offer festive cookies in the soft glow of the sparkle from our Christmas tree.
It’s not going to happen this year, at least not by next weekend. I've been consumed by other things, but I'm sure I will get to Christmas sooner or later, and I will undoubtedly enjoy it as I always do. Having said that, I know there will be a year when I choose to opt out. If I decide, this year or any year, that I’m not inspired to bake or decorate, I’m okay with that. Perhaps you're in the same place. Maybe you've had some health issues this year, or challenges with work, family or relationships. Maybe you're just caught up in something so exhilarating that you have no energy left over for the mechanics of holiday preparation. So be it. Give yourself a break.
The decision to skip the annual Christmas routine, should you ever decide to try it, doesn't imply that you have forsaken the spirit of Christmas. Not at all. The spirit is everywhere. It’s in the fellowship, the music, the community, the events and the memories. Even more than that, it's in your heart and in your voice when you belt out the lyrics to a Christmas carol on the radio in your car en route to the grocery store. Most of all, it's in the joy of giving to others, whether it be your compassion, your love or your time. This remains true with or without your homemade cookies, mulled cider, cedar bough garlands and Aunt May's traditional sweet potato casserole.
May the joy of the holidays fill you this season and, in the true spirit of giving, may you also be true to you.