JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: The last day if November is a good time to take a look ahead and plan out your strategy for the upcoming holidays. Unless you're one of those women who already has all your presents bought and wrapped, several homemade fruit cakes soaking in rum in your pantry, and the decorations up. If you are, all I can say, in the true spirit of love and Christmas, is "drop dead."
For the rest of us, the month of December is a cross between a scavenger hunt, a family counseling session, and a marathon of The Martha Stewart Show episodes. And we all know who's responsible. All of us here at Jungle Red Writers have remarkable husbands, but when it comes to Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Solstice or Diwali, it's up to women to make it work. If you could go back in time two thousand years, you'd find a Roman housewife frantically pickling fish, setting out candles, and making little Saturnalia gift baskets for the neighbors.
I myself was one of those women who feels she has to do everything for everybody (and it all better be by hand instead of store bought.) Then one year I found myself alone in the kitchen at 2a.m., baking and decorating ten different types of cookies, sobbing from frustration and fatigue. "Why," I thought, "am I doing this to myself?" My kids didn't care if the cookies they brought in to the school parties were homemade or not. My husband didn't care if we sent out 300 personalized Christmas cards, or none. The guests who came for Christmas dinner didn't care if my house was immaculate. And I didn't care if we all had coordinating outfits for a seasonal family photograph. (Okay, I cared a little.)
LUCY BURDETTE: We're going to be traveling to see relatives most of the last two weeks of December so I'm giving up--gulp--decorating! Why put up a tree if we won't be here to enjoy? It's just about killing me, but having a book due TODAY and another launching January 3 is helping rein those feelings in. I like having Christmas cookies around, so I hope to squeeze in some time for making those...
HALLIE EPHRON: We've never done the holidays up big so there's not much to cut back from. And no, I don't care how unhealthy they are, I'm not giving up potato latkes. And they've GOT to be homemade because there's just no substitute that tastes remotely as good. We eat them standing up in the kitchen, right out of the fryer with (whole fat) sour cream to dip them in.
JULIA: It's okay, Hallie. I have it on good authority that holiday food has no cumulative fat or calories.
ROSEMARY HARRIS: We didn't have a tree last year - okay we were away for most of the holiday - but I missed it. And we haven't had a holiday party since my first book came out (rewrites in December.)Yes, it's days out of my life, the cleaning, the decorating, the baking, but I totally miss them. I worry that every year I'll cut another thing, and another thing until it's just the two of us with a pine scented pillow. So back and forth on this year. We still have a large hole in the roof from the Halloween snowstorm - right in the kitchen where I usually put my tree - maybe I can drape it with garland. Do you think people would mind?
RHYS BOWEN: This year I'll be doing the opposite of cutting back. I'll be hosting the biggest Christmas I've ever attempted. It started when my brother and wife announced that he was coming from Australia to spend Christmas with us. That made all our kids decide they had to be there. And daughter Anne asked to bring a friend... which means 16 people for almost a week. That's a lot of cooking and present wrapping. I'm trying to be organized and have a roster of who is doing what for which meal but I'm also going to have a lot of casseroles and soups cooked in advance. It should be fun (at least this is what I'm telling myself now.)
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yeah, I don't know. It's a tough call. If I say--I'm just not doing it, then something is missing. I tear up on Chanukah, and Christmas morning, if he traditions aren't there. But then--you can't do everything. You can't be--perfect. Whatever that is. SO we do what works, depending on where we are and what's important at the time. But no one is keeping track, right? So we realize we're lucky, and we count blessings, and a champagne toast goes a long way. And, dear Julia, let's see that photograph!
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys, just the thought of what you're doing would send me to the funny farm. Hats off to you, and a glass or few of champagne!
We've cut back over the last few years, as you do when your kids are grown. For years, we made our own Christmas cards, at first by hand, then from photos that we spent ages composing and getting just right. But last year we sent e-cards, and this year... we'll see.
And we have always had a real tree. That has been my one absolutely non-negotiable Christmas MUST. But I somehow hurt my back over Thanksgiving, and right now the idea of carrying an eight-foot tree into the house, decorating it (after carrying all the loads of boxes down from the attic) is unthinkable. As is putting up Christmas lights, and all the other decorations (while writing 2000 words a day.) And cooking? After Thanksgiving, I'd settle for Taco Bell.
So we'll reassess in a week or so. But at the moment a cup of hot cocoa and Christmas movies sound just the ticket.
JAN BROGAN: The nice thing about having grown up children? My daughter, who loves Christmas, comes home to do the decorating. As is our custom, we always pick out the tree (AND YES, it has to be FRESH and I have to have a tree) on her birthday, December 12th And because I started this insane custom of making candy and giving it the neighbors, I'm stuck with it. I tried to give it up one year, but then as everyone dropped off their homemade Greek cookies, etc., I got terrible pangs of guilt. Besides, my daughter comes home and helps me make the candies, so it's sort of worth it. And last year I made Hallie's awesome orange/chocolate twisty things and now they are a part of my annual repertoire.
The sad thing is that I gave up Christmas cards, and they were actually my favorite part of Christmas. I AM determined this year to cut down on the number of presents under the tree. Some years, it's actually been embarrassing. What happens is that I go out and shop for everyone and then, at the last minute, my husband decides he needs to personally go out and get things for everyone, and with my daughter (are you catching on to a theme here?) in tow, they buy TOO MUCH STUFF and too much of it is for me.
And don't for a minute, think I'm being unselfish. We put our house on the market earlier this year and there is nothing like cleaning out your basement (and all the juicers, mini vacuums, and knicknacks) to make you NEVER WANT ANOTHER CHRISTMAS present in your life.
JULIA: I'm still laughing over Ro's eventual Christmas: "the two of us and a pine scented pillow." How about you, dear readers? Have you given up any holiday traditions to save your sanity?