In The Face Of Holiday Chaos, Take A Stand For Simplicity

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?

31 thoughts on “In The Face Of Holiday Chaos, Take A Stand For Simplicity”

  1. Yes, Yes Yes!!!! What a lovely post Barrie! I’m going to tweet it and email it to everyone I know! This year, my family is finally getting on board with the idea of simplifying the holidays. For three or four years I’ve been asking my mom to nix the gifts (except for the little ones) but she has resisted, until now. Oh, what a relief to have that much less to do & worry about, and how I look forward to spending that extra time together (which is what we are doing instead of gifts).

    Happy as I am about the change, I felt a little like a scrooge, so thank you for casting such a beautiful light on our “new” tradition!
    .-= Chris H´s last blog ..Why Everyone Should Consider A Roth…Now! Part 1 of 3 =-.

    • Hi Chris,
      Thank you so much — I am glad it resonated with you. One year I wrote my mom a letter for Christmas expressing how much she meant to me. She loved that letter more than any material gift I’d ever given her. Maybe you can wrap that up in a box for her, and she will appreciate the real value of what you have suggested! Hope you have a peaceful season!

  2. Beautiful. I couldn’t have said it better myself, Barrie, and likely won’t in the post I’m currently writing on the same subject. Great minds think alike. I love your take on simplifying the holidays for all the right reasons. It gets away from us and I commend you for taking a stand. I’m with you.
    .-= Katie´s last blog ..How to Be a Girl =-.

    • Thank you Katie. You probably could have said it better. I know you will say it eloquently, and I look forward to reading your post. It’s am idea that can’t have too much reinforcement.

  3. Hi Barrie,

    I totally agree with this point that you made:

    “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.”

    Instead of enjoying the energy of the occasion, we are caught are in a mad rush of events. There isn’t much time for personal or spiritual contemplation, to return to the simple roots of the festival itself. Therefore, I like the stand for simplicity that you are trying to make. Of the points you raised, here are some of my thoughts on them.

    1. The turkey and trimmings.

    This is a great idea that you have brought up. By buying a small honey baked turkey breast which you know everyone will eat and enjoy, there is no waste and it is easier to clean up. I believe that we shouldn’t eat in excess at anytime since doing so leaves us feeling bloated and uncomfortable.

    2. The television.

    Television distracts people from doing any meaningful bonding. I like how you are making it a point to keep the tv silent. This will allow those around to enjoy each other’s company and set the stage for deeper bonding. Why else should we have a gathering if it is only to get distracted by tv?

    4. The gift budget.

    Having and sticking to a budget will indeed eliminate waste. It causes you to be more prudent in your spending since you know the limits you have set for yourself. This can help you to save some money during a time when you have an urge to spend and you are not really sure why.

    7. The emotions.

    Yeah I agree that holidays can make us pine for those who are no longer around in our lives. I feel you are managing your emotions correctly by experiencing and acknowledging them. Even though some of our dear ones may no longer be in our lives, their memories live on in our thoughts and actions. We are their legacy of sorts in this world. So we should remember to uphold those legacies and memories and make them proud.

    As for holidays reminding us of everything that we wished for that might have been but wasn’t, I am sure there are many other things in our lives that we can be grateful for. Yes counting your blessings might sound like a cliche, but there is wisdom in taking the time to appreciate the things that have gone well for you in your life.

    -What makes the holidays meaningful for me-

    Family and friends make the holidays meaningful for me. It is not about the gifts, but rather about the company and the bonding. After all family and friends give your life meaning and to be able to celebrate these happy times with them is truly a blessing that should be treasured. Each moment is unique and once it is gone, it will never return. So it pays to be aware of and present in the moments.

    Thank you for sharing this post!
    .-= The Vizier´s last blog ..5 Reasons to Give Thanks =-.

    • Thank you so much Vizier for your lovely responses. You are so right — each moment is unique. We should spend them in ways that lift us up and bring us peace and joy.

  4. Because I cannot swallow, I don’t enjoy the food of the season. In fact, it is the only time in the year that my loss of swallow really bothers me. I recall the cookies, pies, treats I made and shared with my folks and siblings. This year, I am working both the night before and the night of Thanksgiving and Christmas. In this way, I hope to allow someone with family to stay home with them. I do plan to send more cards this year than previously – if I can get physical addresses since so many friends are now online!!
    I will go to church Christmas Sunday morning – a very small, quiet service, simply lovely. I will be off New Year’s Eve: not because I am a reveler but my neighbors shoot guns at midnight and most of my rescue hounds are failed hunters – they are not impressed :(.
    Thanks for another inspiring post.
    .-= Roberta´s last blog ..I am an Animal Rescuer and a Nurse =-.

    • Hi Roberta,
      I’m sure it is hard to be around so much food at the holidays. But it seems you have found a way to make the season special both for yourself and others in very simple ways. I wish you a wonderful holiday season — and so peace and quiet for your hounds!

  5. This is funny, Barrie, I just wrote a similar post, which I’ve scheduled for next week. We’re on the same wavelength. 🙂 We’re not doing the turkey thing this year either, and it’s quite freeing. I’ve been moving that way for several years now.

    You have some great ideas for simplifying here! For me, it comes down to finding the core of the holidays, not the trappings. Why do we celebrate? It’s not to stuff ourselves and impress others. It’s for gratitude and love and connection. It gets quite simple when we remember that.
    .-= Ande Waggener´s last blog ..Can Your Past Negative Energy Bite You On The Butt =-.

    • Hi Ande,
      I think as the holidays face us, many bloggers are on the same wavelength! It’s nice to know so many of us are seeking that same feeling of connection and simplicity. The more we blog about, perhaps we will offer relief to our readers that scaling back is a good thing!

  6. Barrie,

    I love your call for simplicity and sanity this holiday season for many reasons, but in particular because we can no longer sustain wild and crazy overconsumption. As a planet and as individuals! These are all terrific tips, and this is my favorite: “light, thankfulness, peace, and love.” Bring it on!
    .-= Sandra Lee´s last blog ..How I Focus – 10 Practical Tips =-.

    • I’m so glad you liked it Sandra. We have been wild and crazy overconsumers, but perhaps more voices like ours, plus a bad economy, will be a wake-up call!

  7. A perfect thought to ease us into the crazy season! I am tired… My husband is in Afghanistan serving in the military this year and between the kids, work, my business and helping my mom, I am just exhausted. Too tired for parties and entertaining, crazy baking and decorating frenzies, endless activities and the never-ending search for the perfect gift for everyone on my list.
    This year I intend for a quiet holiday season with my time spent enjoying the company of my children, having coffee with friends and reconnecting with the simplicity and gratitude I feel for the season.
    I will choose hot cocoa by the fire with my 11 year old, a chat over coffee my adult children or a quiet afternoon for a snowshoe hike rather than the chaos of the shopping mall. This will mean simpler gifts, less gifts and lots of gift cards…

    • Royale,
      First, thank you so much to you and your husband for the sacrifices you are making for our country. I am extremely grateful for families like yours who make it possible for me to freely blog about whatever I choose — and many other freedoms. I am sure you are tired. It is hard to run a house by yourself. Hot cocoa by the fire sounds delightful, and I’m sure your kids will be thrilled to take their gift cards and go to town the day after Christmas! I hope you and your family have a peaceful and happy season.

  8. Great post Barrie, I tend to agree with you on most ideas here. My wife occasionally calls me “Scrooge” because I poke fun at the avalanche of TV commercials that insist we buy, buy, buy, and because I’d like to bring a sense of “simple” back into the season.

    It is difficult to try to separate yourself from rushing through the season and spending more money than needed on gifts that might not be remembered just a short time later. It’s a time to be grateful for what you already have, and to celebrate the spiritual meaning of the holidays, in my opinion.

    Having said that, Happy Holidays to you and yours!
    .-= Joe DeGiorgio´s last blog ..Here’s To The Losers =-.

    • Hi Joe,
      Tell your wife you’ve been haunted by the ghost of Christmas Consumption Past! Now it’s time for the Simple Christmas Present! Thanks for your kind comments, as always. Happy Holidays back at you!

  9. Reading your post reminds me of how the holidays are shown on TV. I was watching a show I won’t name, and the woman was dressed up, heels on, hair done, smiling, and cooking enough for an army. People were showing up unexpectedly, and she was so cheery -really? and in heels? Not at my house!
    I like the idea of waiting to put up the Christmas tree. We always have a gift budget and don’t decorate elaborately. For me, it’s adding more to do on an already full to do list that gets me. I like the idea of shortening the season, so this year we are celebrating between the holidays, so the tree and parties can be done by Christmas.
    As a family, we have a tradition of slowing down each Sunday night to drink hot cocoa and read Christmas stories. We turn off the lights, light candles, and slow down. It’s so nice 🙂
    .-= Marci´s last blog ..Discovering the Liberating Power of Choices =-.

    • That is so lovely Marci — I love the idea of the Sunday night ritual of stories, cocoa, and candles. I think everyone craves a slower pace during the holidays, but somehow we have been trained to rush around like fools, spending more money on unnecessary stuff. I’m so glad to see you here on my blog! I’ve really enjoyed watching your blog blossom.

  10. Hi, Barrie,

    I just discovered your website and was drawn in by this post on simplifying the holiday season. I am all about that! Last year, aside from travelling to visit family in another state, we went to no holiday parties or events, save an “obligatory” office party. We did get together with friends during our time off, for dinners, lunches, coffees, and found those smaller gatherings to be more intimate, personal, and meaningful. It’s kind of hard to reconnect with friends you don’t see often when there’s so much noise and distraction, like at a party, that you can’t have much real conversation. My local (Georgia) family also agreed with each other (a mutual desire, thankfully) that we would forego buying each other holiday gifts, which took the pressure off in many ways — it saved us all time to do better things than shopping, and helped everyone save money in tighter financial circumstances. The exception was buying gifts for the out-of-state family that we visited as there were young children involved and they were still planning to do a traditional gift exchange. (It still helped not to have to do as MUCH shopping as we normally would have.)

    Finally, and the best thing we learned from last year’s experience, was to get all shopping done BEFORE Thanksgiving. Neither my husband nor I are inclined to brave the after-Thanksgiving sales just to get a good deal, as we generally like to avoid crowds and rampant commercialism — and the terrible traffic. Getting our shopping done ahead of time meant that we could relax in the weeks leading up to Christmas and enjoy our time with each other, alone, or with friends, and not have to go NEAR a mall, or be so constantly exposed to holiday music that we are ready to pull our hair out by the time the holiday actually arrives!


    • Hi Allison,
      It sounds like you have a great plan for keeping it simple! It’s great that your family agreed on the gift cutback. That is such a relief. And I’m so thrilled that I can get most of the shopping for my kids done online. I feel mauled by the mall!

  11. Thanks for this post and for highlighting the true meaning of the holidays. I think a little minimalism goes a long way, and that way you also help avoid the January blues. Just doing a few special things makes them feel that much more special. One of my favorite activities here is to walk with my husband on Christmas Eve and see the houses decorated for the holidays, it always warms our hearts.

    • Hi Carrie,
      Thank you for your kind comments. A Christmas Eve walk sounds wonderful. Do you get snow? I’m in Georgia, so I haven’t had a snowy Christmas, but that would be spectacular for a Christmas Eve walk. I’d give up any present for that!

  12. This is an amazing post and YES!!! I will join you!

    I am not sure I can pry the guys away from football or the kids away from the traditional Thanksgiving Day parade but overall we too are taking steps to simplify this holiday season!

    Best Wishes to everyone for a much simpler and meaningful holiday!
    .-= Christine Morris´s last blog ..Be Remarkable in 2011 =-.

  13. Hi Barrie

    I’m a 1st time reader here and will definitely be back. Great blog!

    I’m with you for sure. No turkey at all in my house, no one actually likes it. Chicken and pork for us, really easy to cook and yummy. Also, setting a gift budget, I prioritise the children as it means so much for them but each year, the number of children goes up so strict budgets. I’m sure they just like unwrapping things anyway!

    .-= Lola Fayemi´s last blog ..How Do You Do Food =-.

    • Hi Lola,
      Welcome! I’m so glad you found my blog. Chicken and pork sound delicious — a nice change of pace. Regarding the kid’s presents, I have been wrapping the small, inexpensive items for my kids, just because the love the thrill of opening a package. I used to put all of the in their stockings, but they just dump it all out and the fun is over. Now they see tons of stuff under the tree, and often I give them silly, fun things that make them laugh.

  14. Thanks for a great reminder! It’s needed every year about this time.

    One new thing we are trying this year is a new king of Christmas list. It’s really made us think and narrowed the gifts down. I haven’t felt the stress of trying to figure out what’s best for the kids and hopefully not having any guilt nearer to Christmas.
    Here’s our new list this year:
    Something I want
    Something I need
    Something to wear
    Something to read

    • Hi Taffy,
      I LOVE your list instructions! That is so fun. I am going to try that with my kids this year. Thank you for sharing it.

  15. Thank you for this timely article. I’ve been getting more disillusioned by holidays that been increasingly stressful and ultimately less special as well. I love the idea of reclaiming meaning and rejecting the rabid consumerist messaging. It’s easier, cheaper and healthier too!

    • You are so welcome Elizabeth! The closer we get to the Big Day, the more stressful it seems to get. I am trying to stand firm in making this year less about the stuff. My kids aren’t happy!

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