When I was a kid, my mom would laugh and say, “I hate Christmas” (like, pretty much every year). This is a woman who plays the organ at church every Sunday, would throw huge Christmas Eve parties for family and friends, and would bake and cook everything and decorate her house with a ton of sparkle. We had fabulous holidays. But apparently she hated Christmas.
I didn’t get it then. But oh, do I get it now.
Now, I’ve found myself “hating” Christmas too. Obviously I love the spiritual meaning of the holiday, but the rushing, the gifting, the decorating, the lighting, the cooking, the shopping, the hustling, the outdoor light-hanging, the cleaning, the picture-taking, the getting dressed, the pressure to do everything at once in a truncated period (no matter how early we start, and then clean it all up afterward!) tends to annoy me every year.
We all know these things are not the real reason for the season, but we tend to fall into the same frantic trap every year. At least, I do.
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For those of us who work, raise kids and cart them around, clean, cook, clean again, do laundry, volunteer, have big families who are expecting gifts, the holidays can be a lot. (And I’m notorious for being super-moderate when it comes to gifts ...)
So when one of my friends recently invited me to a cookie swap party – an adorable concept, requiring each guest bring a platter of homemade cookies to nosh on, taste test and then vote on to take home on variety platters complete with the recipe attached – I got excited and panicky all at the same time.
Excited to bake (I really do love baking) but also panicky because, well, when the hell am I supposed to bake cookies?
But I paused. I made a choice to stop thinking and I just baked. I tried a new recipe, in fact: Candy Cane Snowball Cookies. They were delicious – fast and easy, just how I like all my recipes. I made an effort to not worry about all the gifts I hadn’t bought yet, all the lights I hadn’t hung yet, all the dirty clothes I hadn’t washed yet or all the holiday cards I hadn’t prepared yet. I just measured. And mixed. And baked. And sugared like nobody’s business.
Somewhere between the sugaring and breaking up extra candy canes to crumble on top for artistic effect, it hit me: Baking makes me feel productive and in control. Feeling in control makes me happy. Being happy makes me a nicer person and more relaxed – which comes in handy for parenting, wife-ing and navigating the season and all its ridiculous and rushed pressures.
Aha. So that’s why we bake during the holidays.
My friend’s baking assignment – that I initially freaked out about – proved to be the most needed, most functional and most fabulous gift I didn’t know I needed so much. I hate Christmas a lot less now, thanks to slowing down and just breathing in my own kitchen. And you know what? I did have time to make those cookies.
In fact, I realize now that I may actually have more time than I feel like I do on most other days too, Christmas season or not. If we remind ourselves to just focus on each task at hand as we do them, the season doesn’t seem as insane as it feels in our heads.
(Maybe I should go shopping while this feeling’s still fresh!)