Do you have a romantic ideal of what the holidays should look like, but, in reality, it falls short of your expectations, with the same family squabbles, hurt feelings, and disappointment manifesting year after year? I think if we’re honest, we all feel this to some degree, and it can trigger the holiday blues.

With Nick & Tatjana Christmas time 1988

With Nick & Tatjana Christmas time 1988

Try to think long and hard about “what’s my role in this?”  As much as I’m sure we’ve all wished at some point that we could control the circumstances – the truth is we have no control over anyone’s actions but our own, so here are a few pointers to I’ve learned (usually the hard way) through the years:

Remembering angels

Remembering angels

1). Loss is, without a doubt, the biggest holiday stressor, and one we definitely have no control over. It is inevitable at some point in our lives, and comes in so many forms – someone very dear to you has passed away, a marriage has failed, the loss of a home attached to many memories, the loss of a job that has you worried about buying those obligatory gifts, a child whose flown the coup and now spends the holidays with their spouses’ family. Change is one thing you can’t avoid, and sadness or grieving is natural. You do need to honor those feelings, but you do not have to wallow in them. Whatever the loss can make the holidays a bittersweet time. My advice is to plan ahead to create new holiday rituals and memories.

  • Helping others is one way to start a new tradition – help out in a soup kitchen, go read to children in the hospital, or gather friends to sing Carroll’s to the elderly in a home. I’m not promising it will take your pain away, but it will let you experience joy with others.
  • Look at as an opportunity to indulge yourself. My first Christmas without my daughter after the divorce was a tough one for me. I made sure my mind was kept busy with exploring Egypt, rather than feeling blue about not being with Tatjana. I began to look at the time she spent away from me, as time I could do something completely for myself, rather than time I was deprived of being with her. I realize travel may not be an option for everyone, but you can find something you’ve always wanted to do. Maybe it’s roaming a museum, driving around looking at the lights, reading a good book – whatever, just adjust the attitude from “I can’t do this alone” to “I get to totally immerse myself in something I love, without feeling guilty about it.” You will make new memories in the process, and find your holiday spirit again.
Knocking yourself out

Knocking yourself out

2). Does “I keep knocking myself out making sure every detail will be perfect, therefore, my holiday dreams will come true” sound familiar? Here is the reality check – when I catch myself doing this – I end up exhausted, grouchy, feeling unappreciated, and usually the bad guy when I blow my cool at the end of it all. The truth of the matter is, no one other than me knows (or cares) how much hard work went into decorating, cooking, baking, and cleaning to make that day special. They just came to enjoy it and like you – probably with a few unrealistic expectations or their own.

  • Ask yourself, how much can I realistically do without exhausting myself? Then cut the rest from your list. Exhaustion is a recipe disaster.
  • Stop giving so much, if you feel unappreciated. Don’t be a martyr – it obviously isn’t getting you the result you desire. When I stop knocking myself out, I start enjoying the tasks I am happy to do, and so does everyone else around me.
  • Plus, when you’re less exhausted,  you’ll also be able to deal more rationally with the bad behavior of others.
  • Apply the Personal Chef Approach. The more you can have done well in advance, the more relaxed you will be, and the more time you will have to enjoy your own party.
Throw a party

Throw a party

3). Role change. Would it really be so awful to let yourself be the receiver versus the giver for a change?
  • The holiday will still happen, but with different dynamics. Instead, of you doing the entertaining every year, lets others within the family take that role in turns. You might find you enjoy the break, and they’re more likely to appreciate what you’ve done in the past when they put the labor of love in themselves.
  • It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Why not try a “pot luck” style holiday meal for a change – there are so many great make-ahead dishes that travel well – like this artichoke lasagna I made for my own company Christmas party this year. I’ll be honest – I’d had a stressful week, and didn’t really feel like entertaining. Instead of doing my normal cooking to impress, I prepared a few simple dishes in advance. Once my team arrived, I realized there was nothing left to do, but heat and eat, and enjoy my own party! In the end, we all had a blast.
Keith Haring Gingerbread Art
One of Tatjana’s and my favorite holiday traditions has always been baking and making gingerbread houses together. This year we decided – why not honor a dear friend and create something a little more interesting, so we decided to make Keith Haring gingerbread cookies instead.

Servings: 12
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes


Keith Haring Gingerbread Art

  • parchment paper for tracing and cutting guide
  • images you would like to make in gingerbread
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar packed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening or unsalted butter
  • 1 cup Karo syrup
  • 2 large egg whites room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 pound powdered sugar


Keith Haring Gingerbread Art

  1. Tatjana suggested she find some images online that I would then trace onto parchment paper for a cookie cutting guides in the dough.
  2. Preheat oven to 350° F. Mix flour through all-spice together in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Melt brown sugar, vegetable shortening (or butter), and Karo syrup together in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until combined. Then add to dry ingredients while still warm, using a mixer with dough hook, stir until just incorporated. Dough will be crumbly, but will come together as you roll it out still warm.
  4. Dust the counter with flour to prevent dough sticking to it. Dough must still be warm as you roll it out. If it cools too quickly place it into a warm oven for 2-3 minutes to soften, then gently roll it out to an even 1/8″ thickness. Place parchment stencil over dough, and cut around edges carefully with a paring knife. Carefully transfer gingerbread shapes to a nonstick baking sheet.
  5. Bake in preheated oven 10-15 minutes, until dark golden brown all over. Remove from oven, cool 5 minutes, then carefully loosen edges using a spatula to place onto cooling racks to cool completely.
  6. While gingerbread is cooling, mix royal icing ingredients together in mixer fitted with a wire whisk. Start slowly, so powdered sugar dose not fly out everywhere, and gradually increase speed to medium high. Beat for 5 minutes, or until stiff peaks form. Add a little more water to loosen consistency, or add a little more powdered sugar to stiffen until you have the desired consistency.
  7. Fill a pastry bag fitted with desired tip, and decorate gingerbread to match your original print outs from online.

Serving Suggestions

Serve with a nice cold glass of milk.

Baking is one of Tatjana's and my favorite traditions.

Baking is one of Tatjana’s and my favorite traditions.

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  • December 5, 2012
    1:24 pm

    You are the most thoughtful friend, Ruthee. When you give a gift, it definitely has not only thought, but a LOT of your heart in it!