Holiday Cheer: Finding and Keeping It

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Since taking our family trip to Disneyland last month, we are embracing opportunities to spend time together with even more frequency. We've seen two movies, in the theater, in the last 10 days, and this past Saturday night we wandered into downtown Portland to pick out some gifts and enjoy a family dinner out. We are ahead of the curve this year, which has meant less stress and more togetherness. It's how I always want the holidays to play out, but this year we are actually making it happen.

The last decade or so I've been gravitating toward a simpler Christmas. Over the past 14+ years we've had numerous discussions with well-intentioned family members about embracing quality over quantity when it comes to holiday gift-giving. Despite my best efforts, most years it was necessary to accept unwanted gifts with a loving heart then donate the items to charity after the holidays (or return them, though they seldom came with a receipt). This year my husband's siblings and their families are meeting at my in-laws' home, which means travel for most of us. Because of that it was suggested we only do small stocking stuffers for one another.  This is a wonderful alignment of ideals, and I'm excited to receive less, spend less, and take on less this holiday season. Besides, assembling gift bags/stocking stuffers is my love language!

With the ongoing goal of a more meaningful, less materialistic holiday season, I've leaned into the idea of mixing homemade gifts with store-bought trinkets; gifting experiences over objects whenever possible; and sharing good tidings with neighbors and friends without adding more stress + expense to an already hectic season. (I am prone to trying to outdo myself every year. It's exhausting)

Over the next couple weeks I'm going to share some tried and true methods for satisfying my perfectionist + overachiever tendencies while preserving my sanity and ability to pay the electric bill. (If for no other reason than to reread these posts when I lose my marbles and need a reality check.)

This first post involves general ground rules I've laid out for myself (or aspire to, anyway). Some are simply thoughts or life lessons surrounding the holidays.

Christmas Cards/Letters // Sending out a yearly Christmas card, in my opinion, is totally optional. Still, I like to share what's been happening with family and friends who live far away, but have never been a fan of holiday letters (writing or receiving them—though everyone is different and so are their circumstances). For many years I have opted to do a 2-sided holiday photo card (Snapfish has great coupon codes). I gather up my favorite iPhone pics from the past year, the ones that most reflect our lives and activities, and let the photos tell our story. This year, for instance, I included a selfie of me wearing a sweatshirt bearing the name of my new grad school. Tale told, little effort.

Coworkers/Teachers/Etc // When Kiddo was in elementary and middle school, he only had one teacher and a small group of support staff that we gave gifts to during the holidays. I would get really elaborate some years, depending on my mood, and it often led to unnecessary anxiety and expense (those gift cards add up!). High school is a whole different beast, so we've moved on from individual gifts. Instead we donate goods, services and money to various school organizations throughout the year. And never underestimate the power of a sincere thank you email.

Instead of gifts, consider organizing a lunch for all the teachers and staff. Websites like Perfect Potluck make it simple to get people signed up, and even the often less recognized staff are celebrated. Similarly, you could organize a cookie/bar potluck where teachers can come and create a mixed plate of treats to take home to their families.

I have a lot of coworkers who have become close friends, and they will receive a small handmade token of my affection. Since changing positions this last summer, I have new coworkers who I am naturally much less close to. I haven't decided what, if anything, I'll do for them, but if nothing comes to mind I'm giving myself permission to just pass along verbal well wishes. (Let yourself off the hook!)

Gifts in Lieu of a Relationship // First and foremost: Don't do it. That being said, I step into this emotional minefield every.single.year. I have a family member that struggles through life. This person has children who also struggle. For the sake of my own mental health, I have to separate myself from the situation and therefore have little interaction with them throughout the year. But come Christmastime I think of the lack of gifts they may receive due to a variety of circumstances and my heart hurts. That's when I start trying to fill the emotional void with gifts. This year was no exception. The gifts have already been purchased, but next year I'm making a promise to myself to send a Christmas card and some kind words.

Giving Trees // They are everywhere and such a great way to give to others. There are two at my work, and I usually pick one tag for each of us to fulfill (though I want to help all the people!). I love watching Kiddo select gifts for another child! Last year I picked a tag for an elderly woman requesting knitting supplies. I no longer crochet but had loads of unused yarn, so I bought a decorative tote and some small knitting tools and gifted her my entire yarn stash. Win-win!

Gift Experiences // This has become a big one for us. Instead of receiving material objects we likely won't treasure forever, we create memories that last a lifetime. Is there a place you've always wanted to visit or a concert/play you've always wanted to see? Make that the gift. If you want something tangible to wrap, put the tickets, a map, or related travel necessities under the tree. Very early on in our marriage Mario gave me a gently used first edition copy of Wicked. Tucked inside its pages were two tickets to the show. When I see that book up on the shelf, I still think of that night. It is hands down one of the best gifts I've ever received, yet it lives on primarily in my memory.

If you have suggestions about navigating the holidays with family, friends and acquaintances, I'd love to hear them!

Next time: Handmade Gifts!

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