Saturday, November 22, 2014

Our Big Fat Simple Christmas


Years ago I was a dedicated Christmas aficionado. I dove into anything and everything related to Christmas with gusto. My preparation began the first week of November. It had to. There was the outside to decorate with hundreds of lights, lawn ornaments and inflatables. Decorating the inside of my home took days. I strung lights on the doorways and staircase. Mini Christmas trees decorated various rooms inside the house. The main tree was stood 8 feet tall and took up half of the living room. And on the floor, and every flat surface available, was some sort of moving figurine or Christmas scene.

After all the Christmas decorations, lights, trees and everything else was displayed, I had Christmas cards to contend with. I sent out nearly 100 every year and each included a personal message on the inside and hand drawn artwork on the envelope. The cards were sent out faithfully within a few days after Thanksgiving. Once those were sent, I tackled the Christmas room and closet. This area held bags upon bags of Christmas gifts purchased in the months prior, at least 2 dozen rolls of Christmas wrap and bows and gift bags. It took a few days to wrap gifts.

While amid the joy of wrapping gifts, I was usually planning the big Christmas Eve party and Christmas dinner along with my 2 day Christmas cookie bake-a-thon. That always entailed a few trips to the grocery store and Target or Walmart for platters and containers to house appetizers and gourmet cookies...and maybe a few last minute gifts.

The operative words in the above paragraphs are "years ago." In the here and now, I do very little of what I used to do. It didn't happen overnight. It was more of a gradual process. Some say it has to do with age. Maybe a small portion of that is true however, I'd like to think I made these choices based on the tremendous amount of clarity I've gained over the years stemming from experience, situations, and my state of mind when all is said and done...on December 26th.

One of the biggest changes I've made is the amount of Christmas cards I send out. While I don't embrace the "If you don't send me a card this year, I'm not sending you one next year" frame of mind, I have filtered my list year after year after year.  I had to set limits. Why was I sending FeeFee a Christmas card when I hadn't heard from her or received a Christmas card for several years? It didn't make sense. Why. Was. She. Still. On. My. List.

I then looked at the amount of work I put into each card. Was it necessary to write out a recap of what's been happening in my life since the last Christmas card I sent? There was a reason why I was doing this. It boiled down to one thing...the recipient and I hadn't kept in touch all year. That's another area I had to take a good look at. Why hadn't we kept in touch? Was life really that busy to where we couldn't send an email, text or make a phone call? Or was it just an excuse?

More filtering. 

My list got shorter. And shorter. After all was said and done, I was left with a list of people who I am connected with throughout the year. These are the people I could call or visit and the conversation would be a continuation of where we left off a week ago. Or maybe a month or two. But, it would never start with, "Holy shit, it's been years" or "We have years to catch up on."

Another big change is my view on Christmas gifts. My turning point was about 8 years ago. It was Christmas Eve. I was sitting on the sofa. There were gifts on my lap, beside me and on the floor. All for me. While some people may have be delighted by this, I am not one of them. In fact, I find excessive amounts of gifts quite nauseating. I will never understand why people fork over an exponential amount of cash on gifts, max out credit cards, put themselves in debt, blow through budgets and stress themselves out over Christmas gifts.

Think about it. There's a great deal of pressure to purchase gifts this time of year. Why? Because it's Christmas. In every corner and nook and cranny, in every store, advertisement and commercial, we've been conditioned to buy, buy, buy.  'Tis the season for gifts. Each year, retailers begin their holiday extravaganzas a little earlier than the last. This year, it started surfacing before Halloween. Black Friday sales are already in full swing. Coupons. Sales. Door Busters. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Holiday clearance. Buy. Buy. Buy.

I applied the same process to gift giving as I did with Christmas cards. And, on top of that, I stopped asking people what they wanted for Christmas. I felt like a hypocrite. When someone asked me that very same question, I would cringe. If you had to ask then I probably shouldn't be on your gift-giving list. Why are you even buying me a gift? How well do you really know me? Why wasn't I embracing this same philosophy when adding people to my Christmas list? Did I need to send FeeFee a $25 gift card to a nearby restaurant every year when I hadn't heard from her in three years or received a Christmas card.

Or.

Wait for it...

No acknowledgment that a gift had been received. Who the hell is so busy that they can't take a few minutes to extend a simple thank you?

Yep, more filtering.

In addition, I refreshed my entire system of gift giving. Our gift-giving list isn't as long as it used to be. The people in our life, for the most part, are like-minded people with similar tastes. Simple. Unique. Re-purposed. Flea market finds. Hidden treasures. Handmade. The occasional gift card. Vintage. Is there anyone on our list that would be head over heels for some overpriced, store bought gift? Nope.

I'll even go a step further and admit my wife and I don't exchange gifts on Christmas. We don't find it necessary. Instead, throughout the year, we surprise each other with small gifts and treasures. It's always a surprise. There's no pressure. I find "just because" gifts to be more intimate than a gift given "just because it's Christmas."

Smaller changes have transpired over the years as well. There are no longer grand Christmas Eve parties. I got tired of spending 3 days preparing for "the big night" only to spend the evening serving guests and catering to everyone's needs and wants.

I can be a gracious hostess, but I have a big, huge problem when someone waves their empty beer bottle in the air to get my attention so I can fetch them another.

No one offered to help out at these parties. What happened to the days of everyone pitching in a bit? I had no time to visit with people and enjoy the festivities. And just when I thought I could exhale and grab a bite to eat several hours after everyone else ate, people started leaving. Time to package up leftovers. When the house emptied, I was left with a mess to clean up.

On the decorating front...I've toned down. The outside is decorated with lights and a couple of inflatables. We have a small artificial tree that sits atop the antique desk in the living room. While I love the smell of a fresh cut Christmas tree, we have two fur-kids who like to scrounge the floor for things to munch on. They would eat the pine needles on the carpet. The oils in the needles can cause irritation in their mouth and stomach, GI irritation, vomiting and could get lodged in their throat. We're not going to chance that.

I can honestly say, as I've made these changes, the Christmas season has become more enjoyable. The past couple of years have been the best yet. Once we filtered out what was causing an abundance of stress, pressure, exhaustion, worry, or the constant feeling of being overwhelmed, the holiday season became gratifying. We were left with the true essence of how we defined Christmas. Peaceful. Time spent with friends over a few appetizers and wine. Baking gourmet cookies and packaging them for festive gifts. Extending as much biscuit love as we can to the sweet pups who have to spend their holidays in a shelter. Us time with our fur-kids. A quiet Christmas dinner. Etc.

And let us not forget the comfort of being able to stay in lounge clothes all day.

I realize, too, that this method of simplifying things isn't for everyone.

And, for those with "hooman" kids, that's a whole other territory...one that's predominantly unfamiliar to me.

I both applaud and cringe at the people who go all out and worlds beyond any and all expectations. I'll give credit to anyone who can spend an entire day at the mall during the Christmas season. Kudos. To. You.

I raise my coffee cup to our big fat simple Christmas. Exhale.

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