Pulling off a Christmas miracle

We had to cancel our ladies Christmas support group lunch this year. Nobody had time. In the old days we … Continued

We had to cancel our ladies Christmas support group lunch this year. Nobody had time. In the old days we would meet a few weeks before the holiday and whine about all the work we had to do to get ready for the holiday and drink ourselves under the table.

But now it’s gotten out of control and it’s our fault. That’s right, girls. We do it to ourselves. If we stopped, Christmas might actually revert to a religious holiday.

There are plenty of atrocities perpetrated against women around the globe but this one – let’s face it — is self-inflicted.

I am the writer, director, producer and star of our Christmas holiday. It’s a miracle that my husband and I are still together after 40 years, considering that each one of those years has a Christmas in it.

When Ben and I got together I soon learned that Christmas was not his thing. I’m from Savannah. It was a big deal in our Southern family. He is from Boston. Yankees get socks, underwear and an orange in their stockings. On our first Christmas I went out and bought him, on my meager reporter’s salary, a navy cashmere blazer, a cashmere monogrammed bathrobe and leather slippers, his first Turnbull and Asser shirt with a white collar and a burgundy cashmere turtleneck. He went down to the drugstore and bought me a TV stand. (Our TV sat on the dresser)

View Photo Gallery: From shopping trips to Santa Claus runs, people around the world get into the holiday spirit.

The following year he did a little better but it became clear that he needed help. I started going to various stores and picking out what I wanted. Then I would have the store manager call Ben and say he ought to come in to buy me something. When he went in the manager would suggest what I had picked out which “looked like Sally”. This turned out to be a huge success, and I recommend it. When I showed off my presents to other women, they would glare at their husbands and Ben would preen.

I began helping the husbands of my friends by taking them to jewelry stores to pick out presents for their wives. This too was a huge success. One year I picked out a pair of diamond earrings for a friend. She was ecstatic and her husband was duly rewarded. The next Christmas he went in and bought the exact same pair. It had registered somewhere in his brain that she might like them. When she took them back she said it was obvious that the jewelers, who knew he had gotten the same pair again, said nothing because they thought he was giving them to his mistress.

One year when I didn’t have time to go pick out something for myself I told my daughter in law to tell him she would take care of it for him. I wrapped up a beautiful necklace Ben had given me several years before and put it under the tree. I was overwhelmed by his generous and thoughtful gift and he was extremely pleased and grateful. I recommend this too.

My father used to buy my mother presents but she finally suggested that he ask me to choose them for him. “If I get one more pink bathrobe I’m going to slit my wrists,” she said. That year she got a diamond heart-shaped pin which she wore everywhere and which I wear to this day. Another success story.

I have never done Christmas cards, even though I love receiving them. So much planning ahead. All that addressing and stamping and mailing. But I have always done the tree.

The tree has been a huge issue for us. In our early years together we usually picked out our tree (6-7 feet) brought it home and decorated it. Ben grumbled but did it, encouraged by enough good single malt scotch. Then we moved into our current house, which has very high ceilings and I had to get the tree delivered. The first year we decorated it ourselves. That was also the last year we decorated it ourselves. Ben climbed a ladder to start putting the lights at the top and we ran out half way down. When I suggested he start all over again he made a suggestion to me that I cannot print in a family newspaper and left the room. Since that year, the guys who bring the tree also put the lights on.

Presents are the big nightmare. I love giving presents but not all at once. This is why I finally made a pact with my friends and distant family to stop giving presents at Christmas and give love presents throughout the year. I recommend this if you can get the family to go along with it. In my case, my sister Donna insists on Christmas presents. I tell her it’s a hostile act but she doesn’t care. Every year a huge box arrives from Donna with piles of fabulous gifts and it makes me crazy with guilt. One year I sent her a felt stocking with lumps of coal in it to discourage her but to no avail. My brother Bill, on the other hand, sent us a bag of pistachios and I sent him the fruit of the month. That was fine.

I used to have a huge seated Christmas dinner for about 24 and bought presents for everyone and they brought presents. This went on for nearly 30 years. I had one rule — no thank-you notes. One day I woke up and had an epiphany. No more presents for dinner. I thought my women friends were going to canonize me, they were so grateful.

Then I had another epiphany. No more Christmas dinners. I always got sick on Christmas day anyway and spent the whole week in bed. I think my body, if not my mind, was sending me a message.

We haven’t even discussed cooking. I do not do Christmas cookies. That’s another line I have never crossed. For years my mother, who was a great cook, did the turkey. After she had a stroke, I got somebody to help with the Christmas dinner. When I stopped having the dinner two years ago I cooked my first turkey by myself. It was a disaster – dry and overcooked with a mass of greasy, floury lumps for gravy. I actually sat in the kitchen and sobbed.

I decided to practice for this Christmas. At Thanksgiving I cooked a turkey. My good friend Nora Ephron, another fabulous cook, had just died. I cooked the perfect turkey, moist and golden with smooth, creamy, delicious gravy. I was clearly channeling Nora.

Long ago, shortly after we got married, I decided to forgo Christmas and Ben and I went to St. Maarten’s for our honeymoon instead. It was horrible. Lying on the beach, listening to the waves and the swaying of the palm trees and Christmas carols just didn’t cut it. Christmas dinner on the terrace was lobster salad. I would have killed for turkey and dressing and canned cranberry sauce with the little ridges in it.

This year, we’re going to a hotel for Christmas dinner. I’m so happy I could expire.

For some years now we have been going to the Washington National Cathedral for the 6:30 pm Christmas Eve service. It is beautiful and magical, the lights are low, the candles flicker and the music is divine.

Oh, that’s what it’s all about, I say to myself. Not shopping or baking or mailing or roasting. Why didn’t anyone tell me?

I pass this along to you so that next Christmas it will be your choice. As a famous shrink once said, “You get the Christmas you want.” Own it.

Sally Quinn
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  • SimonTemplar

    Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays to everyone!

  • mountainrose

    dont worry about Jesus never celebrated it.
    Sound familiar? Jer 10:2 “Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the heavens, though the nations are terrified by them.3 For the practices of the peoples are worthless; theycut a tree out of the forest,and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.4 They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.5 Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field,their idols cannot speak;they must be carried because they cannot walk.Do not fear them;they can do no harm nor can they do any good.”

  • WmarkW

    It’s nice to see an occasional woman admit that a cultural problem (the over-commercialization of Christmas) isn’t just the fault of white men.

    Someone should also start admitting that the bubble economy of the last decade was substantially due to women’s demand for McMansions and excessive number of malls to provide shopping options, distorting the emphasis on real estate in the economy.

  • herzliebster

    No, that passage is not about a Christmas tree. The tree cut in the forest refers to a log which is cut and then carved into an idol and gilded and set up in a pagan temple.

    It has nothing to do with the tradition of decorating an evergreen tree as a reminder of the ever-faithful mercy of God, and trimming it with lights as a reminder of Jesus the light of the world.

  • tony55398

    Girl friends and wives have a certain way of making one feel guilty, not only at Christmas but other times of the year, so it goes.

  • haveaheart

    This is almost certainly the only time I’ll ever agree with ol’ ScottinVA, but he’s exactly right.

    Sally, equating the real atrocities perpetrated on women worldwide with your own little perfectionist tizzy at the holidays is jaw-droppingly, ludicrously, even seismically idiotic and insensitive.

    Among the “plenty of atrocities perpetrated against women around the globe” are: rape, mutilation, forced marriage, murder, torture, slavery, beatings, forced prostitution, and abduction of their children. Their lives are further diminished by the denial of health care, sanitation, education, voting rights, and essentially any forms of self-determination.

    It is obscene for you to write about your holiday ordeals — especially the elaborate planning you’ve done to make sure that you and your friends get the “right” Christmas gifts from your clueless husbands — as though they’re in a league with the genuine suffering of all the oppressed and subjugated women in our world.

    Amazingly, you’ve managed to lower your own bar for fatuous self-pity masquerading as journalism.

  • cricket44

    ” Yankees get socks, underwear and an orange in their stockings.”

    Yep. And look forward to it. Yes, you certainly have made your own nightmare, Sally. I’m a woman who has *never* felt obligated to do what you do. Please don’t generalize other women with your habits.

  • cricket44

    “Someone should also start admitting that the bubble economy of the last decade was substantially due to women’s demand for McMansions and excessive number of malls to provide shopping options, distorting the emphasis on real estate in the economy.”

    You can prove this garbage claim?

  • persiflage

    ‘Someone should also start admitting that the bubble economy of the last decade was substantially due to women’s demand for McMansions………………….’

    Was that on planet earth? Mark, if you took a snapshot of the various governmental enablers, greedy Wall Streeters and others in the banking and mortgage industry that caused the economic havoc of the last several years, I suspect you’d be looking on a sea of white male faces……..including the very ones that were in receipt of all that bailout money. And be sure to include Congress in the family photo of dysfunctional white males.

    For white guys, it was and still is a stacked deck.

  • sideswiththekids

    Decorating an evergreen tree is a Druidical custom that predates Christ. It was a reminder in the middle of the extensive winter darkness of northern Europe that the entire world was not dying.

  • sideswiththekids

    I’m not a Yankee, and I’d rather gets socks and underwear as presents. (Or money.) My mother, whose (Midwestern) parents didn’t want to celebrate Christmas and finally gave in to her pleading to the extent of putting a tree up and putting the new shoes she needed under the tree, always swore that HER kids were going to have a tree and lots of relatives and “fun” presents that were not in the least practical. Out of her four kids, two of us always asked for clothes or other practical gifts and usually slipped away from the family gathering as early as possible.

    It’s not geographic. (I prefere to think of it as sensible people vs. the materialistic overeaters, but that’s just my opinion.)

  • edbyronadams

    Cue the music for Sally Quinn to do a gender bender on Rex Harrison singing “Why Can’t a Man Be More Like a Woman?”

  • Chip_M

    “It’s a miracle that my husband and I are still together after 40 years, considering that each one of those years has a Christmas in it.”

    After reading this essay I’d have to agree. Diamonds? Good grief. I’d get you a lump of coal and tell you to make your own. That kind of materialism is incredibly unattractive.

  • goodnessknowz

    Lot’s of woman haters posting here. Sheesh.

  • goodnessknowz

    Tripe. Ms. Quinn comes off as a binge drinker who can’t find joy in anything for other people (Christmas cards) and spent years marinating in consumer goods. If this is Southern Womanhood, Goddess help us all.

  • duckforcover

    My wife said she wanted something “fast, shiny, that goes from zero to 160 in 60 seconds”. I got her a scale. That’s when the trouble started.