pulling it together
The term Simplified Holidays would be considered an oxymoron by most. The social obligations alone used to leave me exhausted. Finding time to decorate, buy gifts, and plan holiday gatherings used to seem overwhelming. In my search for ways to simplify the holidays, I found that I was the one responsible for making the holidays seem so hectic. In order to simplify I needed to set limits. Here are some tips for simplifying your holidays and keeping tradition alive and well in your home, while remaining socially and fashionably connected.
# 1 Make rules and follow them.
My family all lives within an hour of my home and although I hate driving I ended up spending every holiday on the freeway. I finally made the no driving rule. I’ll drive on Christmas Eve, I’ll drive on Thanksgiving, I’ll drive on New Year’s Eve, but on Christmas Day I stay put. Instead I invite everyone to spend the day at my home. Rules should fit your personality. If you don’t like entertaining, then perhaps spending time in your car is more appealing to you. You can spend the day visiting family. Appetizers at one house, dinner at the next, dessert at another, and after dinner drinks at the last. When it comes to family and holidays compromise and flexibility are a must, but if you have just one rule then communicate it and stick to it.
# 2 Simplify gift giving.
Sit down with your family to discuss how you can limit your purchasing. For extended family choose family gifts instead of individual gifts. Memberships to the zoo, movie tickets, and games all make great family gifts.
For the office pick a theme gift with subtle variations. For example, for those you must exchange gifts with, but don’t know very well outside the office, give a business card holder. Not quite as personal as a pen, a business card holder is always welcome and prices range from the very inexpensive, but very stylish, Gloss Business Card Holder at $ 6.25 to the fashionably current Patent Leather Business Card Holder at $35. Finally, the Acme Card Case comes in a variety of gender neutral prints and is very well made and affordable at $29.
# 3 Party only some of the time.
While a yearly holiday party is always fun, if someone in your circle of family and friends has already cornered this market then pick a different holiday. Make your yearly party a Cinco De Mayo or Kentucky Derby Party. The Pamela Barsky Dinner Party Journal will help you make it special.
If you find yourself inundated with invites, be happy you are obviously well liked. To maintain this status you will have to go to each and every party, but if you value your sanity more than your social status it is all right to occasionally decline an invitation. If the party is work related you need to go. If the party is at the home of your best friend, you will need to go. As for the rest, ask yourself what is the worse thing that could happen if you didn’t go. To ensure you are invited the next year make a point of being honest with your host or hostess “I am simply too overwhelmed to get to your party this year, but please keep me on your invite list. Next year should be a bit easier for me.” Follow-up with a lovely note written on a Jack and Lulu Scented Note Card in hot chocolate.
# 4 Create traditions all your own.
Traditions can make the holidays more hectic. For some, traditions sound like an inconvenience “I always make candied pecans during the Holidays. I can’t skip that.” For others, traditions make the holidays easier “I always make candied pecans; I don’t even have to look at the recipe.”
When I first married I tried to follow every tradition that my husband’s family had, my family had, and that I had read about in Martha Stewart Living. What happened was nothing short of a disaster. I ended up exhausted and resentful, which is certainly no way to spend the holidays. I finally decided that I would pick just a few of my most favorite traditions. Cookies, special wrapping, and great stockings are what I am now known for. The kids decorate the tree, and while it doesn’t look like something out of a magazine, it makes me smile every time I pass it. I can’t say that I wouldn’t love to have evergreen cascading down my banister and mantle. I’ve simply decided that stockings, a Christmas tree, a wreath on my door, and red candles are all I have time for. Other things can come and go as time allows, but my “to do” list will only be filled with the basics.
# 5 Master of none.
You can’t be good at everything. (I try to say that often, it is part of my therapy, try it.) With that said you can become very good at a few things. The Holidays are not time to practice new recipes. If you want to try out turkey brining then do a dry run a few weeks before. If you simply must try it out on Thanksgiving then make sure both you and your guests have a good sense of humor. If things don’t work out, and you can’t laugh about it, then a turkey mishap will not bode well for you.
I used to make absolutely everything, the pies (and the pie crusts), the side dishes, the turkey, roast or ham. Even the appetizers and drinks were made from scratch. The problem is I hardly remember eating them. I was just too tired. The Barefoot Contessa’s Ina Garten has some party philosophies that have saved my life. You can still be a fabulous hostess even if you don’t make everything from scratch. Knowing the best pie maker in town (even if it is your neighbor) is still a sign of a great hostess. Answering the door exhausted covered in flour, running back and forth to the kitchen is not. Make a few key dishes from scratch and leave the rest to the experts in the field. Even if your small town doesn’t have a great bakery or sommelier, have no fear, with the advent of the internet you can order cookies from New York and wine from Napa. Use the Internet Journal to keep track of the websites you infrequently use, or build a Holiday notebook (The R + H Gold and Silver notebooks are perfect) with a section on websites.
# 6 Prepare for the unexpected.
I was at my neighbor’s home when a visitor arrived to see her newborn daughter. The visitor had brought some chocolates. The neighbor placed a chocolate on each thigh and said with a smile “why thank you, I’ll put one here and here.” We live in a complex society. Wine, tobacco, and chocolate are not the sure gifts they once were. While one person would love to receive a box of chocolates, another will see it as a diet disaster. Instead keep gift certificates or gift cards on hand. Someone will almost certainly find something they can eat or drink at Starbucks. Many websites even offer e-mail gift certificates, which can be purchased and sent instantly.
# 7 Look fabulous or the pictures will come back to haunt you.
Deciding what to wear to a holiday party 20 minutes before the party starts is not good for your stress level or your image. Take some time to think about the different obligations you will have and start looking for outfits now. One great skirt can get you through an entire season. Wear it to one party with a tight fitting cashmere sweater and ballet flats and to the next party with a satin tank and great heels. Being fashionable and being prepared isn’t expensive, but it does take a little planning.
I hope these tips help make Simplified Holidays less of an oxymoron and more of a reality for you.
CEO & Founder
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