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HOLIDAY GUIDE

My holiday party for one

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After years of trying to deliver the Christmas fantasy to my family, I finally decided I was giving it up. I was tired of the stress, the gluttonous holiday parties and the unplanned overspending on gifts. (Once you start, the fever to shop for others always seems to get ahold of you.) And don’t get me started on those annoying talking decorations that greet you at drug stores before Halloween has even fully hatched – I hate the audio-animatronics crap and the way it pollutes both my brain and the 
whole season.

Last year around the holiday season, this curmudgeon just said no to any invitations or obligations that didn’t suit my schedule or my fancy. Somehow, that tactic left me with an empty calendar on Dec. 25, so I had to decide whether I actually wanted to accept the mission of spending the day alone. And I did. For once in my life, the 359th day of the year was mine, all mine.

Selfish? Yes, indulgently so. But I had earned my day off and found that I reveled in the tranquility.

I grew up in New Orleans, and I remember that when I was a kid 
poverty was never more obvious than at Christmastime. When my family rode over to my Aunt Mary’s home in the French Quarter for a resplendent meal, for instance, the nearby public-housing projects always seemed absent of festivities. I always noticed the number of young children playing outside in the dirt with no shoes or jackets on early in the morning. It proved to me that the holidays were mostly for people who could afford them. There was no magic if you didn’t have enough green.

Fast-forward to my adulthood: I spent so many Christmas seasons trying to make sure that my own kids wouldn’t hate the holidays as much as I did. I remember scouring Toys ’R’ Us stores (and calling every location in Florida) on Christmas Eve looking for the Big Bird kitchen my daughter requested one year. Smart parents, I eventually learned, bought popular items months ahead of the holiday season just to avoid those last-minute freakouts. Christmas in the modern world, after all, wasn’t about joyous spontaneity; it was about strategizing for success, just like war.

But battle fatigue got ahold of me, I guess. Finally, I realized I was free to surrender, since my kids (and a husband) had flown the coop.

My one holiday tradition is to cook a Christmas Eve dinner of shrimp Creole for family and friends. Last year, I cooked and cleaned and truly enjoyed the night. For my guests, it was the pre-show for the next day’s big event. For me, when my apron strings were untied, I was finally off-duty.

I woke up on Christmas morning and lingered over my coffee and newspaper. I ate leftover shrimp and pumpkin pie when I felt like it and I texted “Merry Christmas” greetings to loved ones so I wouldn’t have to explain my strange choice of solitude for the holiday. I know that may sound pathetic, but it was really empowering.

The rest of the day was lost in reading and watching TV. I almost went out to catch a movie but decided I didn’t want to leave my nest and run the risk of hearing a discordant rendition of “Jingle Bells.” I also didn’t want to see the many people less fortunate than me trying to deliver the Christmas fantasy that I now know is unattainable.

I may go for a repeat performance this year. Trying to fill Santa’s boots just doesn’t do it for me any more.

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