It’s been 28 years since my first “adult” Christmas. Since 1991, I have spent Christmas overseas, at my parents’ home in Silver City, at a Miami AirBnB that looked like it was decorated by Tim Burton in his Edward Scissorhands days, the homes of various relatives, and a cruise ship. My preference? Staying home.
Here are my top recommendations, as sandwich-generation Gen-Xer, for making 2019 especially festive:
Treat yourself. Whether you are host or guest, make sure you do one thing that really pleases you. At home, I make sure that there is one dish on the holiday table that is one of my absolute favorites (usually some sort of macaroni and cheese), whether anyone else likes it or not. As an out-of-town guest, carve out time for a single activity for you. It could be a side trip, a special evening out, or even just a 20-minute bathtub soak with the door locked.
Know your limits. This is not the time to plan a 10-mile hike on Christmas Eve or decide to make your own puff pastry for the first time. This is not the time to go into debt because you want everyone to have a perfect Christmas. This is not the time to overindulge and be a cranky Christmas drunk.
Plan downtime. I come from a family of frenetic planners. We have to ensure that every person has the best possible time 16 hours each day. This never works in practice. Some people are morning people, some aren’t. It’s good to make some sort of morning meal effort (like, English muffins next to the toaster) and evening meal effort (can be takeout or delivery). But give folks a chance to do something else. Also, never wake me after midnight because you still feel like chatting. I don’t.
Accept help. This is hard for me. Not for nothing does my husband call me the Kitchen Nazi. For a couple years when we lived in Arlington, Virginia, just down the street from my sister and her husband and new baby, we hosted an all-encompassing Hamilton – Allen joint Christmas dinner. My husband is the youngest of six and they all get along, so we wound up with 30 people for dinner. I was sweating through my Christmas black turtleneck one of those years as I realized I had made a gross underestimation at how many mashed potatoes my mixer would hold. While I tried to get potato out of cashmere, my brother-in-law asked if he could help. I had a Christmas miracle at that moment: I remembered he was an orthopedic surgeon and I had 20+ pound of meat to be sliced. It was gorgeous!
Make mashed potatoes in advance. See above. There is no reason to try and mash ten pounds of potatoes after the roast is out of the oven. Cook, mash and season a couple days before, spread in a buttered baking dish, dot with more butter, cover and refrigerate. Reheat just before dinner.
Make kid time for kids. In my sandwich generation, there are grown kids, little kids and teenagers. Don’t expect young children to want to sit up listening to Manheim Steamroller and play quietly while the adults have an after-dinner snort. Don’t mess up Santa protocol, or let older children ruin it. Be willing to get up at oh-dark-thirty Christmas morning and be excited about it. But, also, don’t let the 3-year-old dictate every waking moment of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Do unto others…. If someone tells you “Happy Holidays,” don’t get all wrapped around the axle and assume that they hate Christmas. There are so many possible reasons for the phrase. Accept the greeting in the spirit in which it is meant, and then go fix yourself some mac and cheese.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and a former Navy officer. She lives north of I-40 where she and her family run two head of dog, and one of cat.