What did I want for Christmas?

Christmas changed for our family through the years as it probably has for your family.

Christmas in my childhood

When I was growing up, my grandmother lived in the downstairs and we lived upstairs. Christmas Eve was spent going to services and after with multiple family members, moving from house-to-house opening gifts.

Christmas Day, we left to go to Colby, WI to my aunt and uncle’s house where we gathered with my dad’s mother and his sister’s family. I played with my cousins and my brother when we weren’t helping with dinner.

It was a week long celebration because my brother was born on December 28 and we would celebrate his birthday with a meal.

My maternal grandmother (the one we lived with) was born on January 1, 1884. She was 72 when I was born. We celebrated New Year’s Eve at our house with 18 – 20 people dining on both purchased and homemade herring and potatoes (and sausage and cheese for those who wouldn’t eat herring).

New Year’s Day was celebrated at our house again with a similar sized gathering and dinner complete with birthday cake for Gramma. We’d play board games in the afternoon and just enjoy catching up with each other.

In my family (both sides) everyone helped with everything. People brought dishes to pass, everyone gathered in the kitchen and spilled over all through the house. We all cleaned up together and did dishes by hand together. Gramma died on December 26, 1979.

Christmas in early marriage

My husband and I were married in 1980. We spent Christmas Eve after that with my family and Christmas Day with his family. His mom preferred that we stay out of her much larger kitchen when she was cooking so we mostly stayed in the family room.

Our current home

When we bought this house in 1992, we started moving some of the family celebrations here. Our house is a open concept and gives lots of options for entertaining. Both my husband’s and my parents were getting older and it seemed easier to host things here.

His siblings are all on the west coast and generally don’t come home for Christmas so it made sense to hold it here.We started combining families so we wouldn’t leave anyone out. My mom and my aunt both helped with the preparations and in the kitchen. I have a dishwasher but my mom still helped clean up and wash the hand dishes.

What it means, though, is all celebrations are here at our home for every holiday. Stubborn as I am, I have rejected going out for dinner on the theory that home is where you should be and going out should be saved for non-holiday days when restaurants aren’t pushing out so much volume. I began hosting Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day all here.

What was fun when I was 35 is now hard work. With my business growing, it is hard to find time to do everything and my mom is no longer able to pitch in the way she used to. Our gathering is much smaller. My dad and mom’s sister died in 2007 and Bill’s mom died in 2008. There are no girlfriends at the moment so it is just 7 of us. But two days straight of cooking and hosting are tiring. My sons and husband help but it is so different than the team efforts I grew up with.

I found myself longing for simplification. I was making Christmas (and every other holiday) such a big deal that I wasn’t having fun anymore. Initially, I tried to duplicate everything the way it was when I was growing up. I held big cookie baking days making family favorites like peppernuts, sugar cookies, and gingerbread cookies. I kept up a huge Christmas card list and designed a holiday newsletter complete with pictures and stories. I searched high and low for presents. And the dinners were complex. I was tired and often crabby long before it was over.

A different approach

I decided to make things simpler, take breaks, and allow time for down time. Christmas Eve, we had shrimp but I didn’t try to do anything more than Shrimp Cocktail and the garlic mashed potatoes my sons both love with cream cheese and more. I added baby carrots and some olives and everyone had plenty to eat.

Instead of multiple batches of cookies or three different desserts, my son bought his choice of ice cream (mint) for those wanted something sweet and my mom showed up with a gift of a mixed cookie platter from their neighbors.

Today, we eat the Christmas Roast here after we go to my father-in-law’s to open gifts. He will come back with us and watch football while we prepare the roast.  I will make traditional mashed potatoes and gravy and there will be fresh vegetables but no complex recipes.

What did I want for Christmas? I wanted to enjoy it. Not make it a big production or get stressed out. Sometimes we make life such a big production that we just don’t enjoy it.

Do you find yourself trying to reproduce the past? Getting stressed out trying to do everything a team once did? Holding on to traditions that no longer make sense?

I’m writing this post knowing that it will all pull together today and everyone will be happier with a simpler plan. What about you?


  1. Brent Pohlman on December 25, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Wow! – I just sat down after opening presents from Santa with my kids. Holidays have been stressful for my family as well. Luckily, my wife’s parents and my parents live in Omaha.

    My wife has taken on more tasks at work and our kids have activities every night between school dance and sports. Five kids keeps us busy.

    Up til this year, my wife has set aside to bake goodies. This year it did not happen till this past Thursday night. We brought in some pizza and baked cookies for 2 hours straight. It was awesome. We were all together in the kitchen: mixing, baking and sampling.

    Sometimes we have to adjust..the key is enjoying the moment and being together.

    Awesome Post! – Have a Great Christmas!


    • Julie Walraven on December 25, 2010 at 3:15 pm

      Brent, I am so glad it touched you. It was a post I felt I needed to write thinking of my own personal battle and all those people who also find Christmas more challenging than joyous.

      Merry Christmas to you and yours too! Blessings on everything in 2011!

Resume Design and Job Seeking Tips

Here are Design Resumes' latest articles on job search, resume design, resume writing, and Linkedin optimization articles I've written.

FREE Resume and Job Search Tips by email

Get free tips and strategy direct to your inbox. just add your name and email below. I respect your privacy.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Julie Walraven, Design Resumes

Julie Walraven

Professional Resume Writer

Here are ways I can help you land your dream job.

You may be halfway across the country or the world. When you work with me, we share coffee, laughs, and concerns. This turns the scary job search into creative, consultative writing and learning sessions.