For my twins' first Christmas, I was determined to be a cool mom. I wrapped a few toys to put under the tree. I kept the ornaments simple. I didn't offer to host a big family feast. There was just one tradition I wanted to start: baking homemade cookies with them. Never mind that my daughter and son were 5 months old and hadn't even tried solids. I'd read somewhere that smells trigger emotional memories, and I was determined that as they grew, anytime they smelled the scent of sweets wafting from an oven, they would be flooded with memories of home.
As you might predict, my first attempt at baking with the babies wasn't the cozy kitchen scene I'd envisioned. I put too much pressure on myself to make the moment fun and perfect, starting with my recipe for complicated glittery star-shaped cookies. When my tears started rolling, I felt as if I'd ruined not just their Christmas Present but all of their Christmas Futures. Ah, Baby's first big holiday. Like the first birthday, this milestone triggers a mom's urge to plot and plan. But take it from me, a parent who has been there: Less is truly more. Use these steps to feel fortunate this holiday -- not grinchy.
Blend Old and New
Until this year, you've probably celebrated the holidays the way your parents or your in-laws did. Now that you're the mom, you have the chance to call the shots and establish new traditions. Just make sure you do so thoughtfully.
Talk to grammy. If you've always gone to your Bubbe's house for the first night of Hanukkah but want to light the first candle by your own hearth, don't dodge the topic -- be up-front with her, says Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions. Reinforce what won't change; for example, you'll still go to Aunt Sue's house for the last night of Hanukkah. And resist making any broad, forever proclamations. In the end, you may really miss Bubbe's bash and want to return next year.
Give everyone a break. "The year my daughter was born, we decided to go to a restaurant for our holiday dinner, which is something we've continued to do," says Anika Palm, of Orlando. "My family was thrilled!" Without the stress of cooking, everyone in Palm's family could focus on being together. "You order what you want and then leave the mess behind," she says.
Dial down the holiday emphasis. If your baby is less than a month old, the best bet may be to treat the day as 20 percent holiday, 80 percent regular day. Even leaving the house may be too much. "My son was 6 days old for his first Christmas," says Melissa Schlegel, of La Crosse, Kansas. "I thought we were scaling back by not driving the three hours to my parents' and just going to my in-laws' nearby. But I hadn't yet found a proper nursing bra, and I practically had to undress in a back bedroom to breastfeed my son. I was exhausted and overwhelmed."
Roll with it. If your family has traditions you love, stick with them. They'll still feel brand-new to your little one in the coming years. That's how Olga Davis, a Chicago mom, whose daughter Madeline celebrated her first Christmas last year, sees it. "Our family is Mexican, and our big gathering is Christmas Eve," she says. "We make tamales and buñuelos [fried dough], and everyone stays up until midnight to open gifts." Davis envisions her daughter doing exactly that as a kid. "Hey, I had to wait!" she explains. "Madeline will too! And she can join in the cooking."
Get your partner's input. The two of you have probably learned to take turns visiting each other's parents for the holidays. Now build on that compromise by discussing the one or two aspects from your own childhood traditions that you want to pass down, says Cox. Make those a priority, and you'll both feel heard.
Plan some child-free time. And guard it fiercely. Hire a sitter, so you don't miss your friend's big bash. Spend a Saturday afternoon baking with your sisters or shop all day with your mom. Afterward, you'll feel more refreshed for taking care of your sweetie.