Simplifying the Christmas Season
The Christmas season is again upon us, replete with its magical excitements
and sobering contradictions. No sooner does Thanksgiving end than the
shopping frenzy begins. In fact, this year retailers began promoting
Christmas sales just after Halloween. Americans will spend over $500
billion on Christmas presents this year.
Almost hourly, it seems,
reporters alert us to the dwindling number of shopping days before the
blessed event, and, like herds of dumb animals, we blindly head to the
malls and stores, grumbling all the way about the terrible traffic,
surly crowds, and corrosive commercialism. Once inside the glittering
bazaars, we push our patience and our credit cards to the limit,
revealing little of the Christmas spirit in the process. After hours of
searching and buying, we return home bruised, weary, and dazed,
suffering from P.S.S. (post-traumatic shopping syndrome).
supposed to be the most joyous period of the year, yet a darkening
anxiety enshrouds our activities. In households across the country,
adults feverishly plan the greatest Christmas ever for their family and
friends. With each passing day, however, we grow weary of the unending
list of gifts to buy, social functions to attend, extravagant meals to
prepare, and relentless "I wants" coming from the children. We worry
that our best efforts at orchestrating the holiday events will fall
short, and we realize too late that we are spending beyond our means.
The January bills will produce a day of reckoning.
are looking for a way to leave this holiday treadmill. One frazzled
parent exasperated by the demands of the season confesses that "the
holidays depress me so much, just thinking about the coming month makes
me want to leave the country. Everything about it, shopping for gifts,
wrapping, making holiday meals and treats, decorating the house, just
makes me feel sad and tiredit seems like there's no point to so much
festivity. Sure, my kids probably would feel left out if we didn't do
what their friends families did, but otherwise, what's the point?"
There are healthy
alternatives to this stress-filled annual ritual. Jo Robinson and Jean
Coppock Staeheli provide numerous examples of more fulfilling activities
in their book, Unplug the Christmas Machine: How to Have the Christmas You've Always Wanted.
As they point out, few of us think about the gifts received when we
reflect upon our favorite Christmases. Instead, we recall the warm
feelings generated by being with family and friends. "Most people,"
Robinson and Sateheli write, "spend more time and emotional energy on
gift-giving than anything else, and yet gift-giving is consistently
rated as the least valued aspect of the celebration."
year try to simplify the Christmas season and strike a healthier balance
among its conflicting demands and temptations. December should be a
time not primarily for self-indulgence, but for sharing in ways that
promise renewal for ourselves and others. Transform the rituals of
holiday preparations into group activities. Dont burden mom with all
the work and stress. Turn the television off, turn on your favorite
Christmas music, and let the whole family help with the decorations,
gift wrapping, and food preparation. In lieu of conventional gifts,
consider sending donations to area charities in the names of your
friends and relatives. Or send a loved one a gift of your precious time.
I know of one husband who gave his wife a day alone with her cello
while he took the children on an outing.
Kids require special
efforts at Christmas. Spend time discussing with them the spiritual
meaning of the holiday. Shift their attention from getting to giving by
having them work with you as volunteers at a soup kitchen or at Toys for
Tots. Have them go through their own things and select items that they
can give to other children. And, rather than encouraging children to
develop an open-ended wish list, limit them to three requests. This will
help them develop a keener sense of discrimination, alert them that
there are healthy limits in life, and show them that love is given, not
bought. "Teach children to choose the right path," says the Book of
Proverbs, "and when they are older they will remain upon it."
point of such suggestions is to help ensure that the Christmas season
becomes centered on the nurturing activities that Jesus fostered:
reaffirming faith, strengthening relationships, and helping others. "By
scaling down your activities," Robinson and Sateheli conclude, "you will
have more time and peace of mind to enjoy the ones that remain." It is a
gift to be simple especially at Christmas.