Happy Holidays, everyone! This is, for many, a favorite time of year, but it can easily become stressful as we try to capture every joy of Christmas, Hannukah, Saint Nicholas and Saint Lucia Days, Kwaanzaa and the New Year. Cleaning, baking, cooking, shopping, decorating, gift-wrapping, writing greeting cards, traveling and visiting, hosting – stop the madness! Now, there is nothing Grinchy or Scroogy about me. Nobody loves the winter holidays more than Yours Truly and I think that is because I have found the key to my Christmas bliss. Simplify, simplify, simplify. What has worked for my family may not be what works for yours, but my formula is this; eliminate the unnecessary and embrace the meaningful. My treatise here will center on Christmas because that’s what I grew up celebrating and I apologize for the narrow focus, but I think the essence can be applied to any holiday.
Ponder which activities and traditions you truly treasure. What do you remember most fondly from your own childhood holidays? For me, there is so much. I remember my mother’s decorating style precisely. She and we 3 kids would hang up our colorful cardstock pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Claus, the reindeer and elves all skating together. This took up a whole wall or picture window. We decorated the tree, of course, and then Mom would place on one corner of every horizontal surface some greenery, pillar candles and a few Christmas balls. This left the rest of the coffee table or end table free to hold refreshments. We would put up the stockings and the angel chimes. We never put lights up on our house because, as my dad said, “only Polish families do that.” I guess there are a lot of Polish families around Philomath!
Although we were a family of meager means, sometimes experiencing food insecurity ourselves, my parents hosted an elaborate Open House each Christmas Eve. The centerpiece would be a ham and there was every delectable dish imaginable alongside. Mom made around 25 different kinds of cookies, no exaggeration. They made a variety of hand-made truffles and homemade eggnog with islands of egg whites floating about that would be served in our cherished Santa mugs, with or without brandy and whisky. Looking back now, I think we were rather like the Cratchits from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in that we lived like kings on that one night a year and like paupers the rest.
We listened to Christmas music, went caroling and sledding (this was snowy LaPorte, Indiana and later Bend, Oregon) and wrote our letters to Santa. There were always gifts under the tree for us all. Some years, there were only a few and other years, an embarrassment of riches. We put up a stocking for the Baby Jesus and we kids each selected one of our toys or treasures to give Him on Christmas Eve. When we woke up Christmas morning, our stockings were full and Jesus’ was empty.
Some years ago, my husband and I spoke to our families about scaling back gift-giving. This is, to us, the least appealing element of Christmas. My husband hates to shop, so not shopping for me is my gift to him. If he or I want something, we are so richly blessed that we can go out and procure the item and our family members are also similarly well-off. At first, we opted for the drawing of names and everyone would then give just one gift. Now, we never know from one year to the other who we will actually be celebrating with on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and have eliminated gift-giving altogether. We do give the grandkids and niece and nephew cash. I consider this insurance that they will visit me in my future nursing home and pluck my chin hairs for me. This approach saves us much time, effort and money, obviously, leaving us free to give more to charitable causes and/or to treat ourselves to a special experience. This year, Andy and I are going to see “The Lion King” musical at the Hult Center in Eugene in January!
I bake a couple of batches of cookies, one being the Manning Family Icebox Cookies. I decorate a lot or a little, depending on how much energy I have for going up and down the attic stairs. We drive around and look at light displays. I listen to a lot of Christmas music, light a lot of candles and watch the same Rankin/Bass Christmas specials on TV that I watched as a little girl. We host our families for either Christmas Day or Christmas Eve and we do it Open House-style so that the family members who wish to avoid each other (divorce) may do so and we still get to see everyone and offer them a delicious meal in festive surroundings. The above is what is important to me – beauty, family, food, music and fond memories of Christmases past.
Since you all have young children, I sort of doubt that you will eliminate gift-giving, as we have done. That might be a hard sell. Perhaps you will scale back in some other area. Perhaps not. Perhaps your celebrations are already a perfect fit for your time, energy and pocketbook. Wonderful! You are the envy of all you know. But, maybe there is one other aspect of the holiday season in which I can be of assistance. Tell me this. Does your child ever receive gifts from relatives and well-meaning friends that leave you thinking, “oh, boy, you really shouldn’t have!”? Maybe there are too many. Or maybe they are a poor fit for your child’s age/interests, your household or your values. And maybe it is awkward to discuss such things with your loved ones. I empathize. No one wants to offend or hurt feelings. But, what if you were discussing the upcoming holidays with, say, Grandma, and the topic came up organically? Allow me to offer you the following script as a rough guideline of how you could gently let your wishes be known;
“We are really looking forward to seeing you, too! Little Joaquin is so excited for Christmas. We have been working on his wish list. I don’t know if you plan on getting him anything, but perhaps you would like me to email you his ideas. You can spread the word that we are hoping for only a few things as we only want him to have as many toys as he can manage and clean up responsibly.” Or “We just hope he doesn’t receive any weaponry this year. We don’t let him use them so it’s sort of a waste.” Or “What he would really like is to spend some time with you. He’d be thrilled if you took him to the Albany Carousel/Wildlife Safari/Laughing Planet for lunch.” Or “I just hope the aunts and uncles don’t give him any electronics this year. We have learned so much about how they hamper brain development and, of course, we want him to have every advantage.”
Of course, we don’t control other people and they will give what they wish to give, but it might be helpful to lay that advance groundwork and at least, let your preferences be known. If your loved ones are asking for input, you might refer them to the American Academy of Pediatrics website. There is a really good article on toys for infants and young children titled “Best Toys for Children’s Development – Hint: They aren’t Costly or Electronic.” It recommends simple toys such as dolls and action figures, balls, blocks and puzzles, etc. to promote imaginative play, interaction between the generations and between peers, large and small motor skills, spatial skills, cognitive-language and social-emotional abilities and self-regulation. I suspect that many a doting grandparent or auntie would love some input from you as to what your child could really benefit from. Even as a child-development professional, I found it difficult to keep up with the kids’ development well-enough to give appropriately.
I hope you find this helpful or, at least, interesting. In keeping with my holiday style, it is the only gift you will be receiving from me. My lack of a present for you, though, is no reflection of the fondness and respect I have for you and your family. You are all such devoted parents and caring friends. Knowing you has enriched my life greatly and I appreciate you so much. I wish you and yours a joyful holiday season and that 2019 is full of blessings for all.