Around the Bend: Keeping Christmas real simple

It’s Dec. 15. For those of us who celebrate Christmas, that gives us 10 days to get ready. Nine, really, because the 15th is almost over. Eight, if you count Christmas Eve as part of the holiday. It’s almost here.
I don’t know about you, but I’m good to go.
I’ve mailed my Christmas cards, all with handwritten sentiments. I have 21 dozen homemade cookies in the freezer, all portioned out to be given away to guests. The halls are decked with real greens, hand-strung cranberry garlands and clove-studded oranges. I made hand-blown glass ornaments for the tree and wove my own silk tree skirt. And I’ve organized a group to go caroling this weekend. It’s shaping up to be a perfect Christmas.
Just kidding. I haven’t done any of that.
Despite years of trying — and failing — again and again, I’ve never managed to pull off a perfect Christmas. But I don’t care anymore. And, oddly enough, I credit Martha Stewart with curing me.
As it does to so many people, Stewart’s TV show used to really crank up my homemaking insecurities, especially over the holidays. One December, against my better judgment, I watched an episode in which she demonstrated how to properly light a Christmas tree. She wheeled into her great room a hose reel holding four or five hundred feet of tiny white lights. Climbing an 8-foot, handmade mahogany stepladder, she began twining the lights around each branch of her perfectly symmetrical imported Norwegian tree.
“You may think it’s fine just to drape the lights around the tree,” she said, shuddering in disgust at the only method I have ever known, “but actually you need to wrap every single branch, from trunk to tip and back, for the best effect.” She completed one branch during the segment.
When the show resumed after a commercial break, the tree was finished. How it sparkled.
But I did the math: If a tree has 100 branches and it takes 5 minutes to envelop each one in lights, that’s pretty much a whole Saturday out the window. And that’s presuming your lights aren’t stored like mine: balled up in a Hefty bag in a clump the size of a beanbag chair.
The episode changed my life, though. Suddenly it hit me that my life is not Martha Stewart’s life. (That I have ever, at any point, gotten the two confused shows just how insidious the Martha Stewart empire is. We have little in common; if the woman should ever step into my house, her first decorating idea would be to bring in a wrecking ball.)
All this time, I had been trying too hard. Because Martha Stewart doesn’t mention that perfection takes a lot of work. It’s easy to get sucked into the media image of a glowing holiday scene with delicious treats, handcrafted gifts, candles, swags of balsam and — from the Martha Stewart Kmart collection — the ever-popular motion-activated Santa doll that sings and dances and then drops its pants. But I don’t have the money, the talent, the energy or the staff to make it happen.
I used to feel pressured to live up to this holiday ideal, but I’m reaching a point in my life where — and I know this sounds crazy — I’d prefer to enjoy Christmas. Call me a Scrooge, but this year I’m going to skip making 40 pounds of hand-dipped chocolates and spend the holidays relaxing with friends and family.
I won’t start any last-minute knitting projects. I won’t make my own wrapping paper with recycled pulp and a rolling pin. And I refuse to engage in any craft calling for gold leaf. Martha might not approve, but I don’t expect her to be dropping in any time soon.
I’m aiming lower, and guess what? I’m already having a good time.
My 2011 holiday goals are simple:
1. Put up a tree and decorate it.
2. Have my husband, Mark, do the shopping while I stay home and nap.
3. Wrap the presents.
4. Make a batch of cookies. Or buy some. Whatever.
As of today, goals 1-3 are complete. That leaves me 10 days — or nine, or eight, depending on how you figure it — to make a batch of cookies. Or buy some. Whatever.
This is going to be the best Christmas ever.

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