The Designated Celebrator

Melinda Shoaf - Memphis, Tennessee
As heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, January 8, 2007
Melinda Shoaf

Holiday gatherings mean long hours for Melinda Shoaf: polishing the silver, hanging the decorations, cooking the big dinner. But the Memphis homemaker believes her family deserves a good celebration.

Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: family, legacy
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I believe that if you’re the person in your family who arranged for and executed the celebration this past holiday season, well, you’re probably still tired. You may be wondering why you spent so much on presents, why you had to have your house just right, why you had friends over for drinks when you were already weary and worn out. You may be thinking that you’re getting too old for all of this or you may be thinking you’re too young.

If you know what I’m talking about, you’re probably your family’s Designated Celebrator — that is, the one who sees to it that a holiday actually happens in the lives of your loved ones.

After New Year’s, I was sitting at the breakfast table in a stupor. My husband asked if I was all right.

“I’m exhausted,” I answered. “I’m totally exhausted.”

He looked puzzled. “Why do you do this to yourself every year?”

I have to admit that part of what I do around the winter holidays seems almost involuntary, innate. It’s as if I’m driven by the ancient need to mark the darkness of winter with my little bit of light.

My answer to my husband’s question is that I believe one of the most important things I can do while I’m on this planet is honor those I love through celebrations, and the older I get, the more I believe it.

When my children were small, their father lost his job. It took a decade to recover emotionally and financially. Hot water and electricity were luxuries that weren’t always available; meals were a challenge. I tried to hide it from them, but I was constantly afraid of losing our home. Those celebrations were so sparse, the future so uncertain, that the ground seemed to be shifting beneath us.

So now, celebrations mean that much more to me. This year, I polished the silver, lit the candles, made sure a sprig of holly was carefully tacked above every window; I served a $12 bottle of wine instead of a $7 one; I bought lamb chops instead of a roast — little things, just so we’d remember this day, this night.

I believe that in this world there is and always has been so much sadness and sorrow, so much uncertainty, that if we didn’t set aside time for merriment, gifts, music and laughter with family and friends, we might just forget to celebrate all together. We’d just plod along in life.

I believe in the importance of celebrations. As my family’s Designated Celebrator I may be tired and I may not have done all that I set out to do, but I believe that this year, I celebrated the ones I love, and I hope with all my heart that I celebrated them well.

Writer and homemaker Melinda Shoaf marks the holidays with her four grown children in Memphis, where she lives with her husband and two dogs. She says her oldest daughter will likely carry on the “Designated Celebrator" tradition in the family.

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.