Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Notes to Myself for the Next Holiday Season

Dear Tara,

Congratulations! You didn't drive yourself completely insane this holiday season. In fact, it was one of the best ever. I guess Christmastime 2008 was a great model of what not to do. For instance, don't try to force the sense of festivity by buying a tree a week before Christmas, when it's so cold outside that your brain shuts down and you find yourself knee deep in a strip mall snow drift, clinging a pathetic, lopsided, dead evergreen, shouting, "This one, Dan! This is the one!" When you found yourself tree-less a week before Christmas 2009, you just decided to forgo the tree. Well done.

In fact, when you look back at what made this Hanukkah/Christmas season so wonderful, it was the usual combination of choice company and scrumptious food. Yes, there were some excellent gifts, but the best part was the time spent with family and friends in the presence of meatballs, cheese, cookies, candy and the best latkes you've ever eaten. That's what you'll remember next year.

So here's a reminder of the things you won't remember, hints on how to perfect that formula for another relaxing holiday time in '10

Nix the Gifts They say that giving is better than receiving. Well, you enjoy receiving as much as any hourly wage earner, but you'd gladly take nothing if you could give the same. There's a good chance that you'll be living far away from friends and family next Christmas and you have to admit to looking forward to the possibility of a lighter gift exchange, or none at all.

But then, I know you well enough to anticipate a sentimental tug in the first or second week of December. You'll think, "What's Christmas without gift giving?" and then you'll start a list. Ten minutes later, you'll be popping Tums in your mouth, wondering how you'll pay for all those gifts or when you'll find the time to shop. Sometime in the following 24-36 hours, you'll have an emotional breakdown, on the couch or in your bed, wondering if you really will be poor for the rest of your life.

Fortunately, that breakdown happened only once this December. Let's aim for zero in 2010. If you feel you must give something, find an alternative to traditional gifts. You could donate money to charity on behalf of others, but there's something sanctimonious in that practice (it isn't as if you give tons to charity any other time of year). Also, a piece of paper that says "So and so made a donation to such and such in YOUR NAME!" just isn't that inspiring. Who cares? The nameholder knows they didn't do anything.

Ah, but remember your boss told you about Kiva! You can buy gift certificates at their website, which the recipient can use to loan money to an entrepreneur in a third world country. When the business owner pays your giftee back, they can loan it to another person. Now there's a charitable donation that's fun and inspiring, and not apt to lead to self-pitying moments that involve you curling into a fetal position.

Hey, speaking of your relative wealth (and paraphrasing Tom Petty) You Don't Have to Eat Like a Refugee That need to shove every visible food morsel in your mouth must be a throwback to those late '80's days when all seven McComb kids were living in the Dearborn bungalow and sometimes there was little more than a couple cans of Spaghetti-os and a tray of Brown and Serve Rolls in the kitchen. When Dad's payday came along and there was bounty, you gorged because you could. Since the holidays are an endless parade of gustatory opportunities, some part of you wants to celebrate by eating constantly.

That's cool. Seriously, why fight the urge? You don't mind gaining a few pounds. But you did mind the unusual acne and that too frequent nasty aftertaste in your mouth. That wasn't from overeating. That was from eating crap food.

Don't eat the crap food. Don't buy the advent calendar with the shitty chocolate. Don't eat the high-fructose garbage that people leave at work. Don't eat from the Sysco deli tray. If you wouldn't eat it any other time of year, don't feel like you need to eat it just because the calendar says it's Christmastime.

Do Have a Party If you are lucky enough to be near loved ones next December, have a celebration. Last week's New Year's Eve party was the first one you and Dan threw since you got married a year and a half ago. Yeah, the wedding was more than enough party planning for a good long time, but now you wish you hadn't waited so long. You and Dan are a great entertaining duo! He bakes the sweets and you cook the savories. He sets up the sound system and you arrange the table. You both pick the music and the company. The rest of it takes care of itself. All your friends get along so well. In fact, you should make a point of doing this a few times before the next holiday season. Why wait?

Other than that, I think you have the rest figured out. You can tell by the short list of regrets and the enormous excitement you're feeling at the start of this new year. Let it carry you through the snow covered season ahead

Your Pal,

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