We had to cancel our ladies Christmas support group lunch this year. Nobody had time. In the old days we would meet a few weeks before the holiday and whine about all the work we had to do to get ready for the holiday and drink ourselves under the table.
But now it’s gotten out of control and it’s our fault. That’s right, girls. We do it to ourselves. If we stopped, Christmas might actually revert to a religious holiday.
There are plenty of atrocities perpetrated against women around the globe but this one – let’s face it -- is self-inflicted.
I am the writer, director, producer and star of our Christmas holiday. It’s a miracle that my husband and I are still together after 40 years, considering that each one of those years has a Christmas in it.
When Ben and I got together I soon learned that Christmas was not his thing. I’m from Savannah. It was a big deal in our Southern family. He is from Boston. Yankees get socks, underwear and an orange in their stockings. On our first Christmas I went out and bought him, on my meager reporter’s salary, a navy cashmere blazer, a cashmere monogrammed bathrobe and leather slippers, his first Turnbull and Asser shirt with a white collar and a burgundy cashmere turtleneck. He went down to the drugstore and bought me a TV stand. (Our TV sat on the dresser)
The following year he did a little better but it became clear that he needed help. I started going to various stores and picking out what I wanted. Then I would have the store manager call Ben and say he ought to come in to buy me something. When he went in the manager would suggest what I had picked out which “looked like Sally”. This turned out to be a huge success, and I recommend it. When I showed off my presents to other women, they would glare at their husbands and Ben would preen.
I began helping the husbands of my friends by taking them to jewelry stores to pick out presents for their wives. This too was a huge success. One year I picked out a pair of diamond earrings for a friend. She was ecstatic and her husband was duly rewarded. The next Christmas he went in and bought the exact same pair. It had registered somewhere in his brain that she might like them. When she took them back she said it was obvious that the jewelers, who knew he had gotten the same pair again, said nothing because they thought he was giving them to his mistress.
One year when I didn’t have time to go pick out something for myself I told my daughter in law to tell him she would take care of it for him. I wrapped up a beautiful necklace Ben had given me several years before and put it under the tree. I was overwhelmed by his generous and thoughtful gift and he was extremely pleased and grateful. I recommend this too.
My father used to buy my mother presents but she finally suggested that he ask me to choose them for him. “If I get one more pink bathrobe I’m going to slit my wrists,” she said. That year she got a diamond heart-shaped pin which she wore everywhere and which I wear to this day. Another success story.
I have never done Christmas cards, even though I love receiving them. So much planning ahead. All that addressing and stamping and mailing. But I have always done the tree.
The tree has been a huge issue for us. In our early years together we usually picked out our tree (6-7 feet) brought it home and decorated it. Ben grumbled but did it, encouraged by enough good single malt scotch. Then we moved into our current house, which has very high ceilings and I had to get the tree delivered. The first year we decorated it ourselves. That was also the last year we decorated it ourselves. Ben climbed a ladder to start putting the lights at the top and we ran out half way down. When I suggested he start all over again he made a suggestion to me that I cannot print in a family newspaper and left the room. Since that year, the guys who bring the tree also put the lights on.
Presents are the big nightmare. I love giving presents but not all at once. This is why I finally made a pact with my friends and distant family to stop giving presents at Christmas and give love presents throughout the year. I recommend this if you can get the family to go along with it. In my case, my sister Donna insists on Christmas presents. I tell her it’s a hostile act but she doesn’t care. Every year a huge box arrives from Donna with piles of fabulous gifts and it makes me crazy with guilt. One year I sent her a felt stocking with lumps of coal in it to discourage her but to no avail. My brother Bill, on the other hand, sent us a bag of pistachios and I sent him the fruit of the month. That was fine.
I used to have a huge seated Christmas dinner for about 24 and bought presents for everyone and they brought presents. This went on for nearly 30 years. I had one rule -- no thank-you notes. One day I woke up and had an epiphany. No more presents for dinner. I thought my women friends were going to canonize me, they were so grateful.
Then I had another epiphany. No more Christmas dinners. I always got sick on Christmas day anyway and spent the whole week in bed. I think my body, if not my mind, was sending me a message.
We haven’t even discussed cooking. I do not do Christmas cookies. That’s another line I have never crossed. For years my mother, who was a great cook, did the turkey. After she had a stroke, I got somebody to help with the Christmas dinner. When I stopped having the dinner two years ago I cooked my first turkey by myself. It was a disaster – dry and overcooked with a mass of greasy, floury lumps for gravy. I actually sat in the kitchen and sobbed.
I decided to practice for this Christmas. At Thanksgiving I cooked a turkey. My good friend Nora Ephron, another fabulous cook, had just died. I cooked the perfect turkey, moist and golden with smooth, creamy, delicious gravy. I was clearly channeling Nora.
Long ago, shortly after we got married, I decided to forgo Christmas and Ben and I went to St. Maarten’s for our honeymoon instead. It was horrible. Lying on the beach, listening to the waves and the swaying of the palm trees and Christmas carols just didn’t cut it. Christmas dinner on the terrace was lobster salad. I would have killed for turkey and dressing and canned cranberry sauce with the little ridges in it.
This year, we’re going to a hotel for Christmas dinner. I’m so happy I could expire.
For some years now we have been going to the Washington National Cathedral for the 6:30 pm Christmas Eve service. It is beautiful and magical, the lights are low, the candles flicker and the music is divine.
Oh, that’s what it’s all about, I say to myself. Not shopping or baking or mailing or roasting. Why didn’t anyone tell me?
I pass this along to you so that next Christmas it will be your choice. As a famous shrink once said, “You get the Christmas you want.” Own it.