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December 16, 2016 / Retirementallychallenged.com

I Blame Pinterest

Well, not really, but…

When did the holiday season – and especially Christmas – get so over-the-top stressful? My childhood memories of pre-Christmas preparations include buying and trimming a tree, placing decorations around the living room, and stringing lights in front of our house. Granted, most of these tasks fell to my parents, but I don’t recall a heightened sense of stress related to any of these activities.

The tree wasn’t decorated in an overall theme, nor were the trimmings color-coordinated. The ornaments were a mixture of well-loved heirlooms handed down through the generations, holiday crafts that my brothers and I made at school, and decorations that my mother bought over the years at after-Christmas sales.

xmas-tree

Our living room shelves and the credenza beneath it had various Santas, reindeer, and snowman decorations placed among the books and next to the TV. As Christmas cards arrived in the mail, they filled up any remaining spaces.

xmas-house

The outdoor lights – the large, tear-drop shaped, multi-colored bulbs that everyone had – were strung in a straight(ish) line from the far corner of our garage, across the front of our house, then down to a couple of the bushes below.

It was pretty much the same thing every year… and we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Fast forward to the age of social media.

Friends on Facebook post pictures of perfectly decorated homes (inside and out) and lavishly prepared meals, Houzz offers a myriad of ways to accessorize our rooms for the holidays – in prices ranging from a lot to are you kidding me?, and Pinterest is bursting with photos of just the item, product, display, project, recipe, etc. that we need to purchase or create to assure our holiday is perfect.

Now, don’t misunderstand: I am not immune to the eye candy that is everywhere this season. I love to see what others have done to decorate or which appetizers, cocktails, or meals they have planned for their holiday celebrations. But, even as I admire their decorating talents (to say nothing about the off-season storage space they must have) or their creativity in the kitchen, I prefer the low-key way my husband and I choose to celebrate the holidays.

I realize that decorating every nook and cranny with just the right seasonal accessory or wowing family and guests by baking and serving a Chocolate Espresso Bûche de Noël fills some with joy. We’re just happier to eschew the tree (there really isn’t room for one anyway) and put out fewer, but well-loved, decorations. And, while we enjoy attending holiday parties given by friends who love to entertain lavishly, our get-togethers tend to be small and pretty casual.

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If I find myself grumbling about being stressed out or feeling like I don’t have enough time to do the things I “need” to do, I stop and consider how much unnecessary burden I’ve willingly put on my own shoulders. Am I doing what pleases me, or am I trying to emulate someone else’s version of the holiday? What works for one person, or one family, may not be a good fit for another.

And that’s OK.  This season isn’t about an exquisitely decorated home or perfectly prepared food, it’s about the people in our homes and those who share our food.

That’s where the memories are made.

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50 Comments

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  1. Kate Crimmins / Dec 16 2016 4:41 pm

    Well said. I’ve backed off over the past few years and not regretted it. I prefer going to giving parties although I’m always willing to bring something. Having said that I am hosting my extended family Christmas dinner tomorrow. I’m making Stauffer’s lasagna. Everyone is bringing something. Perfect!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 16 2016 5:27 pm

      It’s funny how now that we are retired and have more time, the thought of putting too much of it behind creating “perfection” just isn’t attractive. Your family dinner sounds great – easy peasy for you, lots of contributors, and a good time had by all. Do the kitties participate, or do they hide?

      • Kate Crimmins / Dec 17 2016 7:02 am

        Morgan will check everyone out and then pick the most comfy spot to sleep. The others will stay upstairs and maybe peek around the staircase.

  2. Liesbet / Dec 16 2016 5:05 pm

    I am all for low key celebrations as well, even though we have nothing planned over the holidays. We don’t know anyone around us, so it will be easy and extremely low key and the word stress won’t even enter our heads. I have never cared about what others do for the holidays, so the Internet doesn’t have any effect on our emotions or stress level. I do like to look at all the colorful lights in the neighborhood, though, and, we have put up a 5 inch plastic Christmas tree, which was a gift from friends last year. Happy holidays, Janis, no matter how you celebrate them! Less is more sometimes. 🙂

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 16 2016 5:33 pm

      Sometimes flying under the radar is a good thing! There are a couple of neighborhoods not too far away that have elaborate lights and we always enjoy seeing them. It seems like fewer and fewer houses in our little two-block neighborhood have them, though – probably because there aren’t many young kids. Best wishes for a lovely holiday – I’m sure whatever you do (or don’t do) will be just perfect… for you both!

  3. KeoQuotes / Dec 16 2016 7:26 pm

    True. Even my family follows the Brownian motion during holidays. Nothing is planned as such. But yeah, those small, casual petty touches that we somehow manage to do in our homes, are often the most satisfying, atleast for me for I am the smallest in the family. That is where memories are created indeed 😀

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 17 2016 1:11 pm

      Keep it simple and take time to enjoy the holiday season… that’s the key to reducing stress and emotional overload. Thank you for visiting and commenting. Have a great holiday!

  4. Terri Webster Schrandt / Dec 16 2016 9:33 pm

    This is a great post, Janis! Love your descriptions! I loved those old-school Christmases. We, too, had the same old lights, threw tinsel (we called it icicles) haphazardly onto the tree in clumps and bent, crinkled paper ornaments made of brown bags, glitter and macaroni adorned the tree. I love me a fab light show too, but in someone else’s yard. We were content to look at the Balboa Park Christmas decorations and lights. In my early 30’s I got the bug to theme a Christmas tree, white flocked with copper ornaments. I wouldn’t let my girls put their homemade stuff on it. It was beautiful but not special! After my divorce, and my girls and I hauled in a 6-foot tree off the top of my car into the house by ourselves, I didn’t care what it looked like. The more home-made the better!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 17 2016 11:45 am

      I love your story about a “designer” tree versus your well-loved “home-made tree”! It’s so much more special and a true reflection of your family. We also threw tinsel on our tree (much to my mother’s displeasure). I’d start putting it on strand by strand, but soon got bored with that!

  5. patwdoyle11 / Dec 17 2016 7:19 am

    As I sit here looking at my un- decorated tree (purchased yesterday at 50%off…so I splurged on a 6 footer!) and smelling the wonderful pine scent, your description of Christmas past resonates. And will hopefully be our house by end of day. A decorated tree with old, cherished, memory filled ornaments. A few loved Christmas items on the shelves of the living room. Candle lights in the windows. While I adore looking at other houses lights, I’ve never done anything but window candles in mine! I guess it’s hubby’s fear of ladders and hate of cold and my fear of climbing….so we’ve never strung Christmas lights. Other intriguing point for me….I’ve never gotten comparison inferiority over Christmas decorating! Maybe a small desire to be able to make Christmas cookies look as good as they taste….but more than happy to ohh and ahh over others and not feel bad! A very Merry Christmas to you!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 17 2016 11:51 am

      I think that simple Christmas lights in the windows are very warm and welcoming. I share your and your husband’s reluctance to string house lights. We (and by “we” I mean my husband) used to put them up on both stories, but after a neighbor fell from his roof doing that, we stopped. I love that other people are happy to do all the over-the-top decorating so I can enjoy it but, like you, I prefer to keep things simple. Have a wonderful Christmas – and enjoy your tree!

  6. Dan Antion / Dec 17 2016 8:25 am

    When I see the elaborately decorated insides, the only thought that pops into my head is: “these people don’t have cats and a big clumsy dog.” We can’t even decorate the bottom half of our tree with ornaments that break. We cover it with the silky little balls and we don’t care when one of the cats steals one for a new toy.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 17 2016 11:54 am

      Ha! We don’t have any animals currently, but I remember decorating with them in mind when we did. Fortunately, are cats never climbed the tree, but a few ornaments were broken before we got smart and moved the breakables up out of the way.

  7. Keith / Dec 17 2016 9:09 am

    Janis, it has always been more stressful than it should be, but you are right it has leveraged up a notch in stress. Christmas is not a competition. If someone wants to put all those lights, knock yourself out. Just remember, they have to take them down as well. If someobne wants to buy a car, knock yourself out, but those payments continue.

    So, we need to all take a chill pill and spend less. Keith

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 17 2016 11:58 am

      Absolutely! Even as kids, we loved putting the tree up, but hated taking it down. I celebrated more than a few birthdays (early January) with a Christmas tree still in the living room. Oh, and the spending… I didn’t even include the insanity of holiday spending! That’s another thing we keep very simple.

  8. Kristine Puzel / Dec 17 2016 10:05 am

    One of my favorite Christmas memories is of the Christmas cards we received as a family. Sometimes 5-6 a day..for weeks ! We kept them all, and my parents had a little box containing address cards for their Christmas card list. My father, and his obsession, I mean focus, on keeping records! But that box has come in handy in the recent years, tracking down friends and family addresses. I too love the house lights, and I also love to dress the inside of our home. There are so many ways to enjoy, celebrate, and soak up the season.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 17 2016 12:54 pm

      I don’t know about you, but we get very few cards now – nothing like when I was young. I like the house lights too and will happily visit those areas where the homeowners go all out (although I can’t help wondering where they store it all during the other 11 months 🙂 ).

  9. Anabel Marsh / Dec 17 2016 11:00 am

    Just say no is my motto! I don’t want to stress over decorations etc so I take the minimalist approach. Christmas is definitely overhyped and has strayed so far from its original meaning. I’m not religious, but I was brought up in a religious household so I still think of Christmas as being about goodwill to all rather than a huge consumerist splurge. And there’s a wee bit of bah humbug in there too!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 17 2016 1:02 pm

      You are right that it seems to have morphed from a quiet, peaceful holiday into a frenzied free-for-all! Just give me a few cherished Christmas movies, some holiday tunes, and, maybe, some “enhanced” eggnog and I’m happy!

  10. Polly Huffman / Dec 17 2016 11:47 am

    I had loads of Christmas Pinterest pins this year but haven’t done a single one. In fact, I donated a lot of what I had, paring down and using only the decorations I kept. I haven’t deleted my Christmas Board though…
    I haven’t stressed about Christmas gifts, parties or cards, in years and can’t see that ever changing. For us, that’s not what Christmas is about.
    Merry Christmas, Janis!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 17 2016 1:07 pm

      I like looking through various holiday boards too – it’s an easy, and much less expensive, way to enjoy the festivities without the stress! I have a lot of wrapping paper that I should donate… we just don’t give many gifts anymore. Merry Christmas to you!

  11. dconnollyislandgmailcom / Dec 17 2016 1:34 pm

    I’m pretty sure that no two decorations on our current Christmas tree actually match. Many of them have been handmade and most of them have had much previous love and wear (read here: they are a bit tattered). I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you for another insightful post (which generated incredibly insightful comments as well)!

  12. dennyho / Dec 17 2016 3:26 pm

    Enjoyed your post. This year I simply stopped mid tree decorating and declared it ‘done’! I’m fine, it looks fine, and no one will be the wiser!

  13. snakesinthegrass2014 / Dec 17 2016 4:37 pm

    Oh, what Martha Stewart has wrought. Add social media on top of her (continuing) legacy and you have people constantly trying to outdo one another. I raised my first eyebrow when my former in-laws bought an electric menorah. Um, no.

    I loved the pictures of your childhood home, and it sounds like what you and your husband really have the place beautifully arranged in your current one. It’s too late for this year, but I’ll try to come for eggnog next year. 😉 – Marty

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 17 2016 5:22 pm

      Wow, an electric menorah! Did they just flip it on? That just seems wrong.

      Let me know when you plan to show up next year. We’ll have the special eggnog waiting for you.

  14. Green Global Trek / Dec 18 2016 11:24 pm

    What a good and interesting post. For me, the more low key the better, and I hate the overly commercial aspect of holidays n the U.S. Too much everything. Well said.
    Peta

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 19 2016 2:49 pm

      It seems like a lot of people talk about avoiding the commercialization of Christmas, but it gets worse every year. You are lucky to be far away from all the craziness.

  15. K.L. Allendoerfer / Dec 19 2016 1:11 pm

    We have a tree, but you describe it very well: the ornaments are old, cherished heirlooms. They don’t match, and aren’t color coordinated. We’ve got a few other decorations and Christmas cards filling up the space. That’s enough. I have a Pinterest account but I never look at it. I do like to go to Candy Cane lane in different cities and look at other people’s light displays. But my light up snowman was stolen last year, and I haven’t replaced it. Maybe it’s too soon . . .

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 19 2016 2:52 pm

      Ha! Poor snowman! It’s hard to imagine anyone stealing something like that, but I just read this morning about someone stealing the red kettle from a Salvation Army volunteer. Your tree sounds lovely!

  16. Ally Bean / Dec 20 2016 12:23 pm

    I grew up like you did with a home-y Christmas of this and that, but today, especially if you entertain at home for business, expectations are different. We had our last big company party two years ago, and since then I will not stress about anything Christmasy. Just will not, even if Pinterest tries to goad me into doing more! Great topic for a post. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 20 2016 3:35 pm

      Thank goodness I never had to entertain for business in my home… too much stress! Now that we are no longer working, we have more time but less desire to go all out. Have a fabulous holiday!

  17. Joanne Sisco / Dec 22 2016 12:50 pm

    I remember my mom always being so stressed at Christmas time. She often said she hated the holiday season. Of course it took me many years later and my own family to understand why.
    You hit it on the head when you said it was self-inflicted. While many people LOVE all the decorating and cooking, just as many don’t but feel a sense of obligation to ‘compete’.

    There’s both peace and power in letting go of the stuff that doesn’t bring joy.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 22 2016 3:55 pm

      I think some people would feel more stress if they couldn’t decorate to the degree they are used to. I, on the other hand, feel a sense of freedom from dialing things back. I enjoy the lights and the decorations but I’d just as soon leave it to others. I do have to come up with Christmas dinner and I have to admit feeling a little stressed about that. Yikes!

      • Joanne Sisco / Dec 22 2016 4:20 pm

        I feel remarkably free since I’m off the hook for Christmas dinner this year. In fact, because we celebrate over 2 days, it’s in fact 3 meals I’m off the hook for. Perhaps by the time this weekend is over, the men in my life will have a greater appreciation for the effort involved with pulling off 3 meals in 2 days 😉

  18. Kathy @ SMART Living 365 / Dec 23 2016 12:21 pm

    Hi Janis! Your version of celebrating sounds perfectly “rightsized” to me. As I think you know I am all for celebrating and having a good time, but never at the expense of my budget, my time, or my peace of mind. Good for you for finding what works and then not being intimidated into doing anything else. May your Christmas be happy, healthy and full of all the good you desire. ~Kathy

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 24 2016 11:03 am

      It appears that many of us are in the low-key holiday camp. I wish I had discovered the wisdom of doing less, but enjoying more years ago. Have a wonderful Christmas!

  19. Shelley / Dec 26 2016 2:57 pm

    I’m finally catching up with my blog buddies. Another Chrismas has come and gone, so I guess I’ll just say that I hope yours was lovely and that your New Year is happy and healthy.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 26 2016 4:29 pm

      We had a nice, peaceful Christmas day which ended with a lovely dinner. Best wishes to you for a wonderful New Year full of adventures!

  20. betsysbeat / Dec 26 2016 5:51 pm

    It’s funny because I have the same warm stress-free memories of my childhood Christmases. After I married, my parents started coming to our house for Christmas. At one point, my mother shared with me how much work Christmas was, and how irritating it was that she did 95% of the work only to have my father magnanimously play “Santa” on Christmas morning (as if he was responsible for it all). She said she was overjoyed when I took over Christmas and she could just show up! I had no idea. I suppose that was the real gift our parents gave us for Christmas- seemingly effortless happy memories!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 27 2016 2:45 pm

      Ha! I realize that holiday preparations as seen through a child’s eyes can be much different than as see through an adult’s (the ones who actually do the work), but my mom was the queen of low-stress whenever possible. Even shopping for gifts: she hated to shop but my father loved it… so he usually bought most of the gifts (with varying degrees of success). But, you are right about the changing of the guard… when my brother took over Thanksgiving dinner and I began to host Christmas dinner, she was happy to be able to sit back and enjoy herself.

  21. Ann Coleman / Dec 31 2016 11:51 am

    An excellent point! I think we have made Christmas into such a stressful time, that starts about mid-November and lasts til January 1. I love Christmas, but it’s the real Christmas I love, not the hyped up consumer one. We decorate our tree with old-fashioned ornaments, hang old-fashioned lights, and decorate our house with candles and angels, santas, etc. that we have had for years. The highlight of Christmas Eve is the candle light service at our church. I don’t look at pinterest, I don’t do themed trees, and I don’t color coordinate my decorations or wrapping paper. And now that I’m middle aged, I don’t even cook a big meal when we have people over. Simple is better!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Dec 31 2016 12:52 pm

      Simple is definitely better! My husband and I – and our extended families – have also stopped giving gifts. That has helped to change the focus of the holiday and has reduced everyone’s stress. I think many people are discovering the joys of a simpler holiday celebration. Thank you for the comment!

  22. Vivian Copeland / Jan 11 2017 9:13 pm

    We have simplified and life is so much easier. We used to fight, about everything. LOL. We’d fight when we bought the live tree. Cue the artificial which I fought for years and now love. We’d fight about putting lights outside. I got a few simple things which my husband, Mr. Outdoors, can set out in a few minutes. This year we cut back on gifts. It’s much more manageable!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Jan 12 2017 8:33 am

      I think you are on to something. A simplified life makes everything run smoother, thus lessening the stress we all feel (and which can lead to arguments). I know that even the act of cleaning off the top of my desk makes me feel calmer. Giving up exchanging gifts made the biggest difference for us. Thanks for commenting!

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