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Cora's First ChristmasAs the holiday season approached this year, I began to feel a mild sense of panic.  My almost four-year-old knows that Christmas means presents, sweets, and pretty lights on a tree.  I felt an internal pressure to find the perfect gifts for everyone we know, decorate the house from top to bottom, bake fifteen kinds of gluten-free cookies (plus fudge and brittle), send out a hundred cards depicting gorgeous photos of my cherubic children, and overall create a festive holiday spirit—all by myself.  Obviously, I KNOW that achieving the “perfect” holiday season is an unattainable myth perpetuated by Hollywood, magazines, and Pinterest, but the pull was still there.  Thankfully, several blogs have stopped me in my tracks and helped me gain clarity.

Be Selective

I read a terrific tip from Charlotte Siems who polled her twelve children on what three things signified the holiday season most for them.  They generally answered: having the family together, enjoying seasonal treats, and decorating their home.  From that, she had new focus and inspiration to provide the things that meant something to her family and eliminate some things that didn’t.  I asked my husband the same type of questions.  What are you looking forward to most about the coming holidays?  What do you want our children to remember about Christmas?  What kinds of activities are important to you? Do you want to start any holiday traditions?  You don’t have to do it all.  In fact, your family may not really care for some of the traditions we perpetuate.  But you won’t know unless you ask.  Then you can sit down and make a plan, either a formal schedule or a quick list of things to do, and breathe a sigh of relief for what is NOT on it!

Simplify Giving

Many years ago, I read on a blog about a simple way to choose gifts for children.  Pick four things: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.  Simple, straight forward, and avoids overwhelming children with mountains of toys.  With extended family, it is a bit trickier.  Rationally discussing limits or creating a family plan might work, or it might not.  But do you really need to give a gift to each friend, neighbor, and co-worker?  I don’t want to be a Scrooge, but simple token gifts often become overwhelming clutter after the holidays. How about a coupon to go out for coffee in January or a kind note telling how much you appreciate them? If you really must give a gift, a stack of cookies tied up with string or hot cocoa in a jar is nice.  But definitely, keep it simple.

Make It Meaningful

I have been challenged this holiday season to watch where my dollars are going.  In this tough economy, am I supporting American workers and small businesses or just paying the absolute bottom dollar for cheap stuff made in China?  I know budgets are shrinking, but can you DIY, buy handmade, or maybe second-hand? This year my husband and I are *gulp* borrowing some power tools to make a children’s table and chairs for our girls.  A local used bookstore and several other small businesses made it into our gift giving plans this year.  Another article I read pushed me a little deeper to be sure what I have been buying does not support slave labor.  What?  This opened my eyes. I have more research to do, but I don’t want to participate in that kind of evil on any level.  Then, of course, there is giving to those who can’t return the favor.  Locally or globally, there are orphans, homeless, needy, sick, and suffering.  This is another area where I am growing this year and I want to include my children in it, too.  It doesn’t have to be much.  Purposefully skipping a meal out or a carton of ice cream as a family and putting that $30 or $5 into giving can fill you up in so many ways.

I am sincerely looking forward to this Christmas now. Sitting by the fire in the soft glow of a lit tree, I’ve discovered that my favorite part of Christmas is sipping a cup of tea with my family around me, listening to Bing Crosby crooning “White Christmas”, and just enjoying the simple, free warmth of the season.

Happy Holidays!  Wishing you warmth and joy in the simple things.