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Life with a smile: Spending your magic wisely 

By KATE SNYDER

Local columnist

I didn’t make the frosting for my son’s cookie decorating party. And I have no regrets. 

In my desire to make holidays magical for my kids, I can sometimes set the bar too high for myself. (Please refer to previous articles discussing my hang-up about store-bought valentines for reference.) But this year, I made a few deliberate decisions to half-ass it. 

Take the cookies. I love to bake sugar cookies and I have a really delicious recipe. It’s labor-intensive, with dough that needs to chill for 24-hours and a powdered sugar frosting that will put you straight into a diabetic coma — with a smile on your face. 

I didn’t make those for my kids’ parties.

Instead, I cranked out dozens of cookies using an easier dough and bought a few tubs of ready-made frosting that we tinted with food coloring. I’m slowly —very slowly — learning that you need to be strategic about where to spend your magic. The truth is, when baking for hordes of elementary school students, you don’t have to be at the top of your game. My son and his friends didn’t notice the difference, being too enchanted by the fact that the cookies were cut in the shape of gingerbread ninjas. 

Then there were the presents; or rather, the presentation of said presents. I gave up on pretty wrapping years ago. 

Growing up, my extended family was populated with gift wrap wizards. Between my grandfather’s gorgeous calligraphy on the tags and my artist aunt’s shiny papers and flamboyant bows, I developed something of an inferiority complex when it came to adorning holiday packages. For years, I inwardly cringed when slapping a cheap bow onto the boxes or wielding the scissors to create some anemic curly streamers. 

Then, one year I just stopped. I buy designated wrapping paper for each of the kids, but that’s it — no ribbon, no bows, no tags. I write their names in sharpie on the outside of the parcels and stick them under the tree. And you know what? Nobody seems to mind. In fact, it makes Christmas morning easier since you don’t have to fight with the ribbon after the scissors are misplaced in the sea of wrapping paper.

We go big in other ways. My mom makes homemade cinnamon rolls and scotch eggs for Christmas breakfast. I string several-thousand lights throughout the house — six Christmas trees, two mantels and a piano, not to mention the icicle lights in the windows and the strands draped over the front bushes. Our matching family pajamas are second to none and the dog looks exceedingly dapper in his candy cane bow tie.

Having failed to secure reservations early enough for the Shaker Village holiday tea, we did our own this year and it was epic. We pulled out the good china and the multi-layer serving carousel, piled it high with kid-friendly fare made swanky in the presentation. Chocolate chip scones cut into the shape of hearts, pigs in a blanket artfully plated, Nutella sandwiches cut into tiny, crustless triangles. The grownups drank tea while the kids downed mugs of hot chocolate with marshmallows.

We didn’t make it to the parade downtown. Or drive around in our pajamas looking at Christmas lights. We didn’t go caroling or bell-ringing because there are only so many days in the season of Advent. But we did have a lovely Christmas Eve dinner at my ex-husband’s house and the kids and I watched a lot of Christmas movies together. 

You have to pick and choose, or risk losing the magic altogether, extinguished by stress and frustration. Maybe next year I’ll send out Christmas cards — but I wouldn’t count on it.