Dec 15, 2009

Tradition, shmadition

Sometimes the great thing about being an adult is that you don't have to follow the rules. For example, I just opened the chocolates my mom sent in a package of small gifts for my Christmas stocking. Don't judge me: They're Purdy's. And I love Purdy's. I won't open the soap, tea, lip balm, knit gloves or hot chocolate (my mom puts the exact same stuff in my stocking every year. Plus when you ship internationally you have to write on the customs slip what the contents are. No surprises there). I won't let Lucy open anything early, and I will continue to judge my husband's folks for opening the gifts we sent last year on the day they received them -- like, 5 days before Christmas. Don't they know that makes Baby Jesus cry, I asked my formerly Pentecostal partner.

The other great thing about being an adult is that you get to make your own traditions on Christmas. You get to choose how and when you open the gifts (I think slowly with a mimosa). You plan the menu and set the playlist. And you don't have to eat brussells sprouts (unless you make them with bacon and carmelized onions, like I did at Thanksgiving -- thank you, Mark Bittman).

Ever since my parents split three days before Christmas when I was 12, I've had negative associations with the holidays. Following that awful year (I didn't get my present — a bike — for a couple months following the split), Christmas was always super stressful; dividing time between mom and dad's houses, hoping the present from one didn't make the other jealous and angry (divorced parents really are as childish as Noah Baumbach depicted in the Squid and the Whale). As an adult living away from home, I've spent numerous Christmases with friends' families, and I would much rather take part in a new tradition (oxymoron?) than try to recreate the impossible: a time when my family was happy and Christmas was full of promise.

Now, however, with my own child and living far from my family, I make the rules. The first new family tradition we adopted this year was to make a Christmas music video -- my husband on guitar and vocals, little Lucy on harmonica, and me on the drums. For this, our second Recession Christmas , we sent DVDs of the video to our families in lieu of gifts. The praise has yet to roll in, but I'm sure it will be a hit. Also, inspired by my friend Dreae's "Made, Found or Handed-down" gift-giving rule, I bought Ryan's gift on eBay (we set a very low spending limit that pretty much demanded buying second-hand).

I'm still trying to figure out what to have for dinner. In the U.S. Thanksgiving is too close to Christmas for cooking turkeys on both occasions. I hate ham, so that's out. What would be wintry and flavourful? Or totally unorthodox but delicious?


  1. Who was it who said, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood"? That's how I feel about Christmas now that I'm a grown-up. It's not that our Christmases were bad (my folks had the decency to split up when I was three, before I had the chance to develop a fragile pre-teen sensibility), but there were a few abysmal ones when I was a teenager, living with my Dad who "doesn't do" Christmas. Here's a scenario: sad Dad going through second divorce, and me decorating a Charlie Brown tree and baking batch upon batch of tearful cookies... This may, in fact, be the root of my Christmas obsession. "Everything will be okay if I can just make enough cookies... everything will be okay..."

    I love that we're at an age when we can take control of the holidays and do them however the hell we want. It's one of the most empowering parts of having kids. This year we're doing Christmas dinner here for the first time, and inviting both sets of (step-)parents (who, thank goodness, all get along). And John (he and Mark get along fine, too, thanks be). We're doing DIY gifts for the extended family - homemade ice cream toppings in jam jars left over from the wedding (we used them for wine glasses) - luckily we don't have to mail anything, because everyone's here.

  2. Hey, for Christmas dinner how about some kind of tourtiere/hunter's pie type thing? It would be traditional in a Canadian kind of way, and it involves pastry, so that's automatically good. I have a vegetarian version I do with chickpeas, bulghur, walnuts, wrapped in phyllo pastry, served with a chickpea gravy. I used to make it for the "orphan" Thanksgiving dinner I threw in Montreal every year. You can't go wrong with pie.

  3. Tourtiere! That's a grand idea. Plus I can make it ahead of time and save my cooking time for the veggie sides. Can you email me your recipe? I may make two: one vegetarian and one meaty. Thank you! You're a genius.

  4. Hey Suzanne, I've just arrived here via your Burda page. I love how you make coffee date dresses and I love how you write too. Never commented on anyones blog before but your bit about Christmas and divorced parents really struck a chord. Not only because mine were divided but I am divorced (10 years ago now) and I am equally determined that our Christmases will be unspoilt.

    I'm a freelance graphic designer with 3 children and every little second left in a day goes into making or creating or dreaming of making and creating...much like yourself by the sounds of it!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.



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