I have always loved the holidays. Really, what’s not to love? Good food, time with family and friends, vacations, shiny decorations, presents, holiday parties, Christmas carols . . . peace, joy, and love all around, right? This year, for the first time in my life, I am beginning to see the other side of Christmas – the behind-the-scenes chaos that keeps the magic alive for kids and for the children in all of us. More and more, I find myself awake at night or distracted during the day with worries about shopping, cooking, travel logistics, social plans, even our Christmas decorations (my dear husband is perched on a 40-foot ladder as I write this, risking his life to install icicle lights along our gutters).
By far, the most stressful aspect of a grown-up’s Christmas is gift-giving. My community – family, friends, Church, etc. – is very fortunate in that there is not much need, or even want. However, the same financial stability that allows us to buy things for ourselves when we would like them means it is incredibly difficult to identify meaningful, useful, desirable presents for those within this community. This time of year, I approach social engagements with trepidation, fearful that I might be caught empty handed when a well-intentioned friend or colleague presents me or my kids with a gift. I am careful to ask for small, easy things from my family so as to keep expectations of reciprocal gifts low. Although they do not yet ask for anything, I worry that soon my kids will want things I cannot afford to buy them.
All I want for Christmas is to show my friends and family how much I love them, and to bask with them in the warm and fuzzy feelings known as “holiday cheer.” To that end, I have decided to be proactive this season. Instead of giving gifts – or even homemade cookies like last year – I am devoting my limited resources to sending holiday cards with personalized, genuine sentiments to those I care about. With my closest friends, I’ve even gone so far as to establish a “no gift” understanding prior to a get-together. This approach has brought me tremendous peace, and is allowing me to be more present in all of my interactions during this busy time.
With my children, I am focusing on experiences that will convey the meaning of Christmas, rather than gifts that may or may not bring them hours of amusement. Last weekend we surprised the kids with an unannounced visit to Sesame Place for shows and parades with their idols extolling the values of compassion, friendship, family, and charity (my son also got to ride his first roller coaster, which was an experience none of us will soon forget!). This Sunday we are all going to wrap gifts and make cards for less fortunate children with our Church friends. Most of all, I am making even more of an effort than usual to spend focused just-the-four-of-us time over the next month. After all, there’s no better feeling than that induced by babies laughing unreservedly!
My family does not have a Hallmark-quality Christmas tree, and there are hardly any presents under it, but our home is filled with the spirit of the season nonetheless. I hope you and yours find your own peace, joy, and love this holiday and in 2016!