Thank you to my friend, Danielle, an inspiring Mom and a believer in the importance of family traditions and rituals. Danielle is the voice behind Festival Fete’s blog, going on this weekend in Rhode Island.
Guest Post by Danielle Salisbury, Find Danielle on Facebook
I admit it; I am one of those super-organized people who I think drive other people crazy. When confronted with a mess, after the initial rush of panic, I actually get joy from creating order out of chaos. I also love a celebration, and with the holidays, I tend to go a little over board and end up feeling overwhelmed. So, finally a few years ago I discovered my own little holiday tradition that keeps me in check (so I don’t go too overboard) and helps me keep a little bit of order in the chaos of holiday planning. It’s my Christmas Binder.
In the binder, I have photos, recipes, menus, Christmas “To Do” list, Christmas card list, gift ideas, crafts, table settings, decorating ideas and a gift and tip list. I love being able to reference back to see what we gave the babysitter last year and how much we gave in tips!
Probably the the most useful part of the book is my personal notes on menus and what we cooked. For example, the year that I made seafood risotto on Christmas Eve (thinking I would satisfy the Italian tradition of seven fishes in one big dish) we didn’t sit down to eat until 10:00 pm and unfortunately we hardly remember the dish because of all the wine that we were sharing with the risotto during the three hours of cooking! Now I can refer to my notes to see that I shouldn’t start shucking lobster and shellfish an hour before you expect to eat it.
One of my favorite things about this binder is that it is a place where I can put a great idea and say to myself, “someday…I WILL do/make/cook that.” And eventually, some of those inspirations become a reality.
I usually try to come up with one handmade gift item each year, (usually something for eating or drinking) such as a jam, Limoncello liquor, truffles, etc. This year, paging through my binder I found a recipe for cranberry vinegar and decided that would be my foodie gift. The recipe was from Coastal Living Magazine in 2000. So even though it took me 12 years to finally make this – it did happen eventually!
My family appreciates the binder because every year I ask them what they liked and didn’t like, and I make a note of it in the binder. One very important and useful tool has been to talk with my kids about what traditions they want to do this year. There are so many wonderful and special activities and traditions associated with the holiday that you just can’t possibly do them all. For example, I will ask them to name their top three (and sometimes we browse through the list) and then we decide what we realistically have time for. Can we bake several batches of different Christmas cookies AND gingerbread men AND decorate a gingerbread house – no, of course not. So they have to decide on one and they are pretty happy about it. Some traditions remain year after year such as putting out a plate of cookies for Santa and sprinkling reindeer food on the lawn.
Martha Stewart gives us the inspiration for beautiful things but if you’re like most of us, it’s hard to achieve that level of haute crafting. Martha sets the highest bar for cooking, decorating, crafts, and living and frankly, it’s not a realistic bar to reach. Now that there are a million Martha clones out there and they are all on Pinterest, we have even more to choose from!
My belief is that if you see something that you connect with whether it be online or in a magazine, and you safely stash it away in your special place (in this case it’s a binder) then you release yourself from the pressure to do it all. You can simply choose from the menu of options each year and switch things up a bit. I think that it gives you the feeling that what you are doing is enough, and helps you accept that you simply cannot do all that is out there to do.
Children are always looking at what other families are doing and comparing it to their own. And I believe that by empowering my children with choices, it helps them learn to accept that we can’t do everything that everybody does, we select the activities and traditions that mean the most to us, for our family. Since I have started this tradition of “choosing” our traditions they never complain about what we are NOT doing, and we can celebrate what we ARE doing.
The Christmas binder (or any holiday binder) is one of those things that may appear to be a big job but it’s really very simple. In fact, if you decided right now to start a Christmas Binder, and all you did was buy the binder, label it and maybe put in some plastic page protectors and blank paper – in no time at all you would find yourself filling it. Of course if you put it away in a drawer then this won’t happen. You need to leave it out and handy during the holiday season. Invite your family to get involved and write their own notes and drawings. Little by little, ideas start to come to you, magazine pages get ripped out, and before you know it – you will have a catalog of memories and inspiration over the years.