First off, you have to make ALL the cookies
December 7, 2016 8:36 AM   Subscribe

What Christmas means, when you're the mom.

Did you know, when you are The Mom, no one else will fill your stocking for you, so if you want a stuffed stocking you have to fill it yourself and then pretend to be surprised by what you find in it?

[....]

Did you know, when you are The Mom, you have to be the traditions that only truly bear fruit for your family after years of repetition, and that if you don’t insist on the traditions, the rest of your family will be like “eh, whatever, we can eat whatever for dinner” or “we’ll just have a bowl of cereal while opening the presents” not realizing that THAT WAY DARKNESS LIES?

More uplifting holiday cheer and grumbling from The Awl under holiday dread.
posted by A Terrible Llama (72 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Don't miss the emotional labor Metafilter classic.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:37 AM on December 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


This made me tear up a little bit. Every year since I became an adult, I have filled my Mom's stocking with the most elaborate, interesting stuff (and the basics she asks for, because stockings = medicine cabinet products in our home), because she had to fill our stockings every single year.
posted by xingcat at 8:45 AM on December 7, 2016 [22 favorites]


It took a shamefully long time for it to dawn on me that my mom filled her own stocking. Like, I was in my early 20s at CVS watching her buy nail files and chocolates for herself before it really hit home. Since then we have rotated Mom-stocking-duty in my family, hopefully making up for two decades of neglect with very enthusiastic abundance.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 8:48 AM on December 7, 2016 [36 favorites]


Oh, god, I used to be the happy singleton aunt who showed up on Christmas morning, was fed a delicious breakfast, and then doled out and received presents. It was marvelous, and the most work I had to do was pack my car. Then, my sister's husband died, and I said that I would spend Christmas Eve at their house to help her. I had NO IDEA how much work Christmas Eve is for parents. It sucks. I love my sister, and I love my nephews, but I miss my Christmas Eves on my own so much. I'm not even the Mom; I'm the sous-Mom, so I swear, I get all the shit jobs.

I'm taking the boys this weekend so we can buy presents for their mom that she's actually surprised to open rather than the ones from "Santa" that she already knows about. (Assuming the little one, who is so bad at keeping secrets, he even tattles on himself doesn't tell her what they are before Christmas.)
posted by gladly at 8:49 AM on December 7, 2016 [20 favorites]


Shopping for my own Christmas stocking stuff is one of the best parts about being the Mom! Any little thing my heart desires Thanksgiving-Christmas, BUYING IT FOR MY STOCKING. And then on Christmas, I have a stocking full of stuff that's so perfect for me, it's like I picked it out myself! Genius!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:56 AM on December 7, 2016 [17 favorites]


I'm The Mom but my husband and I fill each other's stockings. With, like gum and playing cards and movies from the $5 bin at Target, sure, but as far as the kids are concerned it looks like Santa was just as generous to the parents as the kids, because to a kid, what's not awesome about gum and playing cards and The Goonies? (Shh, don't tell my husband he's getting the Goonies in his stocking this year.)

Is it really true that in other married couples out there, the husbands are making the wives fill their own stockings? Makes my appreciate my husband more. C'mon guys, how hard is it to buy some Trident and a book of word search puzzles from the check out line!
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:57 AM on December 7, 2016 [20 favorites]


Did you know, when you are The Mom, you have to be the traditions that only truly bear fruit for your family after years of repetition, and that if you don’t insist on the traditions, the rest of your family will be like “eh, whatever, we can eat whatever for dinner” or “we’ll just have a bowl of cereal while opening the presents” not realizing that THAT WAY DARKNESS LIES?

This. This is the problem right here. Traditions are not mandatory. If you're The Mom, and you don't want to put the work into the traditions, and no one else wants to put the work into the traditions, why not just give up the traditions instead of doing optional work you don't want to.

Married moms filling their own stockings is some bullshit though. Hopefully someone clues in the kids of the single moms right around when they figure out that there is no Santa.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:58 AM on December 7, 2016 [15 favorites]


I was, from a very young age, always thrilled to go with Dad to Christmas shop for Mom. God knows my father is the worst when it comes to thinking about other people before himself in the daily grind, but Mom always got beautiful (wrapped by shopgirls) Christmas surprises. And Dad always made a fancy day of the shopping.

We never did stockings though.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:02 AM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


it suddenly becomes clear that the Christmases you grew up reading about in Little Women or Little House on the Prairie or Little Whatever are complete lies? Nobody ever actually sacrifices anything of their own to get the Marmee something!

I mean, the families in both these books were poor, to different degrees, so one option for The Mom would be to not have any money for cookies or stockings or novelty socks or Christmas pajamas. I think the Little House girls got like a single peppermint stick in their stocking one year.
posted by muddgirl at 9:02 AM on December 7, 2016


Growing up my mom and dad split things - mom did cookies, cakes, and dinner, dad did decorating, stockings, and present shopping and wrapping. Now I'm the dad and I make the fruitcakes, 90% of the cookies, stuff the stockings (including my own), do most of the decorating, most of the Christmas shopping and present wrapping for the kids, and cook Christmas dinner. I'm not complaining -- I enjoy doing these things and my wife finds it a chore, so we are both happy with the work split.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:06 AM on December 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


that if you don’t insist on the traditions, the rest of your family will be like “eh, whatever, we can eat whatever for dinner” or “we’ll just have a bowl of cereal while opening the presents” not realizing that THAT WAY DARKNESS LIES?

Heh, I have been arguing with my wife about this for years, that the best holiday traditions are those that take the least effort and are the most "spontaneous".

Cereal on the couch sounds fine to me or, if you really want to go nuts, cinnamon eggos in the toaster for that classic holiday smell wafting through the house.
Stockings? Here's your orange and the world's cheapest nail clippers. Don't worry about losing them because you're going to get another set next year anyway.
Special pajamas? Screw that noise, that big box over there is a robe, just put that on and call it good.

It's been a difficult 20 years, but I think I am finally getting her to see the light, especially now with kids, where most of the excitement and enthusiasm naturally focuses anyway.

I've convinced her that the traditional NY Christmas dinner of take-out Chinese is not failure, but valuable cultural heritage, for example.
And that, while every ornament is special, maybe one tree and a rotating collection is enough.
So far my attempts to use Mele Kalikimaka as a starting point for a new tradition of tropical destination Christmases is not bearing fruit, but I believe in Christmas miracles.
posted by madajb at 9:08 AM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Every year since I became an adult, I have filled my Mom's stocking

This is one of those sorts of things adult children should do, if they can, in my view. Or going shopping if your mom likes jammies (mine like lavender soaps and hand creams). And yeah, grammie gets a box of cookies to take home from the Christmas bake every year now, which she supervises with a glass of eggnog.

Speaking of which, we just got a new vanillekipferl mold pan in the weekend which I'm really excited to try out. In the past we've always made them by hand, which is a significant PITA.
posted by bonehead at 9:13 AM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


This it the first year we become adults and have people at our house for Xmas day (I'm 45). I am not sure we have yet comprehended the full horror of the situation and are just dawdling towards the day with insufficient planning. I holiday with my in-laws and have been at their house for Xmas for the last decade and can recognise myself as firmly in the cutting things up while my MiL does most of the heavy lifting in terms of organisation, including a lot of the behind the scenes stuff I probably know not a lot about (but may have to learn quickly). I think she has been working on devolving increased responsibility for some time and this year represents a big jump forward with that plan.
posted by biffa at 9:18 AM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


that if you don’t insist on the traditions, the rest of your family will be like “eh, whatever, we can eat whatever for dinner” or “we’ll just have a bowl of cereal while opening the presents” not realizing that THAT WAY DARKNESS LIES?

Every year since my family moved into the house in which my parents now live (so when I was six, and I am now thirty-two) Christmas morning has involved my brother and me sitting at the top of the stairs so my father could take a picture while my mother peeked into the living room and told us "it looks like Santa has been here!".

Not every year until we learned that they were Santa.

Not every year until we were teenagers.

Not every year until we moved out of the house.

Every single year.

This worked super well when we were little! We would literally squirm with excitement and want to rush down and start Christmas and see our prezzies. By the time I was like fourteen and my brother was eleven it was getting kind of old. When we're like sixteen and thirteen we're literally flicking off the camera because fucking seriously, we're teenagers, we have to sit at the top of the stairs while my mother coos "it looks like Santa has been here"? I mean, it was good-natured, we're definitely smiling, but the situation was absurd. If you were to make a flip book of all these pictures, a couple of years after that all of a sudden some rando would appear as if by magic. That's right! My then-boyfriend now husband was ALSO forced, as an adult visiting his girlfriend's parents' house, to sit at the top of the stairs while his future mother-in-law told him "it looks like Santa has been here!". Recently my brother's girlfriend is also in the pictures! There are four adults sitting at the top of the fucking stairs! It's pretty crowded!

And, on the other hand, after over twenty years of sitting at the top of that staircase being forced to wait just to enter the damn living room, this is the first year I have a baby of my own, and it's given me this whole different perspective. We grew up at the top of those stairs. You can see how my brother and I get older, and become adults, with adult relationships, but are fortunate enough to have a family we want to visit every year (even if they do irritating shit like making us sit at the top of the stairs for pictures into our thirties). And now there will be a charming little muskrat (human baby) in the pictures! My dad, who has taken these photos for over twenty years, is a grandfather! The whole thing remains kind of eye-rolly, but now I see how it's really charming and sweet and, now that I myself am a mom, I'm really looking forward to it. Of course, I'm still planning to have the baby flick off the camera; it's a tradition.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:32 AM on December 7, 2016 [96 favorites]


This year I wanted to kind of jump-start my own holiday spirit, so I went out and bought lights and gutter clips and hauled out the ladder and hung lights on the front of our house for the first time, ever. I was so stupidly proud of my handiwork that I kept going outside in the dark to check it out. (I now understand why some people leave them up year round, though.)
posted by Lucinda at 9:36 AM on December 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


Adults have Christmas stockings? I'd never heard of that before.

My wife's idea of a decent Christmas day is lunch at the local pub, followed by TV and copious drink while the kids fight over the presents. This year, however, I shall be a baking and roasting whirlwind, full of festive merriment, and we shall not be doing with any sloth.
posted by pipeski at 9:37 AM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


A Christmas stocking for yourself? We only have them for children, which is hassle enough. I will break tradition this year, by stuffing stockings for three college students. But they really need the annual toiletries and snacks this time around.
posted by Miss Cellania at 9:39 AM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


My family unit did very little regarding Christmas traditions excepting a meal at the grandparents house (or a male-ran [yes even side dishes] fish fry, whichever was convenient that year) and a simple tree with presents that we opened whenever, sometimes a day early because why not. Sometimes we play dirty santa where eveyone in the extended family brings a wrapped gifts matching the number of warm bodies they bring to the party. This continues to this day when my family goes to visit my relations.

The overhead is minimal. The holiday is about being around family.

MsEld's family does a family gathering, a tree with tons of fragile decorations (that are laboriously cherished and stored and retrieved from storage units and unpacked), a winter village that is the same amount of PITA, everyone with their own custom stocking (but not before you marry into the family, even if you've been dating 10 years, literally, grrrrr), a secret santa pool that in no way reduces the obligation to buy for everyone else lest you be frowned upon, food/pastries/deserts either homemade or storebought (always both), and outside decorations out the wazoo. Oh and last minute shopping trips to accommodate the same to boot.

It is stressful as fuck and no one seems to enjoy it. Stress levels are always high and there will be at least one shouting match, usually more. Admittedly, the men are sometimes seen not-enjoying it a bit less because of the exact 'no fucks given' stuff mentioned here but, man, everyone wishes (and has said as much) that the matriarch would just ease off because it obviously wears on her and it's becoming less and less workable every year.

Guess which one my wife and I prefer and hope to emulate with our kids?
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:03 AM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]



Did you know, when you are The Mom, you have to be the traditions that only truly bear fruit for your family after years of repetition, and that if you don’t insist on the traditions, the rest of your family will be like “eh, whatever, we can eat whatever for dinner” or “we’ll just have a bowl of cereal while opening the presents” not realizing that THAT WAY DARKNESS LIES?


This does not ring true to me at all. One piece of advice I always give new parents is "don't do anything fun with them that you don't want to do 100 times in a row." Because no little kid wants to be thrown up in the air just one time or pushed on the swing for just a few minutes. If they like it, you're doing it over and over. And that's where most of our "traditions" come from. One year we made gingerbread houses. And they liked it. So now we do it every year. We had cookies and hot chocolate and all watched Rudolph together. Now it's tradition. Those tiny pies I made one year on a whim are now the required Christmas dinner ender. Any attempt to ease off gets met with, "But it just wouldn't be Christmas without X!" I have literally stopped myself from trying anything new lest I add another obligation to the calendar. And I love Christmas! I do! I'm not sure I'd lapse into cereal-eating sloth even if I could. But it's a lot of work. Work I do largely to prevent my family from being disappointed, not solely from some internal pressure to fulfill my personal vision of what Christmas should be. I imagine that's true for a lot of other moms, too.
posted by jrossi4r at 10:30 AM on December 7, 2016 [21 favorites]


Did you know, when you are The Mom, you have to be the traditions that only truly bear fruit for your family after years of repetition, and that if you don’t insist on the traditions, the rest of your family will be like “eh, whatever, we can eat whatever for dinner” or “we’ll just have a bowl of cereal while opening the presents” not realizing that THAT WAY DARKNESS LIES?

Did you know, that no matter who you are, if you insist on dumbass traditions that nobody else gives a shit about then you don't get to complain about how much work they are, and that actually, your traditions themselves are almost as big a pain in the ass for everybody else that you force them on as your high maintenance, passive aggressive whining, because YOU ARE THE DARKNESS?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:33 AM on December 7, 2016 [18 favorites]


I am the mom referenced in rabbitbookworm's comment above. During the two decades of filling my own stocking, I tried - with varying degrees of success - to feel that I was empowered and responsible for my own happiness instead of feeling resentful and sad. But I will say that the new tradition of rotating responsibility for my stocking among family members is absolutely delightful and one of the highlights of Christmas morning for me.

The Awl essay is spot on about the Mom duties of Christmas. I certainly made about a million cookies over the years! For me, though, it misses the mark on the emotional component. The joy that I've gotten over the years from making Christmas happen for my family has vastly outweighed the stress, dread and resentment.
posted by rekrap at 10:37 AM on December 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


Work I do largely to prevent my family from being disappointed, not solely from some internal pressure to fulfill my personal vision of what Christmas should be. I imagine that's true for a lot of other moms, too.

It has been made clear for decades that my Christmas Eve lasagna is not optional. Takes me half a day to make it, but our grown kids are not amenable to substitutes. The things we do for love, huh?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:37 AM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Married moms filling their own stockings is some bullshit though. Hopefully someone clues in the kids of the single moms right around when they figure out that there is no Santa.

I too just found out that some adults get Christmas stockings. In my family, those were only for kids, and we didn't have those big decorative stockings. It would always be a brand new sock, with its partner sock balled up in the bottom, then a piece of fruit or a chocolate orange, and then some cheap little things to fill it out.

We also didn't really go overboard with presents, so people would get maybe one 'major' gift and then a mug and/or a flashlight maybe, from the time I was a kid. So that always felt pretty normal to me and that's pretty much what I did as an adult. I was a single mother until my son was 17, so it was never like he got a giant pile of presents and I got nothing. I'd get him three or four things plus the stocking and get myself one or two. And he had to help with the cooking and, of course, even if I'd wanted to, I didn't much have the option of blowing through precious babysitting time taking multiple trips out to stores to buy presents. Kids of single parents do a lot of grownup things. They go to polling places, they are there for all of the grocery shopping, every errand, every waiting in line to renew a license, house closings, everything. They don't have the option of being naive about all the boring and tedious work that goes into life maintenance.

It stresses me out just hearing about all the stuff that some people do for Christmas, like I know people who decorate their WHOLE HOUSES for Christmas. They use different towels and have special Christmas themed kitchen jars, and put garlands and lights and little vignettes around everywhere. I can't even imagine, and I can't imagine anyone over, say, seven or so not realizing the sheer amount of work that must involve.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:41 AM on December 7, 2016 [17 favorites]


I am The Mom and fortunately, in our house The Dad takes his share of the responsibility for making the magic happen. Filling stockings, wrapping presents, hanging lights, making the Christmas morning pancakes, sourcing Hanukkah candles, supplying the whole shebang with adequate eggnog and holiday music.
posted by gateau at 10:57 AM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Many years ago, at work, a colleague and I put together full Christmas stockings for our project managers as appreciation for their hard work. One of them burst into tears because neither her husband nor her children ever thought that she might want a stocking of her own for Christmas and it made her sad every year. Such bullshit.
posted by Jacob G at 11:01 AM on December 7, 2016 [19 favorites]


This just reminds me that toddlerozzy is on the cusp of being old enough to understand gift-giving, and we have not yet taken her Christmas shopping. The good news is that every time we've asked her what somebody else might like for Christmas, the answer has been "cookies," so hopefully she will just let us fill each others' stockings with Chips Ahoy and call it a day.

The bad news is that every time we ask her what she wants for Christmas, she tells us "scissors." Pretty sure somebody is getting shanked in the ozzy household.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:02 AM on December 7, 2016 [26 favorites]


When my grandmother moved into assisted living, I took over Christmas stocking duties (yes, for the adults!). This year, I turned to my husband and said "Wonder what would happen if I simply didn't do them this year? Probably nothing!" I will likely do them this year, but maybe not next! I did make some small fabric stockings, which I haven't found yet this year.

My husband and I do stockings for each other, but they are mainly a place for holiday chocolate and fun small gifts for each other to go.
posted by needlegrrl at 11:12 AM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


RolandOfEld, Florence:
Oh, the family hell that is the Christmas gathering presided by the matriarch-in-law! For several years now, we've been gathering at the church hall for milk and cookies Christmas, and it's been boring, but bearable, but THIS year it has to be at her house one last effing time. This is the joyous place where f-in-law has been busy passive-aggressively dying* for the last several years, and m-in-law is passive-aggressively waiting on him hand and foot, while their kids have been expected to dance attendance and deal with the guilt tripping. Every year the sisters-in-law have been trying to outdo each other in the matriarchal over-the-top preparations, which I have declined to participate in, preferring to be the sister-out-law.

Mr. BH has always declined to decorate, and doesn't care. I put out a 2 foot ceramic tree made by Youngest Daughter years ago for me. I decorate the old Hammacher-Schumacher rocking horse I found at the dump, restored his eyes, and mended mane and tail with horse hair. He's lovely with poinsettias and bows every year. I even made a horse head wreath to hang outside, because Facebook. Doing that pretty well took it over the top for me in the decorations department. The kids are grown up, and tradition is to go to oldest daughter's for the day. DH helps with the cooking as much as the females do. Of course the cleanup is on us, but it's not onerous, with two. It's low key, and no guilt if the boys don't come. There's always the issue of no money for presents. Worse this year, after medical bills. But really, how much crap does one family need?

My big tradition has been riding in the Christmas parade, and that hasn't happened two years in a row now, for justifiable, but sad, reasons. I wanted to give the grandkids a unique experience rather than a 'thing.' Time to reevaluate if this my particular thing that I love to do and find worthwhile, or if they want to do it badly enough that they'll help out with the foofaraw of getting ready.

*I told my husband if he pulls that shit, his ass will be in a home.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:22 AM on December 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


If you're The Mom, and you don't want to put the work into the traditions, and no one else wants to put the work into the traditions, why not just give up the traditions instead of doing optional work you don't want to.

THAT WAY DARKNESS LIES FOR SERIOUS.

Like okay. Sure, I hate the work of Christmas traditions. Every year the traditions are backbreaking, like the Christmas breakfast and Christmas dinner and the good china and the seven kinds of cookies and polishing silver and hand washing the good china between breakfast and dinner and carefully filling stockings with variety of candy and going out for a real live Christmas tree then carting it up the stairs then carting it back down the stairs and the tiny Christmas village with the tiny Christmas people and making homemade gingerbread for the gingerbread house and and and and.

No one else wants the work of traditions. It's a lot of fucking work.

But everyone loves sinking into the niceness of the traditions. Everyone loves the glory of the tree and the decorated table and the village and the edible houses. Everyone loves Christmas breakfast and Christmas dinner and everyone is filled with happy and love and looks forward to Christmas for months and it is bright enough that it washes away the poverty and hardship of terrible years. Because god knows we have those.

Christmas tradition is what covers the years when Christmas presents are lean and so are the rest of things that month. Christmas tradition is the only good thing we may have that winter.

So yeah, it's not really optional. At least over here.
posted by corb at 11:25 AM on December 7, 2016 [36 favorites]


You also have to do all these things yourself even if you don't have kids when your mom passes away.
posted by INFJ at 11:26 AM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Hm. Okay, I'm going to gently suggest that criticisms of feeling that one "has" to do these traditional Christmas things even if that means you're signing yourself up for a lot of work that you will get no help with, coming from people who have never experienced judgement when these things don't get done are perhaps not called for here.

I mean, sometimes it is the case that sincerely no one gives a single shit and the person doing it is just being bloody-minded or a martyr or whatever.

But it is also often the case that maintaining home and hearth falls to mothers and when mothers decide "you know what, fuck this actual shit" and don't do it, it turns out that people do actually care deep down and no one blames the dad or the kids or anyone else for never helping and forcing it to come to this, they blame the mom. It's always mom's fault. Or the girlfriend's fault. Or the wife's fault. (See also: that time I got scolded by my inlaws for "letting" my grown-ass husband wear inappropriate clothing to a family funeral.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:28 AM on December 7, 2016 [53 favorites]


Mr. BH has always declined to decorate...

For one lovely moment of misreading I thought "BH" stood for "bloody husband" (as an alternative to the standard DH=Dear Husband). Then I saw your user name was BlueHorse:)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:30 AM on December 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


This made me tear up a little bit. Every year since I became an adult, I have filled my Mom's stocking with the most elaborate, interesting stuff (and the basics she asks for, because stockings = medicine cabinet products in our home), because she had to fill our stockings every single year.

Oh, Xingcat, thank you for saying this! My mom is spending the night with us Christmas Eve, and it hadn't occurred to me that I should do a stocking for her. She would love that. My dad died last year, and my grandmother a couple of months ago, I'm an only child, and my husband and I and our two little ones just moved back to the area after being away for 7 years, so it's going to be an emotionally heavy holiday this year.
posted by apricot at 11:38 AM on December 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


Spouse and I are avoiding complicated our-families-live-on-opposite-sides-of-the-country discussions this year and are high-tailing it off to go hiking in Patagonia to go hiking, and my mom shipped us two stockings that she made (she just retired and is doing All The Crafts) so we could have stockings on our pseudoChristmas next weekend before we depart for said hiking. They match our curtains.
posted by quaking fajita at 11:52 AM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


This was a constant source of friction in my marriage. My ex said he didn't care about any of these things and that I shouldn't feel pressured. But then he'd eat my mother's and grandmother's and my goodies and dinners and scoop up the stocking stuffers and take advantage of all the relationships smoothed by my homemade and thoughtful gifts. He claimed that there was no need to be egalitarian, because it was my choice to go to these great lengths. And I would get upset and say that it was me being judged for not having a clean, decorated home with goodies, me being judged for going empty-handed to a party, me being judged for forgetting the holiday cards or not tipping or giving gifts, me who was managing all the meals and shopping and everything else. I told him that he could not just opt out of these unnecessary emotional labour pieces because they provide a sort of social grease that makes everything else work. Eventually, I was able to see how this fit into a far larger and darker dynamic. But it was the one thing I could see in the early days, even though I made him do my own stocking stuffers.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 12:00 PM on December 7, 2016 [23 favorites]


Maybe in her universe, but certainly not in my house nor in the homes of many people I know. Are there adults who hang stockings, expecting surprises?
posted by Ideefixe at 12:01 PM on December 7, 2016


Hm. Okay, I'm going to gently suggest that criticisms of feeling that one "has" to do these traditional Christmas things even if that means you're signing yourself up for a lot of work that you will get no help with, coming from people who have never experienced judgement when these things don't get done are perhaps not called for here.

And I am going to gently suggest that there aren't many people out there who haven't experienced that judgment.

In families that have never had extensive Christmas traditions, it may not come as much from the inside, but there are plenty of people who are happy to step in to judge you when they don't understand or approve of your personal choices. And many of the harshest judges are the people who feel trapped and obligated by those expectations themselves, rounded out with coddled types who have someone else doing a bunch of work behind the scenes.

It is absolutely worthwhile to point out that these things are optional, and that there are plenty of happy, well adjusted people out there who don't at all aspire to grand, labor intensive displays.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:11 PM on December 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


This brings out various complicated feelings for me, because not only am I a mom but I am a pretty Christmassy person. Like, my husband enjoys Christmas, but I kinda need it, in a weird way. Combined with that, my own mom is very much The Mom about Christmas even though we're all in our thirties, and I love it and I want to believe she loves doing it, but she really doesn't have to, and I don't want her to if she doesn't want to, yet all our holiday stuff has been established for long enough that it's hard to let go. And I know some day I'm going to have to stop going home for the holidays and do all the Christmas stuff myself and be okay with that. And so I've been in a weird overlapping zone between enjoying sort of reliving my childhood at Christmas and feeling the need to figure out my own family thing. At least we come from a only-kids-get-stockings family.

Also, tangentially: I have two brothers who are really hard to buy gifts for (and, really, after twenty-plus years of Christmases and birthdays you just run out of ideas). Every year I ask them what they want, and every year they respond with stuff like "oh I can't think of anything I really want" but they never come out and say "don't get me anything," and so I have the hardest time trying to think of gifts. The best response would probably be to go "fuck it" and get them a salami gift box or whatever, but I really do want to get them things they'll enjoy and use. So if someone asks you what you want for Christmas, oh my god, TELL THEM. Even if the only thing you can think of is a Starbucks gift card or a full tank of gas, ask for that. The question means someone wants to get you a thing you actually want, and can't read your damn mind.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:11 PM on December 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


It's a pain, and it's hard to convince people (or yourself, even, if you are like that) that it's worth it. Yet people get really emotional about it after a certain point in their lives.

There are two phenomena here:

A) the anger and passive-aggressiveness of some people, primarily women over the age of 25 (trying desperately to build relationships and make life not totally bleak, while lacking the skills to communicate why these things are important) -- which can become associated with holiday traditions and make them seem just awful; and

B) the very real and substantial, and irreplaceable, but so far unmeasured and unreported, benefits people can get from engaging in regular traditions together, if the efforts are well managed and fairly shared.
posted by amtho at 12:21 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Two observations:

1) Traditions are pretty much 100% about how the kids experience Christmas, so it stands to reason that they should have a hand in designing the tradition. My mother took my nieces to The Nutcracker at the Arts Centre so that they would understand what it actually is (and not that shitty Barbie video they had been watching), and it became A THING. It has only just wound down, now that they are old enough to want to focus on other things. I expect they will define a new tradition this year.

2) My Mom was like all The Moms, filling stockings and buying presents, and trimming trees and whatnot. She enjoys it, even if she grumbles about the amount of work. Since getting married, Bonehead and I have taken over Christmas dinner duty, partly because we are foodies and love to cook, but mostly to give my mom a break. We press a glass of white wine in her hand and shoo her off into the living room to relax while we cook. It's the least we can do.
posted by LN at 12:21 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Hm. Okay, I'm going to gently suggest that criticisms of feeling that one "has" to do these traditional Christmas things even if that means you're signing yourself up for a lot of work that you will get no help with, coming from people who have never experienced judgement when these things don't get done are perhaps not called for here.

A lot of assumptions going on there. No doubt, assholes gonna asshole. Blame is always in the cards when lazy, selfish people don't get what they want. But nothing changes without change. Enabling thoughtless demands and behavior by caving just passes the expectation on to the next generation. Saying "fuck this, if you want it, you help," isn't just an acceptable position to take even if it leads to some bad feelings and blame, it is actually the only way past the madness.

And yes, I have absolutely been in the position of forcing people to back the fuck off on traditions that primarily constitute work for myself and Mrs. IRFH. Multiple times. Because no one else would say it. And I took the heat for it. And everything was eventually better for it. If we really get nothing out a tradition, we don't do it without help, because there's way too much fucking work to do as it is. The result has been that we now enjoy the holidays much, much more than ever before, and everybody else appreciates everything we do - which is typically multiple gatherings of more than a dozen people every major holiday. And yeah, it required some initial discomfort on everyone's part. Change is hard. The implication that loved ones aren't pulling their weight is uncomfortable as hell. But doing nothing about it and resenting the holidays was even worse. Change or don't change. That's not a judgement, it's just a fact. There's no change without change, and change is hard.

And as for what is appropriate to talk about here, the author specifically stated that these were traditions only Moms care about. So yes - it's appropriate for people to talk about the actual content of the actual article, even if that's not the part of it that resonates the most for you. Family relationships to traditions and holidays are complicated, and MetaFilter contains multitudes.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:22 PM on December 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


I'm not much for presents, because receiving thoughtful presents makes me feel bad for my own gift buying ineptitude, but I rock at buying stocking stuffers and I like receiving stocking stuffers more than actual presents. This year when a website I really like was doing a Black Friday sale, I placed a note on top of my husband's stuff basically saying, this website is having a sale, these categories of items would make great stocking stuffers for me , hint hint. He took the hint. We go pretty 50/50 on getting stuff for the kid's stocking.

But yeah, I really relate to the stuff about being the one to make and continue traditions. I love most of the traditions I'm doing for our kid, and I don't think I mind doing them, but I'm honestly not sure where the line is for me anymore between things I do because I have to do them and things I do because I like to.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 12:28 PM on December 7, 2016


Yeah this absolutely boils down to emotional labor and the way to not be The Mom is to insist that the EL is as equitable as possible; even the kids get their share when they're old enough.

One year I made sugarplums because it seemed like fun and I like making new things. Everyone LOVED them. BEGGED for them the next year. Okay, I said, but I'm not doing it alone. If y'all want sugarplums every year now and until the end of me, y'all are gonna help. And they do. Because I expected it and I said so. Husband writes the list and goes shopping for the ingredients. Daughter and son help with the actual making. I roll them, though, because seriously Christopher, no one needs a sugarplum the size of an apple. And it became a fun thing we all do together. When they're both out of the house, I'm not sure I'll make them. We'll see. The best part is that there will be zero guilt given or felt because fuck that.

Same goes for every tradition we have. It's all of us or none of us because I am just NOT going to be the martyr my mother and aunts are. No fucking way.
posted by cooker girl at 12:45 PM on December 7, 2016 [27 favorites]


EXACTLY!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:48 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Worst time of the year for me. We have no children so there's no problems or time-consuming traditions there. But my wife insists on over-compensating for the way her mother handled Christmas and well, all holidays. Her mother was a lazy, histrionic narcissist and holidays were minimal, hellish, and all about her mother. So my beloved spends significant amount of time baking, decorating, wrapping presents for the pets, and playing sappy music. Oh, and fighting with me over money. Because it all costs money. Our funds have been extremely tight the last couple years and I'd just as soon do without the lot of it. But no, it's always a battle and one I'm quite sick of. Fuck Christmas
posted by Ber at 2:03 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


So my beloved spends significant amount of time baking, decorating, wrapping presents for the pets, and fighting with me over money.

This reads like the flipside of the problem in the article: If she wants to do the work, and it makes her happy, why not just stay out of her way and let her win the fights? (Ideally, you'd do this by planning in the prior months to make available a stash of funds to cover this thing that is important to her)
posted by sparklemotion at 2:14 PM on December 7, 2016 [15 favorites]


Surely tree and lights are also traditionally Dad Jobs (even though he grew up Jewish)? But absolutely it's way easier to get away with dropping/scaling down stuff like that when you can't bear to do it again than it is for the food.
posted by atoxyl at 2:15 PM on December 7, 2016


Everyone LOVED them. BEGGED for them the next year. Okay, I said, but I'm not doing it alone. If y'all want sugarplums every year now and until the end of me, y'all are gonna help.

That's really important.

It's harder, though, with things that don't taste immediately delicious. People need a way to communicate -- and really make vivid -- the benefits of maintaining relationships and of doing things that let us be in the moment, especially being in a good moment focusing on the good parts of other people.
posted by amtho at 2:18 PM on December 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


holidays were minimal, hellish, and all about her mother. So my beloved spends significant amount of time baking, decorating, wrapping presents for the pets, and playing sappy music. Oh, and fighting with me over money.

Dude, maybe a holiday tradition offensive is in order. Can you come up with a plan to make holidays loving and cheerful that involves minimal spending and more fun time together, then propose it to her as a way to make holidays more meaningful? It would probably involve more effort from you, but it would be fun effort -- plus you can choose only things that you would enjoy. It would probably be a lot better than fighting... You guys could write a holiday promise to each other and sign it, so that there would be clear expectations about the money thing (from her) and the time thing (from you) and the emotional effort thing (from both of you).

Sorry for the unsolicited suggestion, but your comment made me a little sad. I'm sure you already do a lot, so just take from this what makes sense to you.
posted by amtho at 2:24 PM on December 7, 2016 [16 favorites]


We live far away from our families and aren't going home for the holidays this year. We're also not doing Christmas presents or stockings, like, at all for anyone. Or at least that is the plan, because we are barely making ends meet as it is and we have a new baby on the way. But man oh man I am terrified of the fallout we will get, and have already found myself slipping into, well I guess we can homemake a few things and ship them back home, or, I better at least participate in the workplace secret santa... It becomes a question as to what is more work: doing the actual work of Christmas, or refusing to do it and putting up with the inevitable emotional berating that will result.
posted by likeatoaster at 3:33 PM on December 7, 2016


The one i get is "well since you hate christmas work out a way to stop being a grinch and ruining stuff".

So I go to therapy, I work on the triggers and the brain weasels, and I work out a list of things about Christmas I love. It is a small list: fairy lights, food traditions, staying home in a tidy clean house.

Guess how many of those I have been able to do? The fairy lights is all me, all my job. Same with food. And god forbid I stay home. God forbid people fucking tidy and clean as well.

So I work on another way - advent calendars! Small bits of joy leading up to the big day. And this year that gets 'critiqued'. Well, that implies something other than 'you're doing it wrong'. Any tradition that requires any work is verboten, unless it's something they want and then I have to do that work as well as anything for myself.

I fucking hate christmas again.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:45 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oh, I'll hop on this complain-train and I'll take my dead goat with me...

I can't have kids, so I get to listen to the "CHRISTMAS is NOTHING until you've SEEN it through your CHILD'S EYES!" spiel eleventy-hundred times. Even though I fucking LOVE Christmas and all its trappings, even though I bake my heart out and try to find the best gifts for people and light up the house ... I am metaphorically forever seated at the kids' table and my Christmases are "less-than."
posted by kimberussell at 4:10 PM on December 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


Two thoughts:

1. There was a time when the remnants of my family would gather at my mom's retirement home for Christmas. I always hauled a bunch of dumb little toys, candy, and fruit to her apartment to make Christmas stockings. One year, my Sister in Law brought the most god-awful stockings to complete the effect. I still have mine, which seems to depict one teddy bear disemboweling another with a distorted sword (I think it's supposed to be making a snowman, but I prefer my interpretation).

2. My favorite Christmas story is the one about Susie Bright baking a gingerbread house for her daughter and realizing she was short on baking sheets. She remembered that Madonna's book Sex has aluminum covers, so she removed them, buttered them up, and used them to bake a couple of walls or the roof. That pretty much defined the 90s for me.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:24 PM on December 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


The traditions in my family include a Christmas Eve reading of The Polar Express, where I will always tear up at It broke my heart to lose the bell. This includes the Christmas Eve that my son was in the Army in Afghanistan. It will include my son skyping with my grandbaby.

And making gingerbread, because of the truly abysmal gingerbread house we made together when the boy was small. I heard him tell someone about it, in a hushed voice, It was so beautiful. Traditions can be sweet for the Mom, too.

The traditions in my own family do *not* include trying to do too much, expecting a hallmark commercial scenario, drinking so much that I leave the holiday dinner to pass out, or picking a fight with all members of the family. including the dog. Not that the dog didn't ask for it.

This year has sucked. The boy and I will probably have Chinese food and see a movie.
posted by theora55 at 4:49 PM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Last year, after several years of being disappointed by a crappy Christmas stocking (everything in it, my mother had given my spouse to put in there, two years running), I told my partner that it was important to me and that I really wanted him to make sure there was good stuff in there. And he did a fantastic job of it. I probably ought to remind him this year. And, yeah, I know he *should* think of this stuff himself, but even though he genuinely wants me to have that joy, he won't remember. What matters to me is that when I say, "This is important to me," he takes it seriously.

On my dad's side of the family, where my aunts and uncles don't have grandchildren, they all work together to do stockings. I really love that -- half a dozen people in their 60s, plus my grandmother, finding tiny delightful things to put in each other's stockings.
posted by linettasky at 4:57 PM on December 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


I never have much money to spend on Christmas so I try to give my son experiences. Those experiences become traditions that carry us through the really bad times when we can hardly speak but Look! We can put up the nativity.
I like that traditions help spread the holidays out so that everything doesn't hinge on one perfect day. Sometime during the twelve days we will sit down and watch a movie together and that is a memory I can give to him as a gift.
I would never want experiences that just stress people out. But there is value in emotional labor though the payoff may not come for a long time.
posted by SyraCarol at 5:15 PM on December 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


I feel that this is the correct place to link "Dave Cooks the Turkey," a Christmas story for the rest of us, in which a wife preps for the holidays for months and cedes the feast-making to her husband. "It's just that I used to like Christmas so much."
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:29 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


So I work on another way - advent calendars!

I bought myself an advent calendar this year, and the highlight of my days have been popping into my office to find and open the right door. As quietly as I can, because Jewish. Advent calendars are delightful!
posted by Ruki at 6:03 PM on December 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


I put together an advent calendar last year for my then 15 yr old son. It had little sliding drawers so I collected wise words and stuck them in with the chocolates like fortunes in fortune cookies. ("Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn." "Be kind to your future self." "Hope is not a plan." "If you want different results, make different choices.") I made him read the words out loud to us while he ate the chocolates but really he couldn't have cared less. The whole thing seemed kind of a bust . But I saved the calendar and this year at the last minute I bought new fancy chocolates to put into it. You should have seen the surprise and delight on his face when he came to the table for supper on December 1st and saw the calendar on the sideboard. And you should have seen the surprise and delight on *my* face when he went for the chocolates and said "Hey, where are the words?"
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:31 PM on December 7, 2016 [21 favorites]


Laura Ingalls Wilder describes her mother as having "an edge to her voice" after the Ladies' Aid New England supper (at which the women did all the work, but were left only a pork carcass and some pies and cakes to eat) in Little Town on the Prairie.
posted by brujita at 10:19 PM on December 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


Yet another reason for me to be proud of Patercallipygos. Certain parts of Christmas prep have always been His Turf, as long as I can remember - Christmas Breakfast especially. It usually has been a bog-standard eggs-bacon-sausage-toast, which suits us all fine, but he is the cooker of eggs-bacon-sausage-toast breakfasts on all mornings at my parents house and always has been, so he did that on Christmas too. And adult stockings are usually an assortment of things that both my parents saw in their travels that they randomly picked up because they thought they might be cool (it has become a running joke that Dad will get us all some kind of LED illuminating gadget from Brookstone or something - I have a drawer full of tiny key ring flashlights from seven Christmases by now). My mother is just as genuinely surprised and amused by her stocking as the rest of us because some of the random stuff in it is from Dad.

It's actually gotten even easier for them now, because my brother's family alternates which in-laws they spend Christmas with, and on the years they're with us, my brother insists we stay overnight at HIS place so we get to see the kids wake up Christmas morning and freak out over Santa, and the years they're not with us, we all meet for lunch the weekend before and then on .christmas day we do what we want. So wrapping presents and a tiny tree just for show are the only thing my parents have had to even do for a few years now. My father is still enough of a kitchen show off that he insists on cooking something for lunch during Christmas Day when we're at my brother's, and my brother and sister in law are absolutely fine with that.

And most importantly, my mother has always been pretty adaptable about "tradition". The only time I saw her miss a traditional thing was when we'd gotten into a habit of watching a DVD of the "Snowman"cartoon together for a couple years' running, and then one year we forgot and she only realized it the morning I was heading home and she just said "aw, shoot" about it. The things she does, she genuinely enjoys, and if she changes to make something easy on herself, she may meekly ask us if we're okay about it, but hen when we say sure, she cheerfully believes us and it's good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:05 AM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I will add that wrapping presents is largely Mom's turf, but Dad does help, and so have I now (I will probably be wrapping a few things for niece and nephew when I go home this year). But Mom has always been very practical and just done basic paper/stick-on bow/stick-on tag, boom, done. No ornate Creations because she knows it's all gonna get ripped up anyway.

(The exception is Dad wrapping the presents from "Sam Yakaboochie", the imaginary friend of his who's been a family in-joke for nearly 50 years now and who started "leaving us presents" when my brother and I outgrew Santa before Dad was ready to abandon the notion of surprise gifts.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:11 AM on December 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


Wait, moms are supposed to get their own stocking, even if they have to stuff it themselves?

MIND.

BLOWN.
posted by drlith at 6:45 AM on December 8, 2016


Well, it looks like Santa didn't like Mom if she doesn't have a stocking.

For the record: after I finally admitted I'd figured out the Santa thing, I started doing stockings for the parents. And basically ended up in charge of a lot of Christmas things.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:59 AM on December 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


This article just screams 'I'm a martyr'. Yes my family has traditions, but we like doing them, or want to do them, that's why they're traditions! Dad likes setting up the lights and lighting the candles and getting the fire going before we go downstairs Christmas Eve to open presents (now with added grandchildren!). He likes the look on the kids faces, the magic it invokes, and the link back to his childhood, when his parents would close off the living room and open it after 'Santa' came and the magic of that simple room being transformed. But I guess its all shit and since its just the same if we didn't even wrap gifts but just grunted and handed them to each other, what's the point?
Ugh.
posted by sandraregina at 7:43 AM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


moms are supposed to get their own stockings

Only kids (more or less defined as still in HS or younger) get stockings in our families, for the most part.

With the important exception that dogs and cats still qualify even after turning 18.
posted by bonehead at 10:51 AM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Speaking as someone who has never celebrated Christmas (not part of my cultural heritage), you guys are for the most part NOT making it sound attractive.

Judging by Metafilter, the holiday season kind of sounds like this to me:

At the end of November, the whole family gets together for Arguing With Racists Day. Shortly thereafter, everyone starts stressing out in preparation for Stressmas, which just doesn't feel right unless it's the STRESSIEST DAY OF THE YEAR (it's important that it be that stressy, for the children's sake.) It all concludes at the end of December with Getting Unspeakably Drunk Night, because by then everybody needs it.
posted by kyrademon at 6:34 AM on December 9, 2016 [12 favorites]


You pretty much nailed it.
posted by muddgirl at 6:43 AM on December 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


See also, the War on StressmasTM
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:54 AM on December 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Nope, no stockings in our family. We basically got a gift from parents (one gift from the pair), maybe something from a grandparent or uncle (but not every year), and that was it. We had a tree, but dad put it up a couple of days before xmas, then took it down xmas day -- he thought they were messy, and mom didn't like cleaning up pine needles. Xmas was for church, according to them, not gifts, fancy dinners, or any sort of celebration that didn't involve sitting in a freezing pew listening to a man tell us how much we all sucked. I do not celebrate xmas as an adult.
posted by Blackanvil at 12:36 PM on December 9, 2016


Y'all ain't my therapist, but I cant afford one anyway. So, apologies.

My first 45 Christmases were spent with my Old Family. Dad loves Christmas. His favorite book is A Christmas Carol. Our house was decorated like a magazine photo shoot. In addition to a tree surrounded by gifts, Dad would create elaborate stockings for everyone who would be present on Christmas morning. For many years we would have an Open House on Christmas and all were welcome. Mom and Dad were good about splitting up the work, and when we were old enough my brother and I would pitch in.

The year Mom passed in the summer, Dad planned a big Christmas dessert party. Nobody came but my then-wife and I. Circumstances put me back under Dad's roof the next spring. The table had stayed set just as it was, cakes included. We put in the effort to decorate again the next year, but none of our hearts were really in it. All the old traditions fell by the wayside one by one.

This year, my Old Family is over; scattered to the wind after we were driven from our home of two decades.

The real point of Christmas — or at least the important traditions of singing and drunken carousing and togetherness around the hearth — is to huddle together through the longest nights of the year to keep each other going. As Halloween approached, I began to feel dread. I knew the holidays were going to be hard on me. Thanksgiving passed without incident, but the darkest days were coming.

In an unexpected blessing, my New Family has been loving and welcoming, including me in their tree decorating and cookie baking. Luckily, it appears Christmas music — especially the music of the ancien régime from the 20th century like Andy Williams, Sing Along With Mitch Miller, Ray Conniff, etc. — is going to work on me at least for this year. I have managed to be cheerful, which I wasn't sure I was going to be able to accomplish. The day itself will likely be hard because much of New Family will be on the road working, but I'll figure something out.

All of which is to say, I hope everyone gets to keep Christmas in their own way; whether that's 100% Full Maximum Christmas, not observing the holiday, or anything in-between.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:00 PM on December 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


If we don't teach our family's traditions to our children, they'll end up thinking the Christmas they see on TV is what Christmas is supposed to be like -- and a generation from now we'll all be doing Elf on a Shelf and wondering when it all went wrong.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:54 PM on December 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


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