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Simplify the holidays

“When we listen to people talking about Christmas, often the first thing they mention is holiday commercialism…What really matters to people is the quality of their own celebrations.”
Jo Robinson & Jean Coppock Staeheli

If you are like me, you are already a bit tired of Christmas carols and promotions that the stores seemed to have begun even before Halloween this year.  Increasingly, there is pressure to buy, buy, buy for the holidays.  Now we even have the guilt inducing pressure to help the economy through our spending. Added to our already busy lives is the stress of finding just the right gift for everyone.  If we are lucky, we decided to draw names to cut down a bit on this frenzy but still it is easy to get caught up in the “holiday spirit.” In the end it is just a mega shopping spree.  Too often, come January, when we face our credit card bill, we experience a hangover from too much “spirit.”
I would encourage you instead to begin or continue traditions in your family.  Instead of stressing out and ending up frazzeled, take the time to be together to enjoy small little treats and activities.  If your children are still little, now is the time to form those traditions.  When Robinson and Staeheli surveyed children for their book, Unplug the Christmas Machine, they found that while children will always ask for toys and such for Christmas, what they really want and need comes down to four basis things:

  1. Relaxed and loving time with the family
  2. Realistic expectations about gifts
  3. An evenly paced holiday season
  4. Strong family traditions
Years ago, when my three sons were little, we started several Christmas traditions.  The first Christmas in our new home, we were invited to a friend’s overgrown tree farm to top off a tree.  They had plenty of trees that had grown extremely tall and they were willing to let us have one for free.  We had a great time tromping through the woods and cut off the top of a tree that we thought was about 10 foot long.  That is, until we got it back to our Volvo station wagon and realized it was over 12 feet tall.  Since we had a living room with cathedral ceilings, we took it home and with the help of our neighbor got it indoors.  It was huge and filled up most of the space in that room.  To decorate it we needed lots of ornaments.  The boys got busy making homemade ornaments, painting sChristmas treeome with their grandparents and making some in Sunday school and scouts.  We also gathered handmade ornaments when we went to a new location for a vacation.
That started the tradition of the tree. Now each year, we hunt a tree together on a Saturday in December. It has to be at least 12 feet tall.  After setting it up in the living room, we take the time to remember how each ornament was made or on what vacation we purchased it.  We play Christmas carols and have a nice time together reminiscing.
Another tradition from their childhood is to open the stocking first with them sitting on the step near to where they are hung.   We take a picture each year.  The last couple of years, my eldest son has lived in Norway.  We have used a three foot doll made for him by his grandmother as a stand in for him in the photo.  This year we will be able once again to have a full contingency as he and his wife are joining us for Christmas.  As the boys grew older, we added a new tradition for the stockings.  In them, we place only small food type of gifts and a letter of donation to one of their favorite charities.  We have donated to relief work in Haiti and AIDS education in Africa and many other projects this way.
Take the time to play games, bake cookies, and decorate the tree together.  Don’t redecorate after the little ones have had a hand at it.  Let them take pride in being a part of getting the house ready for the birth of the Christ child even if the end result would not win any awards in Martha Stewart’s magazine.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and joy is the most important gift to spread this season.

If the extended family is joining you for the holidays, help each of them to feel welcomed and necessary in your home.  Ask them to bring one of their most favorite foods or take charge in an area where you know they are gifted.  My mother always makes the homemade noodles (one of our traditions) for the Christmas meal when she is with us.  I could make them but she was the one who taught me.  This honors her as the master teacher and helps out with the division of labor in the kitchen.

Boundary setting and time alone is also important for recharging internal batteries.  Do a quick internal review of what you need to feel ready to take on the next day.  Make sure you get plenty of rest and eat nutritionally.  If exercise is part of your normal routine, now is not the time to skip it.  It can be a great stress reducer!  Know when you are overwhelmed and ask for help.  You don’t have to do everything alone or perfectly.  Focus each day on the things for which you are grateful and end the day with time to unwind rather than frantically working on projects right up to the time you go to bed.

Set a budget for spending for gifts and stick to it, no matter how the good the deals seem to be.

Begin this year by making just one or two simple adjustments that will help you feel more in control of the holidays.  It may be cutting back on the baking or decorating.  It may be spending more time together playing games rather than running to the mall.  Whatever you choose, it is with small changes that we turn the our lives around.  Begin to embrace a simplicity that can make your life more joyful not just for the holiday season but for the rest of the year.