The feeling starts showing up in early November.
It’s triggered during the first post-Halloween trip to Starbucks. You know the one…where the stacks of red cups and Boney-M and Michael Buble CDs have appeared overnight, as if by magic. The feeling is a soupy mix of comfort, connection…accompanied by a weird desire for egg nog. Then peppered with a light dose dread.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the holiday season as much as the next guy. But with that first red-cupped Americano and storefront glimpse of tinsel, the to-do/to-buy list starts percolating in my head.
Ah yes, the dreaded list of “stuff”.
Admittedly for our family, the holiday season “stuff” is weighted differently.
You see, both our kids have late December birthdays, 10 days apart bookended on either side of Christmas. So in addition to standard year-end fare — school Christmas parties, piano recitals, school concerts, work deadlines, family visits and trips, and actual Christmas — we have birthday parties to contend with. Four birthday parties to be exact (the party each daughter has with her friends typically sometime before school ends, followed by the family get-togethers on their actual birthdays).
This late-December pursuit of birthday cakes, presents and goodie bags at times leaves me wondering why we didn’t just tell the girls their birthdays were in late-January.
Like they ever would have known.
In the last few years I’ve felt a bit done. Not done with the celebrations and rituals…or the birthdays. But done with all the stuff I feel inclined to buy to honour the spirit of Christmas. I want to peel away everything in the search of a different, more authentic, holiday spirit.
In the past, my husband and I have talked about it. Let’s pare it down, we’ve said. Let’s ask our extended families to pare it down. We don’t need more Polly Pockets, flannel pyjamas, or – for the love of God – small kitchen appliances. But when push comes to shove, the traditions we are embedded seem to win. And we let it wash over us, because in our hearts we know it comes from a place of love.
We worry, however, that our girls are getting lost in it.
They don’t understand our privilege. We see them getting overwhelmed by “wants” and the thrill of tantalizing presents stacked under the tree and the first rips of paper. What is given to them seems quickly forgotten and not fully appreciated, through no fault of their own. What I am learning is this: our family rituals are not set up to create space to teach our daughters about the gifts of gratitude, giving, and the simple joy of togetherness. While these are clearly first world problems, it is time for a shift.
This year we are determined to try a different approach.
Within our immediate family, we will give one gift and one gift only. Inspired by friends who have done the same thing, we will give ourselves two nights together in the mountains. We we will skate, toboggan, sleigh ride – steeped in the white winter fray between cold and coziness. In essence, we will give ourselves the gift of memories. We’ll also adopt-a–family. This will shift the flow of abundance toward those who really need it and create room for different discussions with our girls. Discussions about giving and supporting and seeing the world beyond themselves.
How will it play out? Will our family Christmas traditions and narratives begin to shift? Can we take steps away from having and towards doing? We shall see. We shall see.
But I hope that in exploring the gifts of experience we can connect in a deeper way as a family. And feel the joy that comes from offering and togetherness. And the blessed, almighty relief of no more stuff. This, I want my girls to know, is where the truest spirit of the holidays lies.