Thoughts of Christmas, at least when I was growing up, began in September with the annual fall cleaning where every room had to be washed down from ceiling to floor so things would be clean and shiny by the holiday season. I always seemed to be the one, even though there were four other siblings, who was conscripted to help. I could never figure out why we had to do this because my mother was anally clean all year round.
Then there was Christmas baking. A pound cake, a gumdrop cake, a sultana cake, a cherry cake and two fruit cakes–one light and one dark. All of which were baked early and wrapped in foil and placed in metal cake tins in the cupboard above the refrigerator. None of which were soaked in brandy. By the time they were cut on Christmas day, they were so dry that they had a tendency to fall apart and make me gag. I don’t recall them being popular with my Christmas crowd (my siblings). I don’t recall the cake plates being empty after our holiday meal. I do wonder what happened to them after the holidays were over. And I know they weren’t something my siblings and I would drag a chair over in order to reach the cupboard above the fridge to steal. The only thing worth stealing were the shortcake cookies with red and green cherries on top, something I was often tasked to make closer to the Big Day.
Add to this the shopping and decorating and wrapping; and in the end, Christmas was a lot of work. So much work, in fact, that by the time Christmas Eve rolled around my mom was so tired and cranky that she just wanted to get it over with. So my objective since my twenties has been to simplify it because I don’t like anything that is a lot of work. Especially a lot of unnecessary work.
Over the years I have refined my holiday so that it is pretty well stress free. I am quite proud of myself for doing this because it allows me to focus on the things I feel are important, like family and the turkey.
To start with, there has never been and never will be a major cleaning before Christmas in my house. There is the dust-vacuum-and-clean-the-toilets-and-any-sticky-floors routine, which I do every few (maybe six) weeks anyway. I just jury-rig the unscheduled routine to make sure it falls sometime in the week before Christmas. I sometimes enlist The Doc to help with the vacuuming and dusting. I’m usually stuck with the toilets.
Once, a long time ago when JT was about four, I decided to do some fancy Christmas baking because we were having more company than usual for that holiday season. I made some lovely things including chocolate macaroons, coated and rolled maraschino cherry cookies, iced short breads cut into lovely festive shapes and a few other things that I no longer remember because that was the only time I ever made them. What I do remember is piling all the leftovers into a plastic container after the holidays and giving them to JT’s daycare. In those days you could do that and it would be appreciated and accepted with thanks. No one died from my donation. There was a lot of work involved in this baking and our visitors enjoyed them; but really, we didn’t eat many of them. The Doc and I, and even JT, do not have sweet teeth. We prefer the turkey, the sausage stuffing and the gravy. We love our mashed potatoes, soaked in gravy of course. We love our winter vegetables: sweet potatoes, squash, parsnips. We prefer them over sweet and sugary treats. Christmas, to us is all about the main course.
Christmas baking in my kitchen now entails old-fashioned short bread cookies made by pressing the Hogmanay dough into a couple of pie plates, pricking them with a fork, sprinkling them with a touch of sugar and baking them for an hour. Easy peasy and delicious. All I do is cut them into wedges while still warm. No rolling, no cookie cutters and no icing. They keep well and are a family favourite. In addition, I will toss a batch or two of hot cross bun dough into the breadmaker during the holidays to accommodate special breakfasts and bake a pie.
My shortbread wedges are so popular with all the kids and grankids that they have become the main part of their Christmas gifts. There was a time when I gave Christmas gifts a lot of thought because I wanted to get the perfect gift for everyone. But shopping is exhausting; and there are no perfect gifts, just plenty of stuff that will be out of date in the not-so-distant future. I had decided after last Christmas, even before Covid, that the grankids were old enough to, and would appreciate more, the gift of cold hard cash. Again, easy peasy and stress free. We had been giving the adult kids money for years. This year, personal envelopes and the annual gift of shortbread is the norm. And like I said, everyone loves the shortbread. Hmmmm, maybe it is the perfect gift.
So what’s left is the decorating and the wrapping. Personally, I don’t decorate for my neighbours so there are little or no external decorations on our house. Perhaps a wreath or something else on the front door, but that’s about it. Some people may think this is pretty grinchy of me, but really I don’t care what they think. I spend most of the season inside except for regular visits to the grocery store for all things relating to Christmas feasts, the liquor store for bottles of wine to mull and the jaunt to cut down a tree, so I am happy with my minimalist approach
The tree is my favourite decoration. It allows me to bring out all the sentimental ornaments that took over thirty-five years to collect. It is not a fashion statement. It represents my idea of Christmas, which is family and memories. There are a few other favourite things that I put around the house for the season, but I have pared down these decorations considerably. There is nothing that requires tape or a glue gun. Once the tree is up, the rest of the house can be done in a hour and put away equally as fast come January first.
So that leaves wrapping. I only wrap things that have to leave my house. I have been using the same few rolls of wrapping paper for years. A container of cookies doesn’t require much paper. The environmentalist in me hates wrapping paper and bows, they are such a waste. The klutzy uncoordinated version of me hates wrapping anything. I do not want to (and actually can’t) Martha Stewart my presents into works of art that will be destroyed in minutes once delivered About thirty years ago, I purchased an assortment of Christmas fabric and made festive sacks that get tied up with colourful cords. They have become a big part of my Christmas and evoke fond memories when I bring them out every year for household gifts. This year however, there are no household gifts, everyone resides, and is isolating, outside our province so no one is coming. Their cookies are in the mail. The Doc and I have decided to fill socks only. No wrapping required. My shopping is already done and I am looking forward to my sock stash, which usually contains a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream. Man I love our Christmas traditions.
Thank you for reading.
Photo by Jenn Stone