As we head into another round of year-end holidays, my daily routine is gradually becoming monopolized by the seasonal tasks and activities I undertake at this time of year with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement because I’ve always loved celebrating these holidays, trepidation because I sometimes get a bit carried away and there are moments when I notice I’m feeling more exhausted than festive!
Back in 2001 when, finding myself again in the throes of trying to get a handle on how to minimize the stress of preparing for the holidays, I created two checklists to help me more efficiently navigate what amounts to the entire month of December. I tried to identify all my self-imposed annual holiday chores, plus a separate list of holiday rituals that I particularly enjoy. I had to use a really tiny font to get those two checklists onto a single page, but I managed! Recently I unearthed a copy of this document and thought it would be interesting to post them here as a sort of index to the way I typically go about celebrating the holiday season.
Two things have changed in my life since I created those checklists fifteen years ago – two things, I mean, in addition to the still-rather-recent but clearly relevant fact that as a retiree I have so much more time for everything, including the past four annual cycles of holiday-related chores and pleasures!
The two changes since I first compiled my checklists:
- I’ve re-framed (for myself, anyway) what I’m celebrating. After gradually realizing I prefer to celebrate the annual change of seasons rather than the birthday of someone who many revere as the Savior of Mankind, I have tried to deliberately de-Christianize the objects I use to decorate my house for these holidays. I also have made progress on trying to de-commercialize my holiday festoonery, getting rid of most of the Santy Clausey ornaments, etc. (I have hung onto a few non-Americanized “Father Christmas” things.) These two decisions resulted in my jettisoning several bins worth of decorations I’d hauled down from my attic every year for decades to mark the season, while preserving (and seeking out additional) images and symbols that are more evocative of references to the Winter Solstice. For example, I still love the idea of bringing a tree into the house, and I like using lots of candlelight the final week of December.
- I have tried to simplify my year-end house decorating, food preparing, and gift-giving activities. I like to think that one day I’ll be content with merely setting out a few bowls full of ornaments and serving my visitors only cheese and crackers along with their cups of tea every December – but as anyone who knows me well could tell you, I’m not quite there yet.
Aside from my determination to de-commercialize, de-Christianize, and de-complicate my celebration of the end of the year, there are many things I love about the way most of my friends and family celebrate the year-end holidays:
- the more-festive-than-usual gatherings of families, friends, and neighbors – although, for me, the smaller those gatherings, the more I tend to enjoy them.
- the seasonal decorations (especially the ones that aren’t religion-themed).
- the exchanging of greeting cards and/or gifts and the bonds and the acknowledgement of fondness and gratitude that these rituals represent.
- most of the traditional foods and beverages.
- some of the traditional seasonal music. Not the inane stuff that relentlessly assault the ears of the hapless customers of most retail establishments, mind you, but a handful of the traditional carols (especially Celtic-inflected instrumental versions) and the classical pieces.
Despite my ongoing efforts to simplify the hoopla I put myself through to make December more visibly festive than other months of the year, I was surprised to notice that I continue to look forward to undertaking many of the tasks and activities appearing on my fifteen year old holiday checklists. I probably shouldn’t be surprised: even though I’ve morphed and tweaked my holiday routines to make them more consistent with my beliefs and less stressful to carry out, I’ve always liked the notion of seasonal festivals, and I am notoriously sentimental.
At any rate, I’m reproducing here updated versions of the aforementioned year-end seasonal checklists partly as an acknowledgement of how enthusiastically I immerse myself in the seasonal madness (or what I consider to be its most positive aspects), partly out of curiosity at how many of the items on these lists will disappear from the lists over the next fifteen years, and partly in case the checklists might be useful to someone else who finds checklists immensely useful in minimizing stressful undertakings!
The photos of some of my holiday house decorations that I’m including below were taken at various different Christmases/Solstices Past – some of them in houses or apartments where I lived before moving to McLendon Avenue in 1993.
Checklist #1: Cal’s Year-End Holiday Chores
bring down from the attic the dozen bins of holiday festoonery
sort through each bin to decide what to use this year (and what to discard)
return the dozen empty bins to the attic until after the holidays
buy set up decorate the tree
arrange presents, extra ornaments, fruit, etc. under the tree
obtain evergreens to use throughout the house
buy a sufficient supply of votive and pillar candles to minimize the need for electric lights when visitors come to call during the holidays
buy poinsettias and/or amaryllis and/or Christmas cacti and/or rosemary topiaries
decorate the mantel
install outdoor decorations:
front porch & railings front door front windows mailbox
wash and iron the dining room tablecloth
make centerpieces for the dining room table coffee table
decorate living room
decorate the dining room
decorate the kitchen
decorate the alcove in the hallway
decorate the study
decorate the bathroom
return to the attic all the now-empty bins
buy bring inside a sufficient supply of firewood
pick out and purchase a sufficient supply of this year’s cards
buy a sufficient number of commemorative stamps
assemble holiday rubber stamps, stamp pads, seals, sealing wax, inks, etc.
create type print annual holiday newsletter and reading list
prepare a digital version of my newsletter and reading list to post to my blog
update addresses on my holiday card list
fold and insert the printed newsletter into each card
address the cards
take to the post office the finished cards with newsletter enclosure
and mail to in-town friends & family out-of-town friends & family
locate and purchase this year’s supply of gift wrapping
compile create duplicate type & print playlist wrap deliver or mail multiple copies of holiday music recordings as gifts
buy wrap annual jigsaw puzzle & chocolate cherries for Mom’s stocking
buy my copy of wrap Flanders’s copy of the annual teapot calendar
buy wrap gifts or stocking presents for in-town friends family
buy wrap mail gifts for out-of-town friends family
buy & wrap all stocking gifts for friends family
prepare contributions to holiday potlucks
buy ingredients for prepare package deliver
whatever homemade treat I’m making for friends (cranberry compote? chocolate bark? rum balls?)
buy sufficient quantities of eggnog tea sparkling cider
make a trip to Farmer’s Market to buy abundant supplies of fresh fruit (and, less abundantly, fresh flowers) to display on the mantel and in assorted baskets
schedule holiday season visits with in-town friends out-of-town friends
email invitations to the three Solstice Teas I host in my living room
clean the house for the scheduled (and any impromptu) tea parties
change linens for any overnight guests visiting during the holidays
Checklist #2: Cal’s Annual Holiday Rituals
Reflect on my ongoing ambivalence about what celebrating Christmas and/or the Winter Solstice currently means to me
Transform the house with seasonal festoonery (ideally, a bit differently than in previous years and minimizing the purchasing of additional decorations)
Decide what I’m going to mention in my annual holiday newsletter
Consider fooling around with some old-fashioned (i.e., snailmail-related) materials like colored inks, sealing wax, and commemorative postage stamps)when sending out Solstice cards (and newsletter)
Unearth the presents I’ve bought throughout the year for specific people, and wrapping them
Formulate a series of shopping trips, preferably to non-chain stores, for purchasing as-yet-unpurchased gifts; time those trips to minimize exposure to traffic or parking nightmares and to blaring Xmas carols
Take time while I’m wrapping each gift to think about the person whose gift I’m wrapping
Schedule a visit with my friend Kris to the cabin in North Georgia to address our holiday cards and consider doing some holiday baking
Eagerly anticipate the ritual of receiving, opening, reading, and displaying the holiday cards people mail to me
Sift through and re-enjoying holiday cards (and annual newsletters) from Holidays Past
Make time to sit down in front of the fireplace and enjoy a mindful cup of tea, hot cider, or hot chocolate
Enjoy the annual round of visits with friends and family
Temporarily abandon moderation in consuming artery-clogging, yummy holiday treats like eggnog, homemade baked goodies, chocolate fudge, etc.
Listen to each of the holiday music recordings I’ve made over the past fifteen years as gifts for friends and family
Participate in at least one year-end public festivity—a candlelit tour of homes, the Botanical Garden’s Xmas Stroll, the Historical Society candlelight tour, a holiday choral concert, etc.
Create and enjoy holiday smells: evergreen boughs, bayberry candle wax, simmering cider, baking cookie dough, etc.
Reflect on my gratitude for relationships past and present with friends and family alive and not alive
Invite my friends to the house (individually or in groups) for a candlelit tea-drinking salute to the Winter Solstice
Listen by candlelight to a recording of poet Dylan Thomas reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales or re-watching John Huston’s movie version of James Joyce’s short story The Dead (set at Christmas in Dublin in the early 1900s)
Be startled by walking into a room with a tree in it
Gaze at the indoor tree and enjoy the resulting trance state
Set aside at least one evening in late December for driving through nearby neighborhoods looking at outdoor decorations
Try to finishing all my holiday chores – including all giftwrapping – early enough to relax and enjoy a completely chore-free evening on December 24th
Join the other Goughs (and assorted others) for the family’s Xmas Morning traditions: being together, munching down on mom’s sausage balls before opening the presents, emptying out our Xmas stockings, savoring the mincemeat pie, etc.
Escape the city to spend an exquisitely calm New Year’s Eve in a cozy cabin in the middle of the woods in the mountains of North Georgia
If you happen to enjoy certain holiday rituals or seasonal pleasures that aren’t mentioned in Checklist #2, please consider mentioning them in a comment to this blogpost. I’m always hoping to incorporate additional ways to enjoy the holidays, and you might have found some I haven’t discovered yet!