I think “celebration” used to mean “perfection” to me.  It was important to me that everything be authentic and made from scratch.  I remember my daughter’s first birthday–a tree trimming party–for a one-year old infant?  Homemade popcorn balls, homemade cookies, homemade tree ornaments, etc.  Of course, as I look back, it wasn’t for Amanda, it was for all the parents and siblings.  An “idea” of the perfect party rather than the actuality of a fun party, wanting to hear the “oohs” and “aahs” of friends.  Really, kiddos tottering or crawling around the backyard with dirt and shovels and mudpies would have been more appropriate for a one-year-old.

I remember my husband’s firm’s Christmas party one year.  A tragedy had occurred in our home and I was so sleep-deprived and heart broken that I could hardly move.  But the Christmas party must go on!  I chopped and cooked and baked “everything from scratch” and hosted a lovely Christmas party for everyone who had no idea of my shattered heart.

I remember Christmas year after year.  I baked sixteen different kinds of cookies from scratch most years.  I decorated my home with greens and holly and pyracantha–nothing fake for me!  All the presents were individually wrapped–no easy bags under my tree!  I made my own Christmas cards.  Christmas dinner on the fine china, a fire in the fireplace.  The “Eyes of Texas,” a long running tv show in Texas, came to film my house one year for a commercial as an example of a “perfect old-fashioned house decorated for Christmas.”

Now, in my seventies, I have the luxury of looking back over things with a different eye.  What looked perfect on the outside was not.  I realize now that in my family growing up I did not have the role model of a happy, loving family, which I wanted more than anything.  So, I learned from books, from movies, from my friend’s families.  I created the picture of what a happy family looks like and celebrations were the time it was in full bloom.  I had no idea I was doing this, of course.  I felt I was expressing my authentic, creative self and showing my love for my family.

What I know now watching my son Jonah and his wife Kristi with their children is how to truly celebrate.  Gemma and Jasper pile into their parent’s beds in the morning simply greeting and celebrating each day.  When Kristi bakes, the kids are sitting on the counter stirring batter in a big bowl, usually with flour on their noses or their clothes, laughing away.  Kristi is not trying to be the “perfect” mother by doing it for them.  I have another friend whose tradition was to have “green spaghetti” for Christmas dinner–no turkey and dressing in sight!  An organic tradition that came about in a way I never understood, but they excitedly  looked forward to it every year, laughing riotously as they talked about it.    Another friend gives her kids (now grown) a different pair of pajamas each year and they all lolly-gag around on Christmas wearing them.  All true celebrations that would never be on “The Eyes of Texas!”

So, dear parents, this is my advice from an older woman.  If baking from scratch is a true expression of who you are and how you show your love, go for it!  If it is not and leaves you totally exhausted, but feeling like that is what “you should do,” please leave it behind!  HEB’s bakery or Sugar Shack or a bakery near you has beautiful things they make from scratch.  Let them do it for you and totally enjoy it with your dear family.  The true celebrations of life are those times when you all pile in front of the tv watching cartoons (which I never allowed–PBS only) and maybe some junk food (which I also never allowed) leaving crumbs everywhere.

Dear parents, simply being present rather than creating perfectly wrapped presents is the best present you can give you children.