Ho-Ho-Holidays? Whatever you want ’em to be…

…Christmas in the 1970s…

“For many, Christmas has morphed into a consumer driven, rum punch soaked cornucopia of excess spending and false cheer. I was tired of being a part of that and honestly, I wanted to end the year with more money in my pockets than when I began.” ~ (source)

“We just decided we’d rather spend half as much on something we really want for ourselves when we really want it, than spend too much on the wrong gifts that we have to wait until Christmas to receive.” – (source)

“In the frenzy that is Christmas shopping, we spend ridiculous amounts of money that is pure waste. In other countries, people are struggling just to eat, or get medicine, or find shelter, or get clean drinking water. We spend so much in a show of consumerist greed, when that money could go to feed a few dozen families. If you have money to waste, consider donating it to an organization that is helping these types of families.” ~ (source)

It’s a Friday in December and unlike many in the world, I’m not counting down to anything that’s on the calendar later this month. No tree, no lights, no gifts to buy, no one haranguing us on where we’re going to be or what we need to do.

No stress, no pressure, no problem.

Grinch? Nope. We just do what we want on the holidays, and have decided that every other year we’ll do the whole holiday thing with a tree and decor and gifts and such, and every other year we’ll just…chill. After the year we’ve had, the last thing either of us wanted to deal with was crowds, spending money for stuff we didn’t need, etc. We’ve always been minimalist even when we do celebrate the holidays so this just takes it an extra step. For Christmas Eve, we’re going to make an Italian dinner and for Christmas Day we’re going to make a French meal. Maybe we’ll go for a hike, maybe we’ll stay in and watch a movie. Maybe we’ll do nothing at all. The point is? It’s our day off, and we can do whatever we want.

So can you, by the way.


The funniest thing I hear every time we talk about this is “oh gosh we can’t, WE HAVE KIDS!”. And I always internally roll my eyes, as somehow the mere act of having children requires you to follow societal traditions.

I grew up a child of divorce, experiencing a variety of holiday traditions and also seeing the occasional “let’s do something different”…and they were all just fine. My dad’s family liked to shower everyone with unnecessary gifts – you know, the shitty sweater from Mervyn’s that you’d just have to exchange later or the slippers from K-Mart that felt funny on your feet or the black unicorn-shaped candle with the wick in the horn that when you lit it meant the wax dripped all down the horse, making it look like a creepy horror film (clearly, this last example is something that happened…I got this when I was in my 20’s from an aunt). You’d have to show up with gifts for people who didn’t speak to you all year and you smiled and played nice with one day a year. And coming back to my mom’s house that was more minimalist on the number of gifts, my older half-brother and sister always felt awkward when I had a zillion things to open. In my mom’s side, we got a few gifts under the tree, ate fondue (after all, it was the 1970s/early 80s) and then opened stockings on Christmas morning.

But one year it was different. I was the youngest growing up with my mother and stepfather, and one year they decided that we’d have a white Christmas, and stayed at a rental house and had just a few gifts, none that I remember. What do I remember? Playing with the dogs in the snow. A quiet Christmas dinner with snow falling and absolutely no entertaining of relatives.

It. Was. Awesome.

People constantly say that you have to do gifts and traditional things “for the kids” when in all seriousness, y’all, it’s for the adults. Adults are the ones who teach kids that Christmas equals gifts, rather than, like on Thanksgiving, that we teach is about food and family. And when you think about it, seriously, how many gifts do you TRULY remember? I can count on one hand the gifts I remember growing up:

* The fancy hardbound copy of Little Women that I still have on my bookshelf today.
* My blue Schwinn bicycle.
* The raspberry beret because, well, duh, I liked Prince. I looked a fool but I loved it.
* That one year my mom actually followed my wish list and went to a record store and bought my the Run DMC and Pet Shop Boys tapes I’d begged for. (Yep, I was in middle school in the mid-1980’s).
* And the one year in college when my sister and I remember getting “nice” gifts – she got a piece of art and I got a really nice blender (y’all, I started in the kitchen around age 10, this was a cool thing to get).

I don’t remember 95% of the shit that I got and when I was little, my parents would always complain that I’d lose or accidentally throw away some gifts when I’d try to help clean up as there was so much crap everywhere. And even the stuff mentioned above? They’re just memories. Nothing that equaled “the spirit of Christmas” or whatever.

What did I remember? Hanging out with my family, sitting around the table. Togetherness. Decorating the tree (my dad’s side was all about the gold garlands and shiny balls and tinsel, my mom’s side was natural with strung up cranberries and popcorn and homemade ornaments and little birds). Listening to Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis and Elvis Presley and John Fahey and Ella Fitzgerald (and in later years, ugh, Mannheim Steamroller which my mom loved). When I got older, I craved those parts of the holidays but most had moved on from that. The flavor faded and it was never the same after about college. No one ever had dinner again on my dad’s side, not the entire family as my dad stopped coming back to Portland, complaining bitterly that no one ever came to visit him even though he was the one who left the Northwest. Grandparents began to pass away and I remember the last Christmas at my grandmother’s home on my dad’s side was horrible – people bitching and fighting and the heat turned up too high and this wasn’t even with the benefit (?) of alcohol. I stayed away after that, and decided I’d rather go solo or be with friends than do that type of vibe again.

After my father died, when this blog was in its infancy, I gave up on the holidays for a while. My last grandparent, my dear gram, was in a nursing home and I saw her in ’09 and it only reminded me of the loss of my father (her son). I stayed away from the world over the holidays for a few years after that, as being fatherless was something I could not bear to think about. When we were little, we both adored our dads. Without them, life is never the same. Their love might live on, but we both lost our fathers too early.

Dan and I with our dads, happy as can be.

Dan and I have always done Christmas however we wanted to do it.

  • Our first holidays we spent together were in Australia, back when I spent the month of December down in Victoria. Christmas 2013 began with a surprise Christmas Eve dinner at a French restaurant in Melbourne, then on Christmas day I brought his family lots of cheesy Portland goodies, we barbecued at his sister’s house in the 90+ degree summer weather, drank wine and listened to Bowie then at dinner put on these little paper hats (my first introduction to Christmas crackers, which my husband was amazed that I’d never experienced).
  • Our first holiday as a married couple was here in Portland. Christmas 2014 was about getting traditional with cutting down and decorating a tree, buying gifts, and snuggling up with our sweet girl Ruby who we’d adopted a couple months earlier.
  • By Christmas 2015, we had experienced our first IVF fail and decided to keep it low key and just be together. We painted some pottery that week, went for a hike, made dinner, and saw Star Wars (but seriously, y’all, watching Han Solo die, even if Harrison Ford was at his suckiest acting, was not cool to have happen on Christmas). Never felt weird about being low key.
  • Last Christmas was an attempt at making ourselves feel better after a second year of infertility hell that culminated in losing our baby and a rip roaring herniated disc injury to my lower back that, almost a year later, has still not fully healed. We kept it local, making a nice breakfast, getting a tree but not making a big deal out if it, and giving each other stockings filled with locally made goodies. It was nice but I think we both could have done without it as well, as I was in such pain and we were just feeling so beaten down from the year.

So we approach 2018, and the holidays, and we have no pressure on ourselves to make this holiday season anything. Linguine with clam sauce for Christmas Eve dinner with a bottle of Pinot Grigio? Yes! Follow it up the next evening with cassoulet made with Dan’s homemade saucisson sec and a bottle of Burgundy? Yes yes! Gifts? Aw hell no.

Our gift? Peace of mind. Yes yes yes!


The only thing we’re missing this Christmas is our sweet girl Ruby.


7 thoughts on “Ho-Ho-Holidays? Whatever you want ’em to be…

  1. I remember the Christmas records mom played on the console stereo system…. the baking…

    When I fist got to Louisiana and couldn’t leave, I spent many holidays alone. Well, I say alone. I had friends that had families that welcomed “strays” for holiday celebrations. But it wasn’t the same. Nowadays, I do Christmas. Tree, gifts, stockings, etc. It’s probably a reaction to those Christmas and thanksgiving holidays when I spent my day with friends at the theatre watching movies, or at their parents houses… it’s probably me trying to get in touch with that sense of home, and family, and gifts of things we had wanted or needed all year but couldn’t really afford…

    This year, I’ll be spending Christmas with my (nuclear, childhood) family for the first time in over a decade. When I told my mom I was coming, she made it mandatory that my brother and sister work their plans around a Christmas dinner at mom’s. It will be all of us at the dinner table at the same time for the first time in I can’t even remember how long.

    Sorry for such a long response. I guess I’m mostly agreeing with you. It’s completely ok to go for a hike or a movie theatre. It’s good to just hang out with family (however you define family). Christmas isn’t about how well we can fulfill our role as consumers; it’s about whatever we choose to make it about for ourselves

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, you never remember the stuff. Since my parents had a toy store, they were open on Christmas Eve and go home kind of late so we never did a fancy dinner. Instead pizza and a movie. My dad would also drag the store train table home for us to play with on Christmas. Waffles, whipped cream, and strawberries for breakfast then a snowy ski. We had traditions but it was always about being together. That for me is what Christmas is about. I feel that has been lost and it breaks my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I must be a bit materialistic ‘cos I do remember a lot of the stuff – but this must be to my parents’ credit, in that we just didn’t get much bought for us at any other time. So the Christmas stuff was a genuine treat and we pored over our small pile of stuff all day. Not like today, when kids & adults just chuck stuff out with the wrapping. I remember so much, down to little stocking fillers. In the 70s I used to love getting soap: the ABBA soap on a rope shaped like a cassette, and the Muppet soaps shaped like Kermit and Miss Piggy. I would sniff it all day.. Not that we never had soap but I just remember it well! I don’t have too many warm and fuzzy memories of being together: my parents would watch lots of TV and there may have been some forced games with relatives but I hated that….. Now, I’ve lost the buzz for Christmas. I used to get a bit of a frisson around the end of November and feel some kind of excitement but now I feel absolutely nothing at all, which I’m a bit sad about. Throughout my 20s and some of my 30s I didn’t really celebrate since my mum died at Christmas and it cast a huge shadow over Decembers. Then it came back at bit. Then I didn’t have kids and i kind of thought: ‘what’s the point?’. But I love the sentiment of celebrating it how the f you want. I like the idea of having a Winter Festival / Winterval rather than the commercialised warped religious bonanza that we currently have. I’m going back to basics and spending it in isolated locations (this year in a cottage in wilds of Ireland). But I have to confess that I need to have a least two gifts to look forward to…


    1. Thanks for your comment! Yes the point of my post was about the choice of celebrating the holidays with or without gifts, that material gifts shouldn’t be what define the holidays. I love getting gifts as well but never thought “oh if I don’t get gifts that person doesn’t love me”, you know? Personally I prefer being showered with presents on my birthday if I had to choose – but again, in the end it’s about time spent with people you enjoy being around, whether it be friends, family, partner, or simply quiet time to yourself. PS- Isolated cottage in the wilds of Ireland – awesome!

      Liked by 1 person

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