Ah, Christmas! Depending on who you are, where you live, what your culture dictates, this word can bring a sense of joy or a feeling of overwhelm. I think we all want the holidays to feel loving and fulfilling, a time to connect with family and friends, and a time to embrace the magic. There is something so special and beautiful at this time of year. Yet many of us, especially in North America, miss it while we frantically shop, bake, decorate, and in some cases, attempt to appease difficult family members.
I spent a lot of Christmases trying to create the perfect experience for my kids. I wanted the tree to be just perfectly colour-coordinated, with no miniature red felt Santas or paper doily ornaments made in Kindergarten. I wanted the food to be amazing, and I discovered that brined turkey is a huge hit, but even better is this recipe from Gordon Ramsay. I learned how to make the best fluffy mashed potatoes and sage stuffing from scratch, pumpkin pie made fresh from roasted pumpkin or a pumpkin praline cheesecake. And while I loved parts of it, a part of me felt like I worked all through Christmas…
And gifts! Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of heartfelt gifts to friends and loved ones. Handcrafted or picked with love… but the concept of compulsory gift-giving and
begging for specific gifts wishlists! Or the stress of picking out a gift for someone simply because you drew their name, knowing there’s a really good chance they won’t like it? It can feel forced and inauthentic. Not to mention we all have homes that are bulging with unneeded items already. I don’t have any desire to be a Scrooge, but there has to be a better way to do Christmas.
And yet. Gift-giving as a child is such a great memory for me. We didn’t have Santa or a tree or lights in our Mennonite family, so gifts WERE Christmas! The gifts, the food, the gathering together of families who saw little of each other throughout the year. Laughter, stories, rosy cheeks after skating on homemade glassy ice rinks, massive tubs of decadent gravy and platters of steaming roasted turkey, fresh pies. And the tables upon tables of homemade Christmas baking and treats. No store-bought Turtles or Ferrero Rocher. All these things evoke sweet memories of a safe and happy childhood, a simpler time.
Why then, does Christmas feel so complicated and expensive and stressful sometimes? And how do we avoid that type of holiday season?
First of all, I think some of you reading this actually love to put a lot of time and effort into baking, decorating, or gift-wrapping. So if this lights your fire and is the way you love on your people the best, please continue! And know that this post is not for you. BUT. If you’re doing these things out of an expectation, whether internal or external, and it is neither fun nor fulfilling for you? I encourage you to keep reading & to take a look at what’s serving you and your family this season, and feel free to drop the traditions that are not!
I don’t know that we will ever figure out how to maneuver Christmas without any conflict or discomfort but here are a few ways I’ve found to bring “happy” back into the holidays!
- Think of the others in the equation. For me, gifts would be the first thing to go. Every year I wage a mental battle against this tradition. And yet. There are some people in my life who mean a lot to me – and gifts mean a lot to them. They are more important than my rage against consumerism & so we do simple gifts.
- Rethink the gifts you give. My most precious Christmas gift ever is from my father-in-law a few years ago. He presented us each with a small slip of paper. Times New Roman, 12-point font, beginning with the words “The gift I see in you is…” In about 10 lines of text, he stated the beauty he saw in each of us. I hang onto that paper and it is one of my very most prized possessions. And I have never been accused of being sentimental. Other great gift options are experiences, such as a ski trip, a couple of nights in a mountain cabin, gourmet cooking classes, an escape room or VR arcade experience, any unique local experiences that you’ve always wanted to try. These gifts can all bless the gift-giver and gift-receiver equally!
- Simplify in the kitchen. I asked my 15-year-old son yesterday what is meaningful to him at Christmas. His reply? Spending time around the table, playing games with family and having lots of food. When pushed, he explained it didn’t matter what the food was, just that there was a lot of it and that it was a shared experience. It’s not the handcrafted gourmet treats that bring us together – it’s the people! So go ahead, make tons of complicated food if you love it. But if you don’t? Well, I’ve discovered in our home that lasagna is a simple and well-loved alternative to the full turkey dinner. Besides we are usually treated to an incredible spread at Grammy’s – she genuinely loves to cook and feed the people she loves.
- Let the kids be involved. Let them help wrap the gifts, ice the cookies, decorate the tree. Even if it’s all a mess – The Magic is in the Mess (Brene Brown). Ask them what’s important and you may be surprised. Three of my kids (ages 15, 13, and 6) stated that their favourite part of Christmas is hanging out with family, spending time together, having fun together. The 8-year-old stated opening presents, skating, and sledding. Sit down and discuss what traditions you want to create as a family – I don’t think it’s ever too late to do that!
- Don’t forget the awe and wonder. There is a magic to Christmas that we lose a little as adults. Take the time read the nativity story (or watch The Nativity movie) and allow yourself to feel and cry over the wonder of the Gift sent to Earth. Allow yourself to slow down and exclaim over colourful lights and ornate trees and sparkling snow. Be present, observe, use all five senses to take it all in. Breathe deep. Be grateful.