Today is December 4th. Christmas morning is a mere twenty-one days away. “Are you ready?”, is the common question you hear. “Finished your shopping yet?”, is the other.
I don’t know much about the other religious holidays that occur at this time of year; I have a vague understanding of some. Christmas is the holiday I celebrate, so all I can speak to is how Christmas is observed in my part of the world, and in my immediate surroundings.
Basically, there is an over-hanging stressfulness that envelopes this holiday. Families are trying to sort out plans about who will be where and when, and is it possible for us all to get together on the same day, and why not, and when will we see you if we can’t?
Then there’s the who-do-we-have-to-buy-gifts-for discussions? Followed by the what-shall-we-get-them brainstorming sessions. Which logically is followed by rushing off to stores whenever the time allows to complete the list of requests and decisions, if you’re lucky. Sometimes you have no idea what to buy someone so you spend hours searching for just the right thing that you hope they will like and use and benefit from.
I’m drawing a bit of a glum light on things. There is of course the other side of this equation; that you really want to get something special for someone because you love them so much and want to shower them with gifts to show your appreciation for their existence in your life.
The difference is the having to buy versus the wanting to buy.
But regardless, there is shopping involved and generally a lot of it with many people spending more than their lifestyle can afford thus bringing on the dreaded PMS: post-merchandise stress. How are you going to pay off your credit card when you are barely making payments for your monthly household expenses?
With twenty-one days to go before the big day, I feel it is an appropriate time to reflect on the meaning of this celebration; at least the meaning as I see it. To me, Christmas is meant as a time to surround yourself with loved-ones. To spend quality time and celebrate the joy that they bring to your life.
Yes, there are some gifts. Gifts of items that people have been needing, some are things that people just want. But in our house, over the years, the gifts have become less important and the gathering more so.
Today, the only people I buy gifts are for my children and spouse. We have done away with gifts to extended family and friends.
Making New Traditions
For friends, and this was mutually agreed upon years ago with a sigh of relief from all, we make time to spend time together. The holidays get so busy that sometimes the month goes by and you realize that the time you spent with friends, if any time was spent with friends at all, was quick and impersonal. So, each of my friends and I set a date to get together for a dinner out – no-one cooks – and we make sure we have hours available to sit and enjoy each other’s company. We give each other the gift of our time; a precious gift indeed. And this gift comes with a bonus; it has the wonderful effect of de-stressing us during this busy time and fuels our spirit to face the foray.
For family; that being brothers, sisters, parents, nieces, nephews, grandchildren; everyone that isn’t your own children or spouse, we began a tradition about twelve years ago that we still carry on today. Rather than buy all sorts of gifts that no-one needs, we gather for dinner (on the big day or another one), and at some point before dinner, each of us puts money in a pot. There is no set amount. Each donates what they feel they can afford. No mention of it is made. We just catch up on news in each others’ lives and mill around the kitchen preparing the feast while nibbling on goodies set out to enjoy. Once the meal has been devoured, the pot is retrieved and the money is counted. Suggestions are made as to where this year’s donation will go and one or two options are selected as a group. We have bought fruit trees for Africa, medical supplies for needy regions, bicycles for rural Cambodia, mosquito nets for areas with malaria, donations to local foundations and hospitals.
We started this tradition when my children were six and nine years old. They never once asked why they couldn’t get more gifts. Instead, at the beginning of December, they would start saving their pennies and doing extra chores so that they could donate too.
With my in-laws, the numbers are much smaller, but the tradition is same. However, rather than donate to a pot, each of the families selects a charity in need and the children make a short presentation about why they selected the particular group and present the other families with an information card or small poster as a token of the gift. The amount donated is never revealed; it is only the gesture that is shared. Each gives what they can afford.
So, I promised you 10 ways to keep the ‘Happy’ in ‘Holidays’ so here are my suggestions in no particular order:
- Shop with a list and a budget and stick to it. Can you decrease your list?
- Make time to be with your friends
- Make time to sit down with your family and share your favourite holiday movie
- Play your favourite holiday music, loud, and sing along while you are doing your holiday preparations
- Make time for yourself; unwind in a hot bath, read a book, just be sure to relax
- Take the time to create traditions
- Focus on giving; volunteer, donate
- Stay mindful of your mood; if you’re upset, it probably isn’t worth doing
- Reduce your must-do list; what can you ask someone to help you with?
- Evaluate your priorities. Create memories that people will cherish.
In twenty-two days it will all be over. Start thinking now about what will really matter on December 26th.
Share some of your holiday traditions.