Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness Pt. 5

Scaling Back
First, we agreed on a holiday budget in keeping with our income. My family had always frowned on gift lists, but after several years of buying each other disappointing gifts, we agree it was better to have some suggestions to choose from. We decided to give each child one $10 gift, which was what we could realistically afford, at the time, and preferably something educational. We suggested to extended family that we draw names instead of everyone buying a gift for everyone else. They resisted for several years, but as they began to have children, gift giving became more expensive, and they agreed to try it. Once people got used to the idea, it worked well, and everyone was a little more relaxed.

We found that the early marketing of Christmas was leading to holiday fatigue -- we were tired of the carols and decorations and burned out on programs and parties long before the holiday arrived. We also found that many of the activities that we found exhausting were done simply because everyone assumed they were expected or required, and no one bothered to ask if anyone really enjoyed them or even cared if they happened. We started a tradition of sitting down as a family each fall and making a list of what things made Christmas special.

We always list special foods, but then had each family member list the foods that made it feel like Christmas, and planned our Christmas menu around those foods. For my wife, it was candy canes. For the boys, it was Christmas cookies. For me, it didn’t matter whether we had turkey, ham, or some other meat, as long as we had mashed potatoes and gravy. This greatly simplified our Christmas menu.

We each chose the Christmas music, activities, and decorations that made Christmas feel special, and planned our celebration around those.

We tried to avoid the Christmas department that some stores were opening right after their back-to-school sales ended the first week of September. We agreed not to play Christmas music or put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. We pared down our decorations to a Nativity the children could actually play with and act out the story, some cards hung around a doorway, and a string of lights tacked up around the living room. (With a small apartment and two active boys, we didn’t have room to put a tree in a safe place. We hung a few of our favorite ornaments from the tacks.) We became more selective in which Christmas party invitations we accepted. We spread our gift-buying throughout the year, and consciously avoided items marketed as gifts -- they tend to be the kind of thing no sane person would buy for himself. We stocked up on necessities except gas and perishable food, so we could stay out of the stores almost the entire month of December. Buy Nothing Day had nothing on us!

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