I Was Caught. My “Simplify the Holidays” Secret is Out.

Two days before Thanksgiving, I’m standing in the check out line of one of my favorite grocery stores thinking, “I sure hope no one sees me here.”

I’m about halfway finished unloading my cart and mid-way through a turn from the cart back to the conveyor belt, when I catch the eye of this darling woman smiling at me.

She takes a step forward and says, “Oh, it is you. Hi, I’m Michelle. I read your blog. I love it!”

I smile and reply, “Oh, hi….so nice to meet you. Thanks for reading! You are so sweet for telling me.”

As I’m talking, I’m also awkwardly trying to block my groceries from the view of this sweet gal.

She continues to tell me how a friend told her I like to shop at this store and how our daughters are at the same high school. Meanwhile, I’m trying to formulate a plausible explanation for why I’m standing there with a huge tub of pre-cooked mashed potatoes in my hands.

And why on the conveyor belt behind me there is also a pre-cooked turkey, stuffing, gravy, and Brussels sprouts.

I shared this story later with a physical therapist friend of mine. She laughed and said, “You being caught with an entire pre-cooked Thanksgiving dinner is like me being caught in a doughnut shop.”

I came clean with Michelle. I came clean with my friend. And I’ll come clean with you.

I personally find that all of these holiday traditions that have been passed down to us over the course of generations are simply too much.

We live in different times with different priorities than let’s say, when the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, or when Ebenezer Scrooge was gifting a goose.

I don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen on Thanksgiving…or Christmas…or Easter…or {insert holiday name here.}

I want to sit on the couch drinking tea in the morning and wine in the evening and talk endlessly with my brother and sister who I don’t get to see nearly enough. I want to play Bananagrams with my daughter even though she can beat me now. I want to listen, really listen, to my 7-year-old as he explains the drawings he’s created using what seems like an entire ream of copy paper. And I want to cozy up with the Rooster, my 13-year-old, and my Mom and Dad and watch football. And if there is time, I want to go for a walk and breath deeply.

What I’ve come to realize is I prefer to pick and choose the holiday traditions that I love best and let the rest go.

I love to make pie. For Thanksgiving, my contribution was four homemade pumpkin pies. We ate them for dinner and breakfast.

I love to set a beautiful table. Using faded flowers and leaves from my yard, I created little bouquets in jelly jars for our table. I laid out my treasured silver from both of my grandmothers, my wedding china, my butter knives my Aunt collects for me, brass candlesticks and lovely cloth napkins I borrowed from my Mom, and my favorite little water glasses that have to be hand-washed but are always so beautiful to drink from.

I love to find ways to take a moment to remember the actual meaning of the holiday. So, I instigated a simple tree of thanks. Everyone who was here for Thanksgiving wrote down on a mailing tag a few words of thanks. The 7-year-olds took turns reading everyone’s tags at dinner and the teenagers hung them from “the tree” despite their silliness.

The pre-cooked Thanksgiving meal was enjoyed by everyone just as much as the homemade ones of year’s past and the only stress I felt was wondering why there wasn’t more for me to do.

I guess I share this story because as we head into the next phase of the holiday season, I hope you’ll be inspired to pick and choose your holiday traditions and let the rest go. Enjoy what you spend your time doing.

And remind yourself over and over as you are letting go…especially if you are a glutton-for-punishment with control-issues like me…. “Martha has a staff. Martha has a staff. Martha has a staff.”



  1. Thanks for the reminder Carrie!

  2. oh, and I love your tree of thanks. I’m totally stealing it!

  3. Here, here! There’s no going back now that we know how relaxing it can be!

    • No looking back now….it’s like once you’ve had albacore tuna you never go back to chunk light.

  4. When I first started reading, I was thinking “Oh but it is so fun to cook that big feast on that one day of the year…” You make a very compelling case. I don’t think I can go back now. I especially love the last line; I shall try to remind myself of that more often! 🙂

    • If you love to make the big feast on that one day a year, Carrie, then you definitely should do it. Do what you love and let go of the rest. I found that while I love to cook, I don’t especially like to do it on holidays. I don’t know why…but there it is.

  5. Maria Rivero Gore says:

    Love your story and agree with you 100%! We have too much stress on our holiday’s. Love your simplified approach and honesty 😉

  6. Yep, makes perfect sense to me, Carrie! First time ever: Picked up our entire dinner packed in a box from an incredible Vermont restaurant and reheated it over glasses of wine with friends so that the 8 of us could ski all morning. What a blast and all proclaimed it perfect. (Just wish mom liked snow and you all were with…) I’m with Court…there’s no going back.

  7. Lynn Coleman says:

    Loved all that said. We so often focus on all the preparations and then are too tired to enjoy the event and the family and friends. Love you

  8. Patty Weightman says:

    so true! And your home was still filled with peace and beauty, no matter who cooked the food! Martha also has a hair person and a wardrobe person…..

    • …and a makeup person…and a dog sitter…and a stable boy…and a gardener…and a house cleaner…and an adult daughter…

  9. Wendy Kotila says:

    I’m with you, Carrie! Whole Foods supplied almost our entire Thanksgiving meal. It was delicious, and there was no stress!

    I just picked up a Martha Stewart magazine and started laughing at page 2 at the ambitiousness of it. No one – NO ONE – can do all that on their own!

  10. Carrie, the Thanksgiving right after my mom died I said, “(unrepeatable word) it” and ordered the whole darn dinner from Zupan’s, except the pies. Mom taught me how to make awesome pies; I love baking them and so do the girls. This year, I asked everyone who was coming to bring waaaay more than I usually do and I was amazed at how relaxed I felt AND how good everything tasted. Christmas Eve I’m going to employ the same program. Glad to hear I’m not the only one jettisoning some of the work–thanks for writing about it.

    • Oh Meg, that’s why we’re such good friends…we both played the french horn, we both studied Faulkner, and we both love to make pies.

  11. Laurie Walker says:

    Absolutely perfect advice!

  12. i LOVE this post. I feel so pressured to have the perfect family experiences and therefore end up feeling let down and disappointed. My father, who played Santa for over 40 years, recently passed away and as a result I’ve been dreading Christmas this year. Your post helped think about this differently and I think i have a plan now for how to enjoy the time with my family.

    • Oh, Michele, I’m so sorry about your father. That’s so hard. Big hug. Glad to know my post could provide a smidge of inspiration for this particular Christmas.

  13. Jennifer Mills says:

    love it, especially being that i’m hosting christmas dinner this year, i may be taking a page out of your playbook… 🙂

    • Well, feel free to call me if you have any questions, Jennifer. I’ll definitely be ordering up for Christmas. 🙂

  14. Kirsten Crombie says:

    My mom’s version is, ‘Kirsten Anne! You know she has people, right?!?!’

  15. Betty Cook says:

    I loved it and Courtney’s right, there’s no going back. I only wish I had the guts to do it years ago. Bravo, Carrie..

  16. Loved that story and your beautiful photos!

  17. Love love love this post! Going to share with my sister. We *almost* ordered Thanksgiving dinner out this year. Love your photography as well. So beautiful. Miss your calendar though!

  18. I had a similar revelation a few years ago, despite the fact that I love to cook, I could never get all that excited about cooking a traditional Thanksgiving meal. My boyfriend and I spent our first Thanksgiving together in Canada where it was not Thanksgiving, so we went out for Mexican food that night. So, I decided we would have Mexican food every Thanksgiving. It is usually an all out Mexican feast and I enjoy it so much more than a traditional bland Thanksgiving meal. Everyone needs to do what works for them. It is good when you can see that and make it work for you. Happy Holidays!