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Thought for the Holidays

Well, we are certainly in the swing of the holidays now. So I thought I’d share this gem that was sent to my by my daughter, L. I could not have said this better than Leisl Shillinger in her article in the New York Times did.

The winter celebrations are upon us, bringing with their glee the return of insecurities like: Is your centerpiece of the right niveau? Should you drape the banisters with balsam fir, or is boxwood more current? Which breed of artificial bird is trending to clamp among the boughs? And will you be able to hold your head up if you have not personally raised from poulthood the turkey that graces the holiday table (as Martha Stewart suggests) or hand-pressed the apple cider with which you braised the brisket?

Never before have so many worthy options for decorating and entertaining presented themselves to conscientious householders. Long ago, our grandmothers unhurriedly flipped through Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s to update their eggnogs and hunt patterns for tree skirts. Ebenezer Scrooge contended with the Ghost of Christmas Present, who forced him to witness only a handful of other people’s fetes. But modern-day hosts are subjected to thousands of images of strangers’ holiday rituals, through television and magazines but especially on social media, where every fireside post competes to be merrier than the last. All of which serves as a constant reproof that, perhaps, we’re not nearly as festive as we mean to be.
Today’s revelers can find themselves treating the season like the year’s ultimate performative act: evidence of our prowess at directing the theater of home, proof to ourselves and others that ours is indeed a wonderful life. But in the quest to make the occasion camera-ready, we can lose sight of the fact that the personal is more important than the perfect this time of year, and that established traditions are more memorable than ever-escalating fabulousness. You can scour Kinfolk to come up with a thrillingly austere ‘‘vegetal garland wall,’’ or check out YouTube for how to create a gingerbread house as intricate as an Uffizi fresco, but in the end, these punctuations won’t create memories for your kids. What they’ll remember instead is the festal continuum — the idiosyncrasies and permanent patterns of each household’s tradition that give the holiday both meaning and resonance.
In other words: Not only do holiday preparations not have to be back-breaking, it can be better when they’re not. One of the most warmly remembered American Christmases on record took place in a modest cabin in the Midwest in 1870, without dove-studded white pine garlands or candled wreaths. Laura and her sister Mary woke that holiday morning to empty stockings at the fireplace — until a family friend knocked on the door. He had intercepted Santa, he told them, and forded the raging waters of the Verdigris River to bring the girls their gifts: two tin cups, two candy canes, two little cakes and a ‘‘shining bright, new penny’’ each. ‘‘There never had been such a Christmas,’’ Laura Ingalls Wilder exulted. An equally memorable American Hanukkah took place a century ago amid similar simplicity, in an apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side — described in Sydney Taylor’s ‘‘All-of-a-Kind Family’’ series. Five sisters grated potatoes and onions for latkes, and polished the brass menorah to await the lighting of the candles. Each of them got two pennies — an absolute fortune, in their eyes. ‘‘It was the time for gladsomeness,’’ the author explained.
So, as you muster your décor, mixing in, if you wish, some — but not too much — innovation, keep your focus on the gladsomeness. The memories you make have more to do with spirit than substance. That which is recorded on the heart is, alas, not Instagrammable.

Be thankful, be thoughtful, be merry, be happy, be calm.

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