A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all
go through it together. -anonymous quote shared by my artist friend, Melissa
While that quote expresses my own personal feelings about this time of year, I’d like to have a little shelter from the storm. Instead of owning my Grinchiness and struggling miserably through the season, this year my husband and I decided to stop participating in the aspects of the season that make us crazy. We made some much needed changes to our holiday agenda that proved to be just what we needed; an umbrella of shelter over our heads in an otherwise chaotic time.
We tried to identify the things about Christmas that we didn’t like, the things that cause stress, the things we did like, and the things we would do instead. For starters, I don’t like to shop. Not even for myself. So, giving presents to people (aside from kids and immediate family members) seems like shopping on the behalf of others for things they don’t want or need. I admit that I’m picky, too. I don’t want to receive a present just to have something to open; it needs to be beautiful or useful and above all, not made of plastic. I feel like everyone is swapping junk, essentially. There isn’t anything that my husband or I need that we can’t buy for ourselves. I know it’s the thought that counts, and that’s fine…I’d be happier with just the thought. I’d rather the money spent on a gift for me be used in a better way for someone who needs something.
Then there’s all the stuff…ugh. Mountains of trash, unwanted junk and plastic doodads going to the landfill. Piles of stuff that isn’t wanted or needed presents a chore; you have to use it (Don’t want it!), hoard it (Don’t have room!), give it away or donate it. I find that dealing with the presents and the waste they produce can be a chore. Also, all that stuff has a cost beyond what is paid at the store. How was it produced? Ethically? Sustainably? Where was it made? And where does it all go when it is no longer needed?
Other random things that make me want to run and hide during this holiday season are: the drone of Christmas carols starting before Thanksgiving (a two week window would be more appreciated), the hurry and rushing, Thanksgiving sale madness, traffic, consumerism, and hateful people. Having worked in retail during the holidays, and knowing she’d been busy, the other day I asked a cashier if she was hanging in there, and she replied, “I’ll be glad when it’s all over. People are so grouchy.” In all this hurrying around on a mission to give!, to be kind and charitable, if we forget to pay attention to what is going on around us, we run the risk of doing the opposite. If instead of spreading holiday cheer, we just scatter our negative energy around like a raincloud over others’ joy, then it seems to me like the gift isn’t quite worth all that nastiness. One might as well give up on that chore and stay home.
Lastly, there is the business of it all; the whole season coming all at once. Parties, gatherings, plays, concerts, baking, cooking, traveling, decorating, buying, wrapping, shopping, etc. As an introvert and a semi-hermit, it just wears me out.
In the past, to cope with this time of year, I have pretended it wasn’t happening (just to be suddenly shocked by the awareness that it IS coming in THREE DAYS!), I have gone overboard making homemade baked goodies and presents for EVERYONE (but that takes lots of time and work, and it seems that few appreciate that any more than they would a box of tissues), and I’ve also participated fully in the madness with wild abandon by buying presents, using both time and money I didn’t really have to find each and everyone the perfect present (while still feeling like that wasn’t the solution to the stress or the answer to the inner conflicted feelings about Christmas). The bottom line is that I have always felt forced to participate in a cultural phenomenon which I don’t really support.
No more! This year I began to reshape the holiday season for my own personal well-being. Nobody likes a Scrooge and I don’t want to be a Scrooge, but I had to figure out a way to be happy during a time that otherwise makes me sad, depressed, and stressed. I started by asking myself and my husband, What do we like about this time of year? How could we give it more meaning? We decided to focus on those things and let go of the rest of the things that did not function well. This year has served as an information gathering investigation…Does this present situation bring me stress or joy? What do I like about this moment? I made an effort to do this: Stop. Pause. Notice. Breath…Repeat as necessary.
In order to simplify things and to make ourselves more merry, we limited gift buying to only a few people and donated money to charitable causes instead. We proposed to both sides of our family to not exchange presents, but to instead make donations. More family members were on board than we had expected! As a whole, we donated honeybees and a goat to a family in a developing country, we helped local food pantries, families and children in need. It felt like our resources were going somewhere they were making a difference. Instead of trying to give lavishly, we decided to give smartly.
In support of “the reason for the season” for me, personally…I celebrated Winter Solstice with bells, a tree, natural wreaths, and a party (although those in attendance may have never known). I celebrated in my own way by appreciating the long chilly days and noticing the bareness of winter, the slowness, the quietness, flickering low yellow light, the hour of transition of day into night when the light becomes mercurial and moody (this is the time of rituals, when the sky is reminding you what to do: start a fire, light candles, start to prepare dinner). I have appreciated warm soups and hot coffee or tea, cozy sweaters, and using my favorite blankets and quilts. I’ve acknowledged the longest day of the year and the eventual return of summer and the Sun. I’ve relished the rest and the naps, warm hats, socks, and gloves. And I’ve remembered those that have passed on and are no longer with us on this Earth as I have thought about the death and renewal of Nature.
For decorations, and keeping with the Winter Solstice observance, I made paper and string buntings and garlands with friends, hung homemade paper snowflakes, and instead of taking a long trip to a tree farm to get a Christmas tree, we found all kinds of natural decorations right in our own backyard.
We got a spindly little whimsical Charlie Brown cedar tree from the edge of the field (that we decked out in antique glass balls), and wild vines for wreaths in the woods. We also got a nice Dogwood branch, already putting forth this Spring’s buds (how’s that for renewal?…See, it never really stops, it’s just changing).
It was a fun adventure and Rufus had fun, too. Besides the decorations, we got exercise, fresh air, and had a good fun date!
My husband and I kept our own Christmas lists short, too. We both needed good warm socks (this farmhouse gets awfully drafty), and we each wanted a book. He surprised me with a new pair of muck boots (one of mine got stolen by a neighbor’s dog and chewed to pieces back in the summer), and I got him a shop apron. Simple gifts, most of them needed and something with which to curl up and read (all made in the USA, I might add). And since we didn’t have to run around worrying over what to buy for people, we actually had the time and patience to visit with friends and family, be kind to store employees, play games, bake cookies, enjoy each others’ company, and read by the warm fire for hours.
We celebrated our own holiday, but we also wished people Merry Christmas and still celebrated in the traditions of our families. The difference was that this year, we simplified, modified, and defined what this holiday season truly means to us without getting swept up in the chaos. We changed the course of events to fit our lives in a more enjoyable and meaningful way. We ended up feeling much more relaxed, peaceful, and happy because of it. Sometimes, less really is more!
Our traditions are a work in progress, and will hopefully get better and better every year. We need only remember this, from a calendar I received as a gift, “I don’t have to do it the way I did it yesterday.”
You can always choose to do things a little differently. Are there any things you’d change about your traditions?