Welcome to the second week of December! I hope that last week’s post got you thinking. Keeping it in mind while browsing at the mall and hanging out with my family has been a good mental reset and has opened up some meaningful and important conversations. In this hectic time of year, I’m grateful for any reminder to slow down and think differently.
This year, along with being more intentional in giving, I am working to be more intentional in celebrating. My family has always placed a distinct focus on the Christian origins of the holiday, and spent the season marveling at prophesies, the miracles of the virgin birth of an infant king, and good tidings brought to shepherds in the fields. While this background has given me a narrative running through the Christmas festivities, and sufficiently eliminates a significant amount of the extra “stuff” of the season, there is still just so much noise!
I probably don’t have to describe it to you, but it’s astounding to pause and consider the sheer mass and volume of all that is Christmas. Decorations of every description, events to participate in, activities, kinds of gifts, ways to give gifts, people to give gifts to. School celebrations, work celebrations, family and friends. Things to make and bake and eat and see. Maybe the overload is attributed to commercialism, consumerism, or maybe just the Internet giving us access to others’ celebrations and traditions in a way that wasn’t previously possible, but honestly!
This year I’m headed out of the country for two weekends and a full week of the busiest part of the Christmas season. While a significant portion of my Christmas-loving soul has threatened to make me frantic and fill my days with anxiety about this loss of prime planning time, I am grateful for the other part of me that I have cultivated to be mindful and intentional. The part of me that knows that I can make any situation what I want it to be, that nothing is worth spending countless hours anxiously wishing that I were somewhere else or worrying about optimizing my enjoyment. The fact that I will only have a week between my return home and Christmas has given me a wonderful opportunity to examine, evaluate and eliminate. I’m hoping the things I’ve learned will help someone else, or at least help you to know that you aren’t alone!
- It is impossible to do every Christmas tradition.
There are only 25 days between the official beginning of the season and Christmas, with only a few weekend days of freedom in there. It’s pretty easy to see that while society is constantly developing new holiday traditions, snacks, events, outfits, shows and gift opportunities, there isn’t any more time in which to do them. This is the exact reason that we are now encouraged to start decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving and why a holiday literally called “Thanks Giving” is now a shopping day…
It was a wonderful realization for me to recognize that it’s completely impossible for me to do it all. You can’t even manage every variety of one kind of tradition. You can’t make every kind of special treat. You won’t be able to see every family member, friend and acquaintance before the 25th. People you would like to give gifts to will not make it onto your list. The family will not sit down and watch every classic holiday movie. Shows will go unseen, halls will remain undecked, some decorations will not make it out of their boxes. Here’s the secret, you’ve got to accept that. Only when you acknowledge that you cannot make the hours and days longer or multiply yourself exponentially, can you face reality and begin to create a celebration that you will enjoy and be satisfied with. It might take some time to come to grips with this, and I get that. It was a process for me that involved attempting to create a watch list out of the sheer billions of Hallmark holiday movies, and realizing for the third year in a row that my condo does not have outdoor outlets.
- It helps to develop a holiday objective.
Yes, it sounds regimented, and you can chuckle, but I dare you to try it and see if it doesn’t immediately give you a sense of calm perspective. Once you have a firm grasp on your personal reality about how much Christmas you can feasibly cram in to one month,
sit down with pen and paper and take a minute to write exactly what you want to experience and enjoy during this season.
Again, realize that you don’t have time, energy or eggnog enough to do everything. I’m a big fan of tons of holiday traditions, but there were surprisingly few specific activities that I needed to make sure happened this December. I was able to confidently say that as much as I love Christmas trees (like, a ton), I would be ok if we didn’t manage to get one this year, as long as I could spend time enjoying someone else’s. I have always wanted to have a tastefully overpowering light display trailing from my front yard into my house and bursting from the windows. Again, hard to achieve when the closest source of electricity is 10 feet through a wall. In thinking and being honest I knew that I would be fine with a few lights in my house and the chance to view and admire the lights of others.
I don’t need to drive 20 minutes out of my way to get the traditional truffles for my family’s stockings, people only ever eat one or two. We can do without the fruitcake that takes half a day and a whole lot of brandy to make. I decided against Christmas china but for Christmas PJs and shoes. It’s all about you and your family. What are the things that your holiday simply must have and what things would make you happier to not have to do or make?
Just because my list includes a lot of things done on a smaller scale doesn’t mean that your objectives shouldn’t include extravagant displays and elaborate traditions. Those things are wonderful and you should 100% include them in your objectives, if they are the most important things and you wouldn’t feel whole without them.
This also gives you freedom to appreciate what others are doing without comparing or feeling inadequate. You aren’t a slacker, you have decided that the tradition that they are embracing, or the way that they are celebrating was not a priority for you.
- Sticking to your simplified Christmas plan is not going to be easy.
Now that you’ve done all of this thinking and accepting and prioritizing, it should be easy to just let go of all the other stuff, right? Unfortunately, not always. Some things you can easily omit from your list, but the commercialist Christmas train stops for no man, and societal expectations and promises of joy come hard and fast and it’s easy to forget that you decided against decorating every inch of your house with kitschy decor and opted not to assign every person their own color coordinated wrapping scheme.
Here’s the truth, when you are mindful about your plan and priority for the season you are actively working against every system established by our current society. You are going to have to steel yourself against the onslaught of expectation and advertisement and be single-mindedly dedicated to your established plan or you’ll inevitably end up doing all the things you decided would just make you crazy, and surprise, your season will be full of anxiety. I honestly found myself, the day I decided that I would only put out a few decorations this year, piling my arms with ribbons, ornaments and mantle decorations before even realizing what I was doing. I was going on an auto-pilot Christmas binge! Something about knowing that I had less time than ever to fill up my Christmas-joy-o-meter had my buying system on overdrive.
The bright side is, that though it’s a challenge, it is possible. I put all those unnecessary little baubles away deciding to instead head home to enjoy my husband, bake some cookies and watch the Grinch (all things that I knew would fill me with more joy and love than more decorations that I didn’t have time to put up…).
- Take it one year, one event, one week, one day at a time.
Christmas makes us nostalgic, sometimes for the beautiful memories of our childhoods, sometimes for what we hope to create or wish we had experienced. This Christmas vortex of past present and future can be overwhelming! I found great peace in realizing that I could appreciate and enjoy the amazing things that happened on Chrismases past, without feeling like I needed to make all of those things happen this year. I was relieved to realize that I don’t have to manage to get adorable and beautiful and festive holiday photos taken of my husband and I, make a card, add personal notes, address them all and get them posted this year, just because I want to have that be something that happens.
It doesn’t do anyone a service if I spend my hours of cookie making stressing because I’m not shopping. It takes the joy out of giving if I spend my time rushing through stores trying to get home to do something else. Placing all of my expectations and hopes on one event will only get me more stressed. Choose what you will do with intention, stick to it, and choose to see the joy in whatever happens.
My family went to a light show in a botanical garden this year the first weekend of December. It was a few hours from my house and a bit of a time investment. The display promised to provide tons of Christmasy goodness, a chance to enjoy time with my family, awe and magic, and opportunity for some stellar photos of. All the things a good Christmas activity needs! We were there for ten minutes before the power went out. It would have been easy to be disappointed, angry, frustrated, and let those feelings ruin the day, and the future days. Instead we laughed, sang carols in the dark, and had a wonderful time together!
- While Christmas is an annual thing, the things you love about it don’t have to be.
Most of the chaos and stress of this season comes because there are just so many marvelous things packed into its celebration! Seeing people we don’t usually see, sleepovers with the whole family, special snacks, a theme to embrace, holidays are special not because they are holidays, but because we cram them full of things that we love. We use holidays as an excuse to do things that we don’t usually make time or take effort to do.
When you made your Christmas objective, what things made the cut? You chose all of them for a specific reason, of course. Is there a way to bring the love, joy, pleasure or festivity of that thing into the rest of the year? If you love giving tons of gifts to all of the people in your life, try doing it at Valentine’s Day too, maybe on your birthday, or Easter. If family time is the thing you love most make a way to see those family members more often. Bake special cookies for work friends, write update cards every summer. Spread the love and joy around! If you’re worried about tarnishing the special-ness of Christmas, just don’t do all the things at once 😉
May your second week of this special season be bright, intentional and full of wonder. Make it all that you want it to be, and let go of everything else.
Tons of love ❤