Life Unparalleled

Loving Life as a Foreign Service Family – Current Parallel 41° 23' N – Barcelona, Spain

Holidays Keep it Simple


Holidays when I was growing up were shockingly not my favorite time of the year. My mother was often stressed and wanted to do “MORE” which put my low maintenance and less is better father into a stressed and defensive position. My Thanksgivings are marked by a day of being hungry, because we didn’t eat before dinner which was often late, itchy formal dresses, being forced to perform songs or other such things for family, and dishes. Lots of dishes. Christmas was a month of hanging Christmas lights on the house in the cold, dragging decorations out of the garage, the torture of presents under the tree and candy and goodies made that “Were for the neighbors.” My mother loves me but she doesn’t really know me. Most of my gifts from her were not anything I would value. I can’t remember her liking a single gift I ever gave her. My father on the other hand picked out perfect gifts because he would let me pick them out when we were shopping on Christmas Eve. It was not uncommon to have some huge family fight on Christmas. My aunt pouring her drink over my mothers head. My Grandmother picking on me for being mouthy. My uncle coming home from work drunk and causing a raucous. The days after Christmas were spent packing up everything. Much fighting and sulking from my father and a general feeling of dislike for holidays soon arose.

The first Christmas I spent with my husbands family I was amazed at how happy it was. Everyone cooking and cleaning up together. Fun traditions such as building gingerbread houses and playing board games. It was truly healing for my soul. I decided then and there that holidays in my household were going to be stressless.


Thanksgiving Keeping it Simple

  1. I buy rolls also cranberry sauce and stuffing mix. Sometimes good is close enough,
  2. I bake my turkey in a bag. No basting, cooks evenly and is tender. Easy Peasy.
  3. I bake pies, but only the ones I want to and only if I am enjoying it. Peach yes, pumpkin no.
  4. Every kids makes one side. Microwave the peas. Peal and mash the potatoes. Guests bring something.
  5. Dinner is served more as Linner around 1:30 pm. Late enough lunch that you are truly hungry from the yummy smells but not so late as to be torture.
  6. Linner starts on time, even if something is still cooking. You can get up from the table and grab it when done.
  7. No formal clothes. I have sometimes worn pajamas to Thanksgiving dinner.
  8. Clean up is just putting away the food that will give you food poisoning if allowed to sit out while you graze over the food the rest of the day.
  9. Dishes in the morning.
  10. I don’t make soup out of the turkey carcass. This was a hard one. I don’t waste food ever. It never failed though we would start it boiling then I would forget about it over night. One time the pot with the carcass sat for 3 days on the stove because it was too heavy for me to lift and Ben wasn’t home. That was nasty! No soup.

Christmas Keeping it Simple

  1. All decorations fit into a couple of Rubbermaid Totes. We can have everything decorated in about two hours. Take down is about an hour.
  2. Make it not about the decorations but about the traditions. We have a great selection of Christmas/Hanukkah books and we read one every night for the month of December.
  3. Declutter. Each child brings out one large bag of garbage and another of toys to donate pre Christmas.
  4. Give out lists to grandparents and families. This is huge be specific. If you don’t want the stress of returning things you don’t like or don’t fit, or ending up with Dollar Store crap everywhere give people directions. If you don’t wear brown make sure your MIL knows this. If you don’t allow video games they need to know. Everyone is happier and there are always still a few surprises. I let my families know that we will try to make or buy as many of our gifts to them from second hand sources. They love this!
  5. If you want to make treats to give out to neighbors do it early on in the month. It is much busier later on and it gives them time to serve you back unstressed if they would like.
  6. Have a set menu for meals that you use every year. Period. Salmon for Christmas Eve dinner. Christmas Tree Bread with bacon and eggs Christmas morning. Ham for Christmas dinner. It makes it easy to plan. Everyone in the family knows what to expect and how to prepare the food. Shopping is a breeze.
  7. Only three presents for the kids. Representing the 3 wise men. We do clothing of some sort often pajamas. A book. Something special for the child.
  8. Give experiences not toys. We have encouraged our families to go in on large purchases together such as play ground equipment. Vacations are our favorite family gifts. This year it will be Lego Land. If you really break it down and are frugal it is often cheaper than buying individual gifts for everyone.
  9. Keep Santa simple. Ben’s family opens family gifts on Christmas Eve. I have found this to be a lovely tradition. The day is fun and unstressed. The family opens gifts one at a time for a few hours then settles to bed. The children can directly thank Grandma and Grandpa for “exactly what they wanted”. Santa brings a small wrapped gift the next morning. Not usually something they asked for and often with a theme. Art supplies. Games or puzzles. This year it was mini-science projects. The kids can open those right away and keep themselves busy the next morning. Stockings are filled with individually wrapped small gifts that anyone can add to. The kids may even put things into them for everyone before bed. They are not opened until after a leisurely delicious breakfast.
  10. Write down what everyone receives and from who right away. I used to be great about making everyone hand write thank you cards. They are still good at writing them. I am terrible at mailing them. Stupid post office! So over the next few days I often take a picture of the child enjoying or wearing their new gift and send a text or email. Class, I know, but I decided it was better than no thank you at all.


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