The Holidays12-21-11-margaret.jpg

Years ago, I read in a women’s magazine that for American women, the only two situations more stressful than the holidays are the loss of a spouse or of a child.

That is surely an overstatement, but the stress can be intense this time of year.

As a young working mother, I felt overwhelmed most of the time, and the weeks leading up to the holidays only magnified my distress.

What would I give to my family and friends? What would Santa bring? When would I shop for all this and how would we pay for it? Would I be able to get it all wrapped in time? When would we haul all the decorations down from the attic and when would we put them out? Would we take a family photograph and send it to our family and friends? Would we have a family party and what would we serve? What would we have for Christmas dinner and who would join us?

And those were only the general stresses.

Each holiday season added its own special touch like the year one child found his Santa presents early and had them out playing with them one day when I came home from work. Then there was the year I had an hours-long crying jag on the sofa, because I had not been able to get a wreath on the front door when every other house on our street was decked out beautifully. Then there was the year I apparently took leave of my senses and allowed our house to be part of a home tour even though our three children were all pre-schoolers, and we somehow got a tree that required furniture to be moved out of the living room probably topped them all.

There were wonderful moments as well, like the unexpected arrival of a friend the morning after my crying jag with her present for me, a gorgeous boxwood wreath she had made herself. I was so thrilled I popped it right on the front door and was happy the rest of the season. I will remember all my days standing at a window holding my youngest child, then an infant, warm and enjoying the peace brought by a beautiful and unusual December snow which stopped the holiday bustle in its tracks.

That was the only white Christmas I have ever experienced.

People my age have learned that there are many blessings that come with maturity, and a sense of perspective about the holidays is one of them. I now know that it really does not matter much how we decorate, what we eat or what presents are under the tree.

What does matter is that those we love are safe and well and that we can be together.

Presents are fewer these days for many reasons. Children who once pined for many packages with even more parts now hope for fewer, though dearer, items. Friends, like me, want fewer things and are happy to be thought of with a charitable contribution in their honor, a homemade goodie or with only a hug and warm wishes. We understand that while our needs have been simplified, others people’s needs are great and that our resources are more valuable used in that way.

Wrapping what presents there are is no longer the chore it once was. Many of the presents are now in simple envelopes, and a genius who must be kin to Albert Einstein has invented the gift bag.

I no longer feel driven to bake the perfect cookie, not even using my grandmother’s recipe, or to roast the most fabulous turkey in the neighborhood. I may or may not make my annual chocolate mousse. I am content to cook what those I hold dear want to have and to enjoy their company.

Even decorating is less pressurized. A wreath is on the door with a bow made by a friend, and the tree is twinkling in the living room. I have not put out all our Christmas decorations this year, though, because I got tired of doing it.

I am just fine with that.

What is most important this holiday season is that we are looking forward to several occasions to be with treasured friends, both old and new, and that our family will be together in one place, at one time, including a most welcome daughter-in-law and our baby, now in his fi rst post-college job, who watched the rare Christmas snow with me.

The joys of a young and active family are many, and I loved those years. I look forward to experiencing them one generation removed with grandchildren, if we are so blessed.

The joys of an older family are different, calmer and more peaceful, and perhaps more savored. They are certainly less stressful.

However they come, though, holiday times are unique and precious, to be held close to our hearts forever.

From my family to yours, a safe, peaceful and dear holiday season to all.

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