Fewer cookies and 'more mom' make better holiday memories

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"Holidays are when Mom is crabbiest," said a high school junior. "Good food, great gifts, pretty decorations, and a tired mother. It's a tradition." Several of his friends nodded knowingly. "My mom," said another, "is always shopping, baking decorating, or complaining about all the shopping, baking, and decorating she has to do. She gets so worn out trying to make holidays good, she's no fun."

Ironic? Yes. But not uncommon. These mothers think they are making marvelous memories for their families. They are so intent on doing things for their families that they neglect to enjoy them -- and to be enjoyable.m

Many of us make the same mistake. We become so preoccupied with Whatm is to be done that we forget whym it is being done -- and for whom.

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Dr. Ashley Montagu, writing of Christmas in America, points out that "for large numbers, far from being a period of good cheer, Christmas has become an exhausting chore. It is hardest on the women, upon whom the burden falls of doing most of the menial work."

A friend confessed last year to feeling terrible after she'd scolded her youngsters for their countless interruptions while she wrote her Christmas cards. "I suddenly realized," she said ruefully, "I was snapping at people I love while sending out messages of Christmas cheer to casual friends and acquaintances."

Baking nine kinds of Christmas cookies may give some mothers enormous satisfaction. But many find it plain exhausting. Wouldn't fewer cookies and more mother, especially a more cheerful mother, make for better memories?

Before plunging into the usual holiday frenzy, consider setting priorities and, as Thoreau urged, "Simplify, simplify, simplify!"

Having a more relaxed, more enjoyable holiday may mean changing some traditions. And tampering with tradition is often more difficult for adults than for children.

I faced this several years ago, I grew up believing Christmas gifts must be surprises. So I was stunned the year my six-year-old Michael inquired, "Are surprises one of the Christmas laws?"

"What laws?" I asked.

"Oh, you know. Like you have to make mince pie and fruitcake and cranberries for dinner even if no one likes them much."

I assured him that everyone wantsm to be surprised by presents.

"I don't," he said, matter-of-factly.

Steven, his nine-year-old brother, agreed.

The three of us spent the next 30 minutes discussing surprises. I learned a lot.

"Not all surprises are good," Steven explained patiently.

Some are just awful!" Michael added, probably remembering a plastic bowling set we'd surprised him with the previous year.

"And," steven continued, with irrefutable logic, "If presents are a surprise, then you miss the weeks of fun looking forward to them. A surprise lasts a few minutes. Looking forwardm lasts for weeks and months."

I researched the subject with adults and older children. Most agreed with my boys. I heard many stories about surprises that disappointed.

I recalled last year when the boys' presents arrived from my mother in Ohio. Michael shook the box, heard a telltale rattle, smiled broadly, and said, "Good. It's a model plane." It was the first present he opened christmas morning.

How this simplifies my shopping! List in hand, I spend one-third of the time in stores. I enjoy it more because I've eliminated the will-they, won't-they-like-it anxiety.And no one is disappointed on Christmas morning.

I've decided it isn't important to send cards to 84 people. I cut the list by over half. That evening is better spent taking a walk with the children, making a snowman, going ice seeking together.

My friend Sally used to be a great candymaker.Last year she realized that everyone on her fudge list was overweight. She decided it would be kinder to give stationery instead. She spent "fudge night" reading to her children.

Years ago we abandoned a traditional sit-down Christmas Eve Dinner. Instead, I put a tray of sandwich makings from the delicatessen on our big coffee table in front of the fireplace. Everyone fixes his own sandwich. We sit by a roaring fire -- and add the paper cups and plates to the flames when we finish. No preparation, no dishes. I'm with the family all evening -- not in the kitchen.

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