In this weekly feature I answer your personal finance questions.
Dear Emma, WTF?!
As if the holidays aren’t hard enough, this is the first holiday after my divorce. Now my extended family is getting on my case. Here’s the deal:
For the past 11 years my two siblings, I and our respective families have taken turns hosting Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. This year would mark my turn to take Christmas, and my brother, sister and their spouses act like it will be business as usual. They also know that I am broke as I am fighting my ex for alimony and child support and we’re underwater on the house. Traditionally we all sit down to a big, multicourse dinner and exchange presents for all the adults and kids. In years past, this was lots of fun and the expense – while often beyond my budget – didn’t bother me. But now I’m a single mom of three! They all have husbands and wives! It’s not fair that I front the same bill on one income when their holidays are shouldered by two careers.
I worry that I can’t really say anything – it would ruin Christmas and cause a big family riff. What do you think?
Cussing in Columbus
One: The holidays generally do suck, and no matter how much people (e.g. marketers) tell you otherwise, everyone feels the same way. Not that there aren’t moments of joy,or that we don’t all have the power to make the season meaningful, but can we just fast-forward to the January 1 sales already?
Two: Yes, you now have less money than your siblings, and hosting the holiday is more of a burden than if you had a husband. This is where I tell you to stand up straight, take a deep breath, and tell yourself that you can do much more than you think you were ever capable of. Because you are. It’s just one lousy party, for crying out loud. (For the record, the Farm Bureau points out that Thanksgiving dinner this year for a family of 10 cost an average of $50, so let’s put things in perspective).
Three: You will host Christmas because by doing so you tell your children that, No, they are not less than their cousins just because their parents can’t make their marriage work. And No, holidays don’t go under-celebrated just because money is tight. And No, their mother will not cave to the stresses and pressures and AWFULNESS of these stupid over-hyped, over-commercialized pagan festivities. You will host Christmas, and you will do it with cheer.
Four: You will take this party by the balls. There is no reason you have to succumb to old traditions or the berating images from Country Living magazine. You have the right to serve what you want at your house. You could do something simple and elegant like roast a few chickens with winter vegetables, toss a pretty green salad (a handful of dried cranberries makes everything festive. At least that’s what Martha Stewart says.), and buy a few pies from a local baker. Or do you want to get crazy? Order in a buffet of your favorite vegetarian Indian food! Serve fondu! Find something inexpensive and easy. Do what makes you happy. Create your own idea of fun.
What about gifts? Most everyone I know is so exhausted by the expectations to buy gifts for everyone in their lives. The effort, expense and then overwhelm of receiving crap we don’t need is just not enjoyable any more. I suspect your siblings feel similarly. Try to institute a grab-bag or name-drawing practice. Agree to throw money into a pot to donate to charity. Mix it up. Inspire your clan to actively create a meaningful holiday. Find strength during this difficult time by making your family — and the world — better.
Five: You will ask for help when you need it. Ask your brother to take the kids for a few hours on Christmas morning so you can clean the house. Ask the elderly neighbor if she can bake her special homemade rolls so you don’t have to. Ask yourself permission to be kind to yourself. And remember: it’s just Christmas.
Roasted chicken with winter vegetables
- Two chickens, about 3 lbs each
- Your favorite winter vegetables – I like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, fennel
- A few heads of garlic, tips cut off
- Any herbs you like – rosemary, thyme, parsley
- Sea or Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
Crank up the oven to 450 degrees. Rinse and pat dry the chicken. Season very heavily, including inside the cavity. Throw in a roasting pan, breast up. Cook for 15 minutes, until skin starts to crisp. Lower heat to 400 degrees and take the chicken out of the oven.
Meanwhile, wash and peel and roughly chop the vegetables, however you like. Throw in the garlic and herbs (except parsley, which you’d save until the end). After the first 15 minutes, lift the chicken from the pan, put the veggies in and arrange the birds on top. Cook another hour or so until the leg pulls easily from the thigh bone. Remove the chickens, cover with foil, and let rest for 20 minutes. Toss the veggies in the chicken fat and cook another few minutes until they get some color.