I remember Christmas as a child being my favourite day - we were up early, ate a special breakfast as a family, opened presents, and then just hung out all day while the turkey was cooking. We'd play games and listen to old Christmas records or watch movies or just quietly read a new book we'd received. We'd sneak an extra bowl of my Mom's famous pineapple pudding and some peanut butter balls. Sometimes we'd go to my grandparents' or cousins' houses and spend time with lots of other family members, and on the way back and forth we sang Christmas songs together in the car. It was a slow and peaceful day of being in the present moment with those I loved.
I still love Christmas day with family, but the season is also filled with a lot of rushing around, decorating like I'm in a million dollar Instagram contest, frantically rummaging my closet (and then the mall when I get desperate) for outfits decent enough for holiday parties, and worrying about getting enough/the right presents for everyone on my list. I'd really like to get back to those carefree Christmas days I remember. I want to enjoy time without work, without commitments, without my phone and without so much consumerism. I want to spend more time in jeans and a comfy sweater with friends and family and pets curled up in my lap. I want to play outdoors in the snow and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. And I don't want to have more 'stuff' hanging around my house after all the gifts are opened.
When did the spirit of the holidays go from sharing and celebrating together to buying and entertaining and doing a million things at once? The season has in many ways become a very commercial endeavour. We seem to buy trinkets and decorations and clothing and the latest technology just because it feels like it's expected or because it's a great deal. It takes an enormous toll on our wallets, our sanity and on the planet.
I get it. We were brought up in a time when new technology and wondrous new toys were for the first time becoming available to the masses. Our parents saved up to give us VCR's, Atari games, Cabbage Patch Dolls and Lego. They were able to give us the kind of gifts they never even dreamed of when they were young. I'm sure being able to give us these special gifts gave them a lot of joy. And to be sure, these things definitely were special to us. I remember playing with my Strawberry Shortcake dolls for years and listening to my Fame record until it wore out.
The thing is, we were taught subconsciously that purchasing is how we make holidays special. But now, because we've become a consumerist society year round - buying pretty much what we want and what our kids want when we/they want it - a gift has to be insanely expensive and/or there has to be many of them under the tree to be "once-a-year-special". And in a lot of cases, no matter what the size of the gift, the significance of it is not understood. Because of our instant gratification lifestyle, gifts often don't register as something to be treasured. Certainly we appreciate that someone has given us something, and we delight in seeing the joy on kids' faces for the few minutes when they unwrap their parcel; but then the moment is gone, and they go back to Youtubing or texting and mostly forget about what they received. We find a spot for that new mug we didn't need or stuff the shirt we don't really care for in the back of our closets. I've seen stats that claim 75% of gifts are donated to charities within a few months of receiving them.
The alternative to a stressful, expensive, environmentally-destructive holiday season? A simple one where you buy a whole lot less but actually give a lot more.
Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanakah and the other holidays that happen around the winter solstice offer us an opportunity. Just as the post-solstice days give us a little more light each 24-hour period, so too can we give each other a little more time and love each day. We can give the gift of conversation, of laughter, of listening, of singing and dancing, of eating together, of being healthy together and of relaxing together. The gifts we give can be thoughtful, needed and helpful, not plastic, impractical and cluttering-creating. The holidays needn't be a consumerist or stressful event.
My gift to you is a list of ideas for a simple, anti-consumerist, anti-stress holiday:
1. Decorate naturally.
Use greenery and branches and acorns and pinecones and berries all found in the natural world around us. Plan an outing to a friend's woodlot to gather them with her, or walk with friends to the local farmer's market to get them.
2. Decorate intentionally.
Put your efforts not into purchased decor but instead into setting up your home to accommodate your vision of what the holidays mean to you. That may mean pulling out board games and decks of cards, adding cozy blankets and pillows to your living room, having some holiday-scented soy candles ready, queuing up your favourite festive songs, or rearranging your furniture so that the TV isn't front and centre.
3. Send e-cards.
Instead of buying and sending a gazillion impersonal cards by mail that everyone throws out by January 1st, send a simple e-card or even a really thoughtful email that tells the person you're sending to how much they mean to you. You can write and mail all your cards over a single coffee with Paperless Post e-cards. Or give back through sending e-cards through Greet for Good, a site that allows you to choose the charity of your choice to donate to through your purchase.
4. Say no.
Don't go to every holiday party you're invited to. Forget hosting your own big do (if that's not your essential holiday activity) in favour of spending even more meaningful time with your friends throughout the coming cold months by getting out for a coffee date - it will most likely be even more appreciated.
5. Give a repurposed gift.
Instead of adding to the nearly-new items bursting off the thrift store shelves, rescue one by redirecting it to a loved one. Purchasing secondhand items prevents more of earth's resources from being transformed into stuff and reduces the volume of items entering the waste stream.
6. Give experiences.
Instead of giving stuff that clutters up our homes, give something that will add to the enjoyment of life. Movie tickets, bowling passes, spa treatments, yoga classes, park passes, rock-climbing adventures, museum tickets, ski-lift tickets, a sporting event or concert...experiences will be remembered long after the excitement of 'stuff' has worn away.
7. Give consumables.
The gift of homemade cookies, muffins, soup, frozen casseroles, hot chocolate or an assorted tea pack will undoubtedly be appreciated and enjoyed, with no waste and no clutter left over.
8. Give learning.
The gift that will keep giving for a lifetime is that of knowledge. Give online learning classes from Skillshare or Udemy, or gift a class from your local college or university. Or how about an art class? A cooking class? Or a guided meditation app like Headspace? Books, of course are also fantastic gifts. You may have guessed that I highly recommend Essentialism for everyone on your list.
9. Give your time.
Giving your time is so much better and more valuable than anything else you could give. Spend a day with someone helping around the house or baking together. Plan a meal together at their favourite restaurant. Wash their car for them. Babysit so someone can go on a date night. Help them paint their house in the Spring. You get the picture.
10. Buy local and handmade.
If you do purchase any gifts or decorations, opt for locally made items that reduce shipping and support makers, artisans and small merchants. You might also consider purchasing gifts online (or at local craft shows) that support women and makers in third-world countries who are helping build their communities through their businesses. Check out my Best of Etsy boards for handmade, feel-good gift ideas.
11. Ban waste.
Commercial wrapping paper is non-recyclable and burning it emits toxins into the environment. So save our landfills by opting for natural and recyclable wrapping options. Use recycled paper bags, brown or white kraft paper, scraps of fabric, newsprint, old maps, or even a tea towel. Forget the tape and plastic bows and tie up a pretty knot with jute rope or baker's twine. These ideas for natural, sustainable gift wrapping are pretty cool.
Got any more ideas for simplifying Christmas? I'd love to hear them. Let's keep the list going in the comments below.