Christmas, simply.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The past few years I've been a bit curmudgeon-y about Christmas. Well, not Christmas itself, but the societal spectacle that has accompanied the holiday season. This year, somehow, seems better. Less hoopla about Black Friday, more emphasis on Small Business Saturday, and the overall feeling that a little civility has crept back into the season. I'm feeling the call to decorate more simply, to give generously but gift prudently, and to bring some tradition back into our holiday season.

Chalk it up to less free time or a desire to decrease stress or less attention paid to pretense than past years, but I'm feeling more of the jolly and less of the ugh:

// I worked a 12-hour shift on Black Friday so it was as if it never happened. (I also worked Cyber Monday and didn't order a single thing.)

// I devoted all of November 27th to Small Business Saturday and participated in Portland's Little Boxes program. We bought a few small but thoughtful gifts for family at locally owned shops. (Less is more is my motto this year when it comes to gift buying in general.)

 // I enjoy baking during the holidays, but don't want piles of sweets daring me to eat them all. Solution: gift my confectionery creations. I've baked cookies for neighbors and teachers, of course, but I've never really put together treat bags in lieu of a purchased item. Last year, for the first time, I made an extra batch of the almond roca I always give Husband and gifted some to friends and family. It left me feeling like I'd restored some tradition to the holidays. I've been wanting to add a few things to my repertoire, so I'm collecting recipes that look delicious and are easy to package and pass out as gifts.

// Mario and I agreed to an eight-gifts-or-less holiday. An arbitrarily chosen number (ten seemed too many?), but it will keep things modest. When you love someone and want to thank them for all the times they let you sleep in on school mornings or spared you homework duty or washed your underpants, it's hard to put limits on giving. But I'm voting for quality time instead of material things as a show of gratitude. Also, Kiddo is getting lots of books, not a single electronic-related gift, and we are officially done shopping for him. A new record.

// After spending an hour trying to design a holiday card online, I realized my heart wasn't in it. So for the first time in over a decade, we're not sending out a formal family card. In the process we are saving stress, oodles of money, and the pressure of writing an impressive What we've been up to! essay which always feels awfully self-indulgent anyway. (Were our lives more interesting, I might feel differently. But probably not.) Instead, a select group of close friends and family members will receive heartfelt, handwritten correspondence. I bought a pack each of Rifle Paper Company's Holiday Snow Scene and North Pole Map postcards from a local shop. They fit the simple + meaningful goal perfectly.

// Most years we've participated in a giving tree. Last year we were out of town and didn't know where to find one. I've always enjoyed giving more than getting (I am an awkward gift receiver), and I'd like to instill that same quality in Kiddo. I picked a person from our tree at the hospital and found out today that Kiddo's school has a giving tree of its very own. Getting back to this tradition feels very right.

// Husband and I were discussing when and where to set up the tree, and after a bit of hemming and hawing, we finally both came out with it: setting up the tree is a chore we don't look forward to. The hours spent assembling it, unwrapping and hanging box after box of ornaments, and untangling + hanging lights takes away from the joy for us. Why were we never honest about this before? Last year we set up a mini tree since we were spending the holidays in Montana, and it was such a relief to excuse ourselves from the effort. This year we are taking a less complicated approach to trimming the tree so we may spend more time enjoying it and less time hanging ornaments. Our halls are still decked, just more simply. (And only if it brings us happiness to do so.)

// Every year for the last 7 or 8 years, I've made a handmade ornament for Kiddo's teachers, friends, and family. More often than not, they became these overwhelming endeavors whereby I poured every ounce of the Type A tendencies I didn't know I had into making some Pinterest-worthy creation. Late nights spent holding tiny bottle brush trees with tweezers so they'd stay upright in the glass bottle I was trying to glue them into. Hours spent on the internet trying to find miniatures that often ended up costing a small fortune. (Exhibit A)(Exhibit B) Yes, people loved them. Yes, they were cute, fun to give, and earned me the admiration of others. But looking back I realize it wasn't worth the hardship. (I've since learned my value as a mother isn't tied to how much the teachers love me or how many elaborately decorated cookies I contribute to the Christmas program. The crappy overbaked and store-bought cookies others brought were consumed just as quickly; people aren't that picky.) This year I combined my ornament project with my desire to learn embroidery. Two birds, one stone. I downloaded some simple holiday patterns, bought a bunch of 3" wooden hoops, floss, and some muslin. Each one took less than an hour, cost just a couple dollars, and could be worked on while binge-watching Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel. I put a limit on how many I was going to make, which made each ornament feel more personal than in years past. I've enjoyed embroidering so much, in fact, I'm using the extra supplies to make a couple of handmade gifts for family members. (I also hauled in my glitter library from the craft tote in the garage and made my very own shimmering wreath, shown above. Husband is so supportive of my crafty impulses that he barely mentions the dusting of glitter on every surface of our home. Maybe next time you could keep the vacuum hose running next to you when you craft with glitter? You know, to catch the stray stuff?)

// I RSVP'd for the company cocktail party, but opted out of the cookie exchange. I'm contributing an ornament to the department tree, but I'm foregoing the ornament exchange party. Message to the me of years past: Don't be a hero, Sarah.

Here's to putting some sanity back into the holidays. And to letting things be a little less perfect. More handmade and less obligation.



  1. I didn't go overboard with baking this year and I am so glad I didn't. Most of it went work with Kyle which helped me keep from eating it all.

    1. Oh, Jen! I hear you! The cookie exchange at work screamed "Sarah eating a variety of cookies at all hours of the day" and I had to opt out. Almost everything I'm making is going into festive containers and are getting gifted. It's so easy to get caught up in all of it, though, and many years I've asked myself "what are you doing?!" when I'm baking a banana bread at 2am. This year feels much more sane.


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