Now that the witchy sugarfest of Halloween is behind us, all of the big box stores tell us that it’s time for Christmas. You can forget Thanksgiving, because that’s really just a Christmas warm-up. It’s like a very whitewashed excuse to do what we have always done since the 17th century: Eat too much and trample each other in search of unbeatable bargains and entertainment. While we choose to eat non-traditional foods at our house and invite our friends over to eat and drink too much and play games, we forgo Black Friday (er, now Thursday night), eschew the history behind the holiday, and keep things as low key as possible.
Here’s how we get our Christmas (and Thanksgiving) on without losing our damn minds. Or souls.
1. Do less.
As a family, this is hard to do. I’m sure as our children get older, this will become increasingly more difficult. However, we only participate in the extracurricular activities that sound fun. We typically have a great time at my husband’s office Christmas party, and we always duck out early and go do something fun with his friends after we’ve had our fill of small talk and free wine. We love making a big meal on Thansgiving Day for our friends and going downtown for the lighting of the city Christmas tree the next night. But that holiday gathering at the house with the pissing cats or the weird neighbor’s white elephant gift exchange or the other one million other things we get invited to do, just for the sake of doing? Yeah, we say no to those because quality is better than quantity.
2. We limit extended family time, unless it feels good.
There’s this thing that happens when you have family close by. You feel the need to always say yes to them, especially around the holidays. We have chosen to have Christmas morning with our immediate family, unless we have visiting grandparents. Sometimes family is stressful. It’s okay to say no, or to make alternate plans that don’t stress you out as much. And even if you have the world’s most amazing extended family, it can still be stressful because that’s how family works sometimes.
3. Stop buying presents.
I know, this sounds bananas. Give gifts, but stop buying sh*t that nobody needs or that still won’t be used by this time next year. Instead, plan experiences. Spend that money on a zoo membership or an annual family pass to the YMCA. Take your BFF to dinner somewhere you’ve both been dying to try. And if you must buy a physical item, make sure it’s something that someone needs and will use for a very long time. For example, we do stockings with treats, school supplies, books, and something fun like sparklers. Then we do one main gift for the kids and a family gift for all of us. We make cookies or give wine to friends. Simple. (And easy on the environment.)
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4. Focus on building traditions.
Thanksgiving is almost always Friendsgiving. We hang with our group of friends, have a big sleepover on Thanksgiving night for anyone who wants to crash, and make a brunch with leftovers and pancakes the next morning. For Christmas, we are still figuring out how we want to instill our own meaning, but it usually includes a lovely meal with friends on Christmas Eve, family only for Christmas day, and some sort of outdoor family adventure on Boxing Day. We read about all of the other cultural and religious celebrations, and read by candle light for Advent. Whatever it is, holidays are meant to be fun, peaceful, and a time to build coziness.
5. Clean out our closets.
I know. What sounds simple about this? Cleaning out closets is annoying. However, in spite of our best efforts to focus on fewer presents and more experiences, we still have family members who want to buy us gifts. So, we make room for the new things by divesting ourselves of things we no longer use. That stained sweatshirt from 1999? Yeah, let it go. That perpetual drawer full of odds and ends that you never know what to do with? Sort it. Make a donation to your local women’s shelter. Gather your old blankets and give them to a homeless charity, along with whatever winter clothes you can gather.
You don’t have to do it all in order to have a fun or memorable holiday season. Just do the things that bring you life and make your soul sparkle a little. It’s okay to say no, it’s okay to tone it down, and it’s okay to let this be a season of rest in addition to a season of celebration.