Spreading out the holiday season

A birthday WEEK, a Thanksgiving MONTH, a holiday SEASON, and New Year’s RESOLUTIONS that get set in November … for the last 12 years I’ve found myself starting to create my plans and intentions for the coming months, and the coming year, as the last of the leaves are raked up and the snow shovels make their way to my front and back porches.

It started when I was a young mom. I realized that "mandatory" holidays seemed to just fly by and were often over before I knew it. And all I was left with was a post-holiday-frenzy hangover, so to speak, and hopefully some good leftovers so I didn’t have to cook for a few days.

Those were not the kind of celebrations I wanted to have, nor were they memories I wanted to create, for myself or my family.

So my response was to proclaim that we were going to stop focusing all our holiday attention onto climaxing one-day events. Thanksgiving was an easy one to start with. It’s a holiday that focuses on gratitude and good food — a combination that I love. So throughout the month of November, I try to be more conscious about expressing my thanks for the blessings in my life, and I make a lot of soup, banana bread, and angel food cakes to give to others.

Years ago, I made a personal growth resolution to learn to make good apple pies and found that if, while slicing up the apples, I said loving prayers for and about the people I would serve the pie to, it made for a better pie. Now, I do the same when I make soup, cake and banana bread, too.

So by weaving these little traditions into my month, when I get to Thanksgiving day, I don’t feel the pressure to have a huge event that’s as stressful as it is "thankful." (We actually now go to our neighbors’ house for dinner and then I jet back to work to prepare for the next day at the store. Thank you, JoAnn and Geoff.)

As a shop owner going into my fourth year, the holiday SEASON has an entirely different meaning to it, compared to years gone by, and so fortunately, my shift in perspective has served me well.

After my first year with my gift store, I asked my kids and husband to tell me which of our holiday traditions were ones that they really loved and which were ones that they didn’t really care much about. What they revealed allowed us to cut activities (and expenses) that I/we were doing that contributed more crabbiness than holiday cheer. And we spread our traditions out over a couple weeks, rather than the big BE-ALL, DO-ALL Christmas day extravaganza.

This exercise of thinking about what traditions and observations are most important, and then integrating them into a longer period of days, leads me to another tradition that I observe differently — New Year’s resolutions.

Each November, I begin to think about choosing a personal growth goal for the coming year. One year, it was learning to make apple pies, another was learning to compose/write at the keyboard, another was mastering crockpot cooking and 2005 was about becoming a good "winker." Last year, I committed to learning to solve computer-technical problems by reading the "help icon" instructions (instead of making my husband, kids or staff fix it for me).

Perhaps I do it in November because I need the extra two months to get into the groove of my goal or perhaps the changing of the season naturally prompts one to be more reflective and "internal."

And since I have a January birthday, I’ll take this opportunity to wink and wave at all the kindred spirits in the world who take a week to celebrate their birthdays, too. There isn’t really a profound or thoughtful reason to do this except that it’s a lot of fun and I think more people should do it.

So, have a lovely time over the next couple months. I hope you’ll spend some time now thinking about the ways you love the holidays, and the ways that you don’t, and give more of your time and attention to the sweetest things you know. Happy holidays!

P.S. Did you change your smoke detector batteries this week? Remember I accidentally set my house on fire this spring and smoke detectors saved my daughter’s life.

Terre Thomas lives in the Lyndale neighborhood and owns Fairy Godmother, a gift shop in the Kingfield neighborhood.