Like every year, I’m getting really excited about Christmas. Usually we visit my parents and brother in Warsaw, Poland so that I can stop being so homesick, but due to many reasons, we decided to stay in the Netherlands this year. When my husband and I were still dating, I would fly to Germany for Christmas, but Christmas Eve is so important and special in Poland and I didn’t want to miss all the wonderful meals that go with it. We soon decided that we would spend Christmas Eve and Christmas in Poland and go to Germany for New Year’s.
We kept doing this even after we moved to the Netherlands, taking first one child, then two, then three to Poland. But last year, my son became really sick and had to go the hospital for a few days. It was so stressful that we decided to put our travelling plans on hold for a while and this year will be the first year my parents and brother will spend Christmas at our place in the Netherlands. While I am sad I cannot go to Poland this year, I can’t wait to see my extended family.
I know that for many people, Christmas can be a stresfull time, full of planning, preparations and trying to make everyne happy. My family figured out a great way to have a simpler, but no less joyfull Christmas- and here’s how we do it.
1) Simplify and adapt
It it always a good idea to think which traditions to keep and which to get rid of. If you don’t like cooking 2546 dishes or feel it’s too much work, consider letting go of it. The Polish Christmas dinner is an elaborate affair, and for a while we even tried to make at least some of the dishes, but the truth is that noone ate that. We decided to make less food and focus on the meals everyone likes eating and so far, everyone is happy as long as we have borscht and uszka (mushroom dumplings). So, focus on the traditions you really like, but don’t do them because it’s a tradition. When asked for presents, we usually say we want books, clothes or something useful, like carseats. Sometimes, quality and practicality goes over quantity!
2) Get help
Even with our simplified version of Christmas, we still end up having a lot of work- mostly because of the uszka that take a lot of time to make. But it works because everyone pitches in: my brother rolling out the dough and cutting out squares, my mom putting filling in and me and my daughter shaping them into the typical form. It’s always a good idea to have everyone be responsible for something- some can help make the food, others can help clean, yet others can make the decorations. It’s OK to have a more elaborate Christmas dinner just make sure that you’re not the only one preparing it. And of course, children are expected to help as well!
3) Create your own traditions
My family introduced many new traditions into our typical Christmas meal, like Ukrainian blini and British fruitcake. I think it is always a good idea to look beyond your culture’s traditions, because you will learn something in the process! We also combine my family’s and my in-laws’ traditions. Incorporating multicultural elements into your own traditions doesn’t have to be hard. You can start by singing Christmas carols in many languages- start with Silent Night and Oh Christmas Tree- and listen to my playlist of the most beautiful Christmas Carols around the world, buy diverse books and toys, or try incorporating Christmas decorations and dishes from other countries. It’s really cool for the children because they get to know Christmas traditions from all over the world.
Having family over also means having to set up boundaries, communicating needs and explaining your family’s traditions. If you’re the “mistress of the house”, you can easily end up overwhelmed and exhausted, even if you simplified and got help. It is therefore necessary to explain what kind of help you actually need. It is necessary to explain what you will and will not do for Christmas. Don’t worry if you feel your family will put pressure on you. They are usually very understanding, they may however, have different ideas on how Christmas is supposed to look like and may need clear directions. Decide in advance what gifts you want to receive- especially for the kids. Try to be at your best behaviour, but expect the same from everyone. And, if nothing works, consider “simplifying” the guest list as well.
5) Relax and have fun
Christmas time is the time to be jolly and spending with family, but often ends up being a source of stress. Unecessarily, I must add. Nothing will happen if you don’t have all the typical dishes perfectly planned and prepared. The important thing for you is to relax. You leave the children with family and go out with your spouse. Let others do the cooking, lie down and read the book you’ve always wanted. Routine is important, and to some children, even more important than to others. Stick to it but don’t follow is religiously. The important thing for you to do is not to worry that the table is not set perfectly and that the napkins are pink when you wanted them to be red. The important thing is to have fun, be with family and relax!
The most important piece of advice for a peaceful Christmas I can give you though, is something I’ve read in a Polish article about Christmas: “Relationships come before traditions”. Which is pretty much what the whole post is all about.