This is a story of our perfectly imperfect Christmas season. It was magical! It was grand! It wasn’t at all perfect — and perhaps that’s the best part.
As the days ticked away toward Christmas last year, I shelved the idea of cutting down our own Christmas tree. There didn’t seem to be enough time or a good time or something. Plus, I have a Christmas tree allergy, so was it even worth it? Instead, I dragged the old, ugly fake tree from the attic, as we’d done for years, and up it went.
We neared Christmas and the perfect time to use my holiday plates and mugs didn’t arise. They stayed tucked away in boxes in the dining room cupboard. There didn’t seem to be an ideal time to make lots of Christmas cookies either. So I didn’t. We decorated the house, saw the Nutcracker and bought presents. Not much else. It felt like it was all we had time for.
In reality, those were the only things I felt we could do perfectly. It’s not that our holiday was lacking, it’s just that I missed those other parts of the holiday — the special things that we used to do.
This year though. This year was different.
The season began with Thanksgiving, which I hosted. Turkey and gravy and stuffing and two kinds of cranberry sauce and all the side dishes … I’ve hosted most years of my adult life but this year it was virtually stress-free. I planned, prepped and was able to enjoy every last ounce of it. And the leftovers too.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, we began decorating for Christmas. In the past, I’ve held off until we could do all the decorating. But this year I was content to put out our Nutcracker collection, our dining room tree filled with food-themed ornaments and a few other items. The rest of the decorating would happen when we got to it.
It was a perfectly good way to start the holiday season.
I took the idea of “use what you have” to heart. We used those special plates and mugs I mentioned — for breakfast at Paige’s birthday sleepover and for hot cocoa. We’ll do it again too. I think they’ll be lovely with hot cocoa when we celebrate Christmas again in Maine. And those plates will be delightful on New Year’s Eve for our appetizers.
Seeing The Nutcracker, a production of a local ballet company with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and Bangor Area Children’s Choir is a family tradition for us. My kids and I have been going since we moved to Maine (and collecting nutcrackers at each performance). But this year was extra special because Paige was in the production. It was her stage debut as a dancer, and she was the cutest reindeer on stage. In my humble, biased opinion, of course.
She’s already thinking ahead to next season.
Will and I watched the show together at the opening performance and I got to see Paige dance again on monitors in the lobby during the last performance. it was
For our Christmas tree, we left that old fake one in the attic and took a quick trip to a nearby farm to cut down a fresh one. We were short on time — this was squeezed in before Paige had to be at the theatre for the last show of The Nutcracker — but we found one and worked together to cut it down. I love the tree we picked. Maybe it’s time to donate the old fake tree and make this a new tradition for us.
While we were there, we even got to sample cider donuts and pick up a Christmas wreath. It was a speedy trip but was totally worth it. And, sure, it would have been nice to have a leisurely morning of tree picking, but fun can be had even on a deadline.
Paige’s holiday chorus concert was a cute affair. We squeezed in a little holiday shopping before and then headed out afterward for a special dinner. Was it late? Sure. But life’s short. And we needed to eat.
Cookies. Oh, how I have missed making batches and batches of cookies to share! This year, I wasn’t going to miss it. We baked a batch of cookies together quickly one afternoon, and then I baked four more varieties the next day. I love the smell of baked goods at the holidays. Or really anytime. We packed the cookies into tins to share and reserved some in our cookie jar too.
For Christmas, we headed to Connecticut to spend it with family as we do every year. These trips can be stressful, but this year I mailed some gifts ahead so that I wouldn’t have to lug them on a bus and train. Even though we still had a lot of stuff to take, it was a low-stress journey south. I even caught Paige doing eleves in South Station in Boston while she waited for a pizza. Dance everywhere, right?
Tomorrow, we’ll wake up, exchange presents, have our annual Christmas brunch and a special dinner. And then we’ll head home to Maine where well celebrate again.
And there was more this holiday season — carols playing whilst I cooked. Christmas movies watched. Candles in the windows. We made the most of the holiday season this year and it was delightful. Was it perfect? Nah. But it didn’t need to be. And squeezing in everything from holiday shopping to baking meant we got to enjoy more and do more. That was way better than letting imperfect timing get in the way.
The greatest gift of this holiday season has been allowing myself to let go. I didn’t stress if I had enough time to bake cookies; I just did it. I didn’t talk myself out of a real tree; we just got one. And for my kids and I, it’s meant a grand season of fun and memories.
A former manager told me often, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” It was spoken with affection, a quote from Voltaire that was a comment on my personality, my work habits and my life. And it was startlingly true. How many times did I not do something because I didn’t feel like the timing worked or that we could fit it in? How many times did I work on a story longer because it wasn’t quite perfect yet? The phrase became a familiar mental refrain for me, even after that manager went to work elsewhere, reminding me to let good be, well, good enough. While it sunk in quickly in terms of my work habits, it took longer to ingrain itself in the rest of my life.
But now, I think it finally has.
Happy holidays. Merry Christmas. Joyous days. I hope your holiday season has been special too.
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. Her latest cookbook is The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook, published by Rockridge Press, which focuses on quick, easy, from-scratch cooking for busy people. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.