Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Knitter's Guide to an Unpressured Christmas

In 1991, when I was pregnant with Isabel and James was a toddler, we moved to Washington, DC.  Within a couple of weeks, Bill was sent off to Moscow as part of an IMF team to deal with the breakup of the Soviet Union. It was a pre-internet and e-mail world, and because of the dysfunction and chaos that was Moscow, Bill was unable to reach me by telephone for over a month. So, there I was in a foreign country with no extended family, and Xmas on the horizon. I was lonely. I cried now and then. Eventually Bill returned just in time for Xmas day (with a giant Babar book, which he had bought in London for James, and which we still have), and we had our little holiday celebration. And I learned something momentous. It was OK to have a small, quiet Xmas. In fact, it was terrific. No expectations, no relations you'd rather not have to spend time with, no pressure.
So, for those of you who don't have large, rollicking families, or perhaps for those of you in search of a quieter version of Xmas, here's a guide to an unpressured holiday.

1. DON'T make a list of knitted gifts you intend to complete and wrap by Xmas morning. There's nothing like a deadline to suck all the joy out of the lead up to Xmas (or any other event). If, one week out you absolutely MUST knit something as a gift, choose one of these sure-fire, easy pieces:
a) Brooklyn Tweed's "Turn a Square" hat. I've made two (both out of Cascade 220) and they are not only quick, but the best-looking men's hats I've come across.

(b) Deb Gemmell's Ergonomic Mittens.


Granted, you'll have to make two, but they're exceptionally quick, and I even have a tutorial to help you with the special (and fun) thumb increase. Who can resist cherry red mittens in the bleak midwinter?

c) My Tumnus scarf. This is a great unisex, reversible cable scarf that's quick to make and super-soft if you choose Berroco's Ultra Alpaca as I did. 

2. DON'T even begin to plan think about Xmas dinner until the day before. I used to order an organic bird from our local butcher until I realized that he always has extra birds available at the last minute. I like not having to commit. Try a capon instead of a turkey. They're cheaper, there's less waste, and they don't take up the entire oven while they're cooking.

3. DON'T get in a rut where you blindly follow some family "tradition" out of duty; DO try out some new activities; they may turn into new traditions. When the kids were small, we always used to go to church on Xmas morning. James was a chorister at Washington National Cathedral, so he sang the big televised service for a few years (while we felt exhausted for the rest of the day), but when we moved back to Canada, we discovered that in this less religiously observant society hardly anyone goes to church on Xmas morning any more. If they do go to church, they do it on Xmas Eve. For a few years we went to movies on Xmas Eve. That worked out well during the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but lately there's been nothing we think worth going to (and we can't walk to a our local movie theatre since it closed), so I think this year I'll try to get everyone together to watch something at home. The point is, be flexible. Do things you enjoy.

4. Skip the Xmas baking. Clementines and dried figs are our favourite desserts. You'll save calories, and have more time for knitting. If you are determined to bake something, try out this recipe for baked ornaments. If you keep them in a dry place, they'll last for decades.


5. Give up on Xmas cards. Even my elderly relatives have stopped sending cards. The only ones we get these days are from politicians and real estate agents.

6. DON'T rush to take down your tree. Here in Canada we have Boxing Day, which really helps with post-holiday let-down. Since we have an artificial tree (mostly for allergy reasons), we leave it up for the twelve days of Xmas and then take it down when we're good and sick of it. (We put it up only a few days before Xmas at the other end, so it's not actually up for all that long.) I confess that during our DC years, when I was mostly single-parenting because of Bill's job, I simply put a sheet or an XL garbage bag over the tree with the lights still attached and stuck the whole thing in the basement until the next year.
OK, so I'm lazy! Or, I like to think maybe it's just that my priorities are elsewhere.
Merry Christmas!