Ah, the Yuletide season! No matter who we are or where we live, it's something we all look forward to. And why not? When it comes to the Winter Solstice, cultural differences don't matter. Language isn't a barrier. And neither is the fact that the traditions with which we commemorate this festival are as varied as the celebrants themselves. That's because it's a time of light and warmth—the time when the newborn Sun appears again in the sky—a confirmation that the dark, bitter chill that envelopes the Earth will soon give way to longer days and the greening of Spring. And in the dead of Winter, that's a promise we can all appreciate.
Even so, it's more than that. The promise of the newborn Sun brings its light and warmth into our hearts, as well. Common courtesy and good will becomes the norm, rather than the exception. Senseless worries give way to something much more important: A sincere appreciation for our neighbors, friends, and loved ones, and all they do to enrich our lives. We find ourselves smiling at each other, speaking to strangers on the street, and going out of our way to practice random acts of kindness. In short, we all become nicer people, and even if only temporarily, the world seems a much better place to live. In this day and time, that's definitely something worth celebrating!
As worthy of celebration as the Winter Solstice is, though, doing so often presents its own set of problems in the form of time and money. There are holiday cards to send out, gifts to buy, and our homes to decorate. There are parties to plan, additional trips to the grocery store, and all that holiday baking and cooking to handle. Unless you've got a staff of personal servants and an unlimited bank account, it's enough to make your head spin. And that's certainly no way to spend the season.
So, what do you do? How do you get everything done on time? Or handle all that extra expense without taking out a mortgage-sized bank loan? More to the point, how do you manage to relax, enjoy the season, and actually have some fun?
Contrary to popular belief, the answer is not double-dipping into the eggnog. But it's almost as effortless, and comes in the form of three little words. Simplify. Organize. Delegate.
At this point, I can almost hear what you're thinking: It starts with "yeah, but" and ends with "nobody else can do this the way I want it done." And believe me, I understand. By the same token, though, Yuletide meals don't have to be twelve-course extravaganzas. Nobody will gasp in horror because every loop of garland on the tree doesn't measure exactly nine inches at its drop. And no one—not one single person in the entire history of Yule—ever died because a Yule card arrived addressed in a childish script or with a printed computer label adorning its envelope.
If you're still not convinced, though, consider this: The whole idea behind any celebration is to celebrate. And you just can't do that if you're so worn out you can't even remember your own name. That said, take a deep breath and regroup. Then get started with some of the tips below. You'll be glad you did!
- Holiday Cards: These little goodies can be terribly expensive, to say nothing of the time involved in signing, addressing, and stamping them. That being the case, start by taking a good, hard look at your greeting card list and decide whether you really need to send all those cards. If not, shave the list to a more appropriate size.
Then set about designing your own cards via the personal computer. (You can even scan in your signature so it prints out with the rest of your message, if you like.) Just print them on heavy card stock (readily available at all office supply stores) and have your children or grandchildren handle the addressing and stamping.
Don't have kid-power at your disposal? Not a problem. Simply type your address list into the computer, print it out on labels, and slap them onto the envelopes with the stamps. One quick dash to the mailbox and you're done.
- Decorating: Since we want our homes to look festive and elegant and reflect our own tastes, this is the one job that most of us have trouble relinquishing to others. However, it's also the one job that usually takes more time than anything else. So, dig out those boxes of holiday decorations and invite the neighborhood kids over for a decorating party. All you'll have to do is supply hot cocoa and cookies—and that will give you plenty of time to supervise.
Worried that it might be more trouble than it's worth? Invite your friends over for a decorating party, instead. Even if you have to serve more food—meat, cheese, and vegetable trays are likely options—you'll get the help you need and it won't take as much supervision. Best of all, the job will be done, and you can breathe a sigh of relief.
- Shopping: I don't have time to go to the mall anymore—and my last holiday shopping experience there was so unpleasant that I doubt I'd go even if I did. For that reason, I do most of my shopping online. This doesn't just save the nerves, though. Since most online stores will handle gift wrapping and shipping, it saves a ton of time as well.
Of course, there are those folks who require something special in the way of holiday gifts, and ordering something sight unseen simply isn't going to get it. In that case, why not get back to the basics and make the gift yourself. (Don't groan. With all the time you've already saved in other areas, you'll have plenty of time for this. Besides, the gift doesn't have to be fancy to be special.) Some quick and easy gift ideas might include a spa basket, a flowerpot birdbath, or a potpourri lamp. You could go with freshly baked goods, a kitchen wreath, an herbal tea basket, or maybe even a set of scented mug coasters. And if you've got some time left over, you might even whip up a batch of bone-shaped biscuits for your loved ones' favorite pets.
But what if you aren't particularly crafty? What if you're the type whose fingers stick together at the mere mention of high-test glue? Not to worry. The projects listed above are absolutely foolproof, and you can find all the instructions in Yule: A Celebration of Light & Warmth.
Party Planning: I doubt there's s single person who, caught up in the spirit of the season, hasn't at least dreamed of having a Yule party. But few of us ever follow through. The reasons are many, but most of them finally boil down to two things: the amount of time it takes to plan such an affair, and the expense involved in making it happen. Sadly enough, the idea is put on the back burner until such won't be a problem.
It doesn't have to be that way. Regardless of your circumstances, you can still have that party—if you follow a few simple guidelines. What's more, it can be the gala event of the season. Here's how:
- Keep the guest list small, and rather than sending out invitations, use the phone to handle the task. Then insist on a call back to confirm attendance.
- Make it a potluck meal. That way, you'll only have to supply the entrée, and drinks. (To cut expenses, do not supply liquor. Ask your guests to bring their own bottles, instead, if they'd like to partake.)
- If you want to exchange gifts, keep the price to a five dollar maximum. Then hold a gift swap. Number all the gifts, write the numbers on slips of paper, and put them in a pretty bowl. Then ask each guest to draw a slip and retrieve the appropriate gift.
- To make it a really special evening, consider an after-dinner caroling expedition. Don't want to sing traditional carols? Not a problem. There's a wide assortment of Pagan-oriented filks readily available on the Internet. Just print them out, don your hats and coats, and get ready to harmonize.
Yule Meals: I'm always amazed at the tizzies folks work themselves into when it comes to preparing Yuletide meals. But perhaps it's because my mother always handled things the easy way: She simply prepared many of the dishes ahead of time and froze them.
While it's a given that you can't do that with everything on your list—dishes that require mayonnaise, cooked potato, or meringue do not freeze well—almost anything in the holiday baking category fits the bill. Take double-crust pies, for instance. These can be prepared weeks in advance, wrapped in aluminum foil, and frozen. And when the big day comes? Just pop them into the oven for the prescribed baking time. (For a special treat, bake them during the meal. That way, you'll be able to serve warm pie for dessert.)
The same applies to both cookie and yeast roll dough. It's only a matter of shaping the dough into rectangular rolls and wrapping it well in waxed freezer paper before freezing. When you're ready to bake, just slice the dough into pieces and pop them in the pan. (In the case of roll dough, be sure to allow an additional thirty minutes or so for the rolls to rise before baking.)
Many other items—fresh fruit salads, most soups, casseroles, and cheese, egg, and pasta dishes—can also be successfully prepared early and frozen as well. If you go this early preparation route, however, please remember to allow plenty time for thawing in the refrigerator. It wouldn't do for someone to chip a tooth on a frozen fruit salad—especially not on Yule!
Of course, I realize that nothing is ever as easy as it appears in print. Things seldom go according to plan, and we often find ourselves changing course in mid-stream. Sometimes, we even find ourselves upstream without benefit of paddles. And a good many of us just don't do well with those sorts of changes. For this reason I urge you, no matter what your Yuletide plans involve, to keep it simple. That way, you'll truly be able to enjoy the season. What's more, you'll know that the light, warm, fuzzy feeling starting at your core and spreading through your entire being is exactly what it should be: that wondrously awesome, magical spirit of Yule—and not the early signs of complete and total holiday exhaustion!