Next week it begins. The wild ride on the runaway locomotive known as the holiday season. After Halloween, there is a brief lull when we can breathe and just live. In these few weeks, I have enjoyed watching the leaves change color, fall off the trees, and blow around in the air like free spirits. I have enjoyed the quietude of cooler temperatures and shorter days.
But come next Thursday, “let the wild rumpus begin!” — as Maurice Sendak writes.
Thanksgiving is the kick-off to five weeks of madness. Certainly this time of year is filled with joyful anticipation, especially if you have children and close family in your life. But that joy is all-to-often tempered by the stresses, expectations, and crass commercialization of the holidays.
It’s in our faces daily, screaming at us to be merry and bright, serve beautiful meals, buy expensive gifts, wrap them exquisitely, and cram every moment with memorable, festive (and sometimes meaningless) events. I’m always amazed that people wake up at dawn the day after Thanksgiving to line up at the mall with crowds of eager shoppers. These have to be the same people who eat the Thanksgiving meal while watching a football game. I’m sure the Pilgrims didn’t do that.
What’s happened to us? Why must everything be so early, so glitzy, so busy, so perfect, so much?
Not that I have been immune to it — when my kids were small, every weekend in December was crammed with parties and holiday happenings. I cooked so much between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas night that I was seeing giblets in my dreams.
This madness has been a slow evolution. The pressure from merchants and advertisers has intensified as they become more desperate to salvage their biggest selling season in a slow economy. Perhaps consumers aren’t buying as much, but there’s more emotional stress since we are trying to “create the magic” with less expendable income.
Like some of the holidays manufactured by retailers (Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, etc.), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah are morphing into events defined by merchants rather than meaningful occasions that represent something profound or spiritual.
This year, I would like to take a stand to simplify the season.Would you like to join me?
I would like to take a stand against the expectations, the excess, the chaos, the intensity, the expense, and the exhaustion. I would like to take a stand for simplicity, beauty, small pleasures, family time, peace, heartfelt thanks, meaningful gifts, and love. I would like this season to be a time of renewal rather than weariness. More about nature’s bounty than mall booty. More an occasion for sharing real time than serving rich food.
Here are some ways I am going to take a stand for simplicity this holiday season. I would love to hear from you on how you can make the season brighter by doing less.
1. The turkey and trimmings. I’m not cooking a turkey this Thanksgiving. It takes forever to cook and occupies the entire oven. No one eats the dark meat, and so much gets wasted. And the carcass has to be dealt with later. So I’m buying a small honey-baked turkey breast. It’s delicious and we eat it all. Holiday food is delicious, but it is excessive, fattening, and rich. I intend to cook and eat more vegetables, fewer desserts, and less food altogether.
2. The television. It stays silent this year. No football noise in the background or parades blaring out from Times Square. Instead — music, talking, laughter or just quiet.
3. The Christmas tree. In years past, we have put it up right after Thanksgiving. By Christmas Day, there are three needles left on it, and I’m ready to throw it in the lake next to our house. It’s going up later this year. Two to three weeks of a tree perched in our family room is plenty. And the house will be modestly decorated with a few special things. An hour to put them out, and hour to them put away.
4. The gift budget. We should have one and stick to it. I always start to feel guilty in the last week before Christmas because I think I didn’t get enough for one of the kids, or I didn’t have a gift for someone who gifted me. I spend more than I intend, usually on “guilt stuff” that has no meaning.
5. The gifts. Small but thoughtful gifts can mean much more than expensive “stuff.” I love to give meaningful books, a rosemary plant, my homemade pumpkin spice bread, a photo calendar, a scented candle, a unique tree ornament, a heartfelt note in a special box. Every year we have the tradition of giving the kids new pajamas on Christmas Eve. They are teenagers now, but they love getting those special PJ’s — it’s a tradition.
6. The activities. Between the holiday parties, the school events, the festive outings, the shopping, baking, decorating, card mailing, and cleaning, I need a B12 shot to make it until New Year’s. This year, I’m going to enjoy watching both of my daughters dance in the Nutcracker. I’ll send out a few cards, but not 200. I’ll bake a little for fun with my kids. I’ll shop online, and go out to the shops just to enjoy the lights. I’ll leave myself lots of time to just be and to enjoy quiet time with my friends and family.
7. The emotions. The holidays can be a mixed bag. I love really love this time of year, but it also can make me wistful or sad. Both of my parents are deceased, as are some other beloved friends who were always part of the season for me. Sometimes the holidays remind us of everything we wished for that might have been but wasn’t. In the past, I have fought those emotions. But I think it’s ok to experience them and acknowledge them. With some spiked eggnog.
8. The meaning. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah are meaningful for people for a variety of reasons — the spiritual significance, the traditions, the family time. The personal meaning of these holidays should be the focus of the season, not the outward trappings of the occasions.
This is a season of light, thankfulness, peace, and love. These are the simple gifts we should share with one another during the next five weeks.
Will you share in the comment section what makes the holidays meaningful for you and how you plan to simplify the season?