Setting the table for a happier holiday

Anyone who knows me knows I like to entertain.  I love to go the extra mile – decorate, make homemade everything, etc. But frankly, it’s a big deal, it does take time and it’s not for everyone.

After my return from New York, where I spent Thanksgiving, I caught up with several of my friends and family; and many of them had the same comments. “It’s just too much work,” or  “I didn’t enjoy it because I had to work so hard.”  There’s going to the market one day, a whole day of cooking another day, and then cleanup. Then you’re pooped and have to get right back to work. It’s easy to understand why so many want to say forget it.

Spending time with family and friends.

But, we have to stop, strip it down and ask ourselves, “what is it really all about?” I, for one, think the answer is togetherness.  For me, I love it all … and the more, the merrier. But that is not for everyone.

Mama Fox & Me — I love her!!!

I remember one time, my grandma, Mama Fox (who I adored), was over for dinner and the doorbell rang. She said “don’t answer it.” In other words, don’t let anyone join in. I personally feel like get togethers enhance my life, but for Mama Fox … not so much.

With the holidays, I believe we can do as much, or as little, as we like. If it’s freaking pizzas and salad delivered, so be it. The point of the whole thing is love and connection, not drudgery and resentment.

bekindOn PLANK, I share the things I like to do … and maybe all you get from it is to put that slice of pizza on a nice plate, fresh flowers in a vase, candles burning and sharing a bottle of wine. That works! Seriously … even I do it sometimes.  One year I bought my whole Thanksgiving meal from Trader Joe’s – and it was pretty darn good (especially their pumpkin pie)! Take what you want and leave the rest, no guilt!

Share good times with family and friends, but let yourself off the hook!  I would take a less stressed-out, happy host any day. So this year, maybe you let go, reevaluate what’s important, change things up and REALLY enjoy yourself!!!!


  1. Lorraine (dramamamanot)

    Hi Marybeth,
    My memories of family gatherings started many years ago (39 to be exact) when my grandmother passed away. It was a few days before Thanksgiving. Her 4 daughters were distraught by the loss of their mother. To help themselves, they decided to gather together along with spouses and children that first Thanksgiving. It was a tradition that was shared between the sisters and their families over the years. All of my aunts have since passed away and the responsibility has been transferred onto some of the cousins, me being one of them. I must admit it is a daunting task to prepare a meal for so many people. Fortunately I only need to do it every 3 years but the memories I have gained over the years has made the struggle to prepare the meals pale in comparison. I feel blessed and love the traditions our family has created that no doubt will be passed down to my grandmother’s great-grandchildren. Currently some of her great great grandchildren attend. Who knows, perhaps one day they will want to take on the responsibility.

  2. Love this!! Im definitely like Momma Fox! Just want celebrations small and comfy. I like to make the holidays for my family cozy and relaxing with good foos and pj’s all day! No dress up no fuss!! You’re the best MaryBeth! Love ya!!! 💛💛💛❤❤❤

  3. Mary Beth,
    The only good thing that widowhood gave to me was the ability to know absolutely what is important. I hold those I love, family and friends, so much closer to my heart. The time that I spend with them is so much more precious. I appreciate my blessings and refuse to put anything else first.

    I stopped the fanatical preparations years ago. We do what makes us happy. Right now, I’m watching my 11 and 14-year old kids as they drag boxes out of the garage and decorate the tree and front room without Mom. I won’t change a thing because it will be my kids’ Christmas sanctuary and, therefore, perfect.

    On Christmas Eve, we always head to our favorite Mexican place. We eat tamales and then go look at Christmas lights. That night ends with: “It’s A Wonderful Life”, a little nog, and “Santa business” for mama and happy kids heading to bed.

    Our Christmas looks so much different than it used to. But, it works because we are doing things we enjoy together and all of my loved ones are close.

    Live. Laugh. Love.

  4. Karoline

    This blog rings so true with me! Almost 3 years ago, we lost our wonderful mom. She died from cancer way too early. That first year I felt so strongly that I had to fill her shoes and make Christmas just as special as she always did. She was pure magic and always made every holiday, every birthday and every day we were together feel wonderful and perfect. When she passed in March 2,5 years ago it didn`t take long before I started planning the perfect Christmas for my father and my two younger brothers. I was 28 at the time but I felt 11. I felt so strongly that it was too early for me to take over every tradition and fill the huge gab she left when she passed. That Christmas I realized that what I was doing was hopeless. I could never fill my mother’s shoes. I could never do Christmas the same way she did. And that was OK. We had to learn how do deal “on our own.” We had to keep her spirit, her magic but still do things our own way. This year I am actually looking forward to Christmas again. “New Christmas.” With some new traditions, and many old ones. I`ve learn the hard way. Christmas is simply about love, health and happiness. And who cares if the top shelf in the living room hasn`t been cleaned…?

  5. jennifer

    I so agree with you!! The holidays, as well as any get togethers, are about spending time with each other. It doesn’t matter what you serve.. whether it is homemade foods (which I also prefer to do) or ‘freaking pizzas and salad’…what matters most is the quality time spent with those you are with, and actually enjoying yourself while you are together.

  6. It is the whole idea of being together , I love it and YES the more the merrier !
    Your a giant cheerleader Mary Beth / aka Kayla Brady !! 👍🏻 Love your blog and you have gotten me into the cooking mode !!! Thank you ❤️

    • As an Aussie I am often amazed that you Americans go through the big celebration for Thanksgiving and then one month later do it again for Christmas. One is enough for me. The work is hard but the best feeling is pulling it off like my mother does….it is a sense of continuity of family traditions, togetherness and reflection. Of course for some they can’t do this for a multitude of valid reasons, but while I get the chance to do this every couple of years (as it is shared around) I feel a great deal of satisfaction for a great day. Traditions and celebrations are important rituals and I feel blessed that we can do this.

  7. Traci Whiting

    Freaking pizza!! 😂😂😂😂 You never fail to crack me up!! Thank you for doing this every week and I hope one day to meet you! You might be the coolest person I will ever know. 😉

  8. Hi Mary Beth,Love your blog..I lost my husband 6 years ago also lost the will to celebrate but Love my family and now do try and get into the spirit but I try not to get to stressed..looking forward to seeing my Grandchildren also Great Grand-Son..Have a Wonderful Christmas xxx

  9. Cyndi Clark

    I’m with you!! I LOVE all the prep that goes into entertaining! I love choosing a theme (which china to use; mine, my grandmothers, etc) for setting a beautiful table. I love planning the menu and all the preparation and shopping that goes into the meal. Cooking is a joy when it’s for others. And once the occasion arrives I am more blessed by how valuable my guests feel than they are by all of my efforts. However, there has been a few holidays that were not conducive to this type of hoopla… so we ordered in and ate on pretty paper goods. The quality time was the same and just as nice memories were made. Either way, it boils down to memories with loved ones. Glad your Thanksgiving was a good one! xoxo

  10. Thank you for making us feel better about ourselves! Great advice.

  11. Mary Beth,
    I love you for doing this every week! I enjoy your view on topics like this, and I totally agree with you that it is worth it just to be together! As my grandma got older, we decided that we were going to start doing holiday meals at my Aunt’s house, and that all of us would come early and also bring part of the meal just to lessen the exhaustion for everyone. It works out really great, and because we are such a big family, its a great way for us to be together and spend time. Also for me the best part is seeing how happy my grandma gets because she gets to see almost all of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. I am very much looking forward to togetherness for Christmas since I missed thanksgiving with my family this year due to studying abroad, but even here in France, our director worked all day to make thanksgiving special for us, with a huge meal, and it honestly helped relieve some of the sadness we were feeling from missing home just being with friends and a lot of people from the village we are in.

  12. Such a dose of “Wake up”, after a day of violence and terrible loss. Life is Hard, no Doubt but drudgery and resentment over Holidays?? If you don’t feel like lugging out the decoration boxes and baking cookies try acts of kindness instead. Focus on the “Spirit” of the Holidays not the “things”. Walk the canals and see the lights with a child, Go to a Senior Center and ask to visit someone who has no visitors. Doing for others can make the Grinch in anyone disappear.

  13. I love you! Freaking pizza lol….love it. Yep, I just enjoy everyone being together and my immediate family is just fine with whatever, especially freaking pizza! Every holiday is just whatever we do, not always the same tradition and its ok, we still have awesome memories!

  14. Michelle

    I totally agree with what you said. I lost my grandma right after Christmas 2013. Last year I did everything she used to do. I never realized how much work it is. I can’t get the timing right to make the meal ready when it should be, but I’ll try again this year. It’s extremely difficult though because the days of huge gatherings are gone without her. It’s a smaller group, keeping busy cooking stops the tears from flowing, and the utter exhaustion makes me fall fast asleep after. I guess I should be grateful that it keeps the grief at bay. It’ll get easier. Just like it got easier when I lost my mom. I won’t stop doing it all though. I have to live up to what she taught me. To move forward no matter how difficult. And I want the little family I have left to experience the same familiar tastes they’ve always known. I just someone could tell me how you can possibly get it all done at the same time with one oven. I’m in awe of my amazing Mema for doing it more years than I can count.

  15. Well put! I am from a large family anyways so what is one more in the mix to add to the love and enjoyment of friends and family.

  16. Thank you for this blog Marybeth. I love that you said it was about togetherness and not work. I truly believe that and I feel it is also about sharing and giving of one’s self. I don’t find it a chore at all. I find it truly gratifying to make people happy and to join in that happiness.

  17. Christine

    I agree Mary Beth! It’s all about being together. My husband and I had to relocate from Canada to the US two years ago because of his job. We don’t travel back at Christmas because it’s stressful and costly. We’ve made some good friends here and they are our pseudo family. I cooked a 26 lb turkey at Thanksgiving (note to self don’t send husband out to get an 18 lb turkey!) with all the trimmings. There were 10 of us around the table and all the good fun and laughter helped me miss home a little less. I plan to do the same for Christmas. The same motley crew, fun and good cheer will help make up for not being home with my Canadian family.

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