Friday, November 21, 2008

A Simple Christmas

Andrea over at A Peek Inside the Fishbowl wrote a post about doing Christmas big but keeping it small, and I have a confession to make.

I don't particularly love Christmas.

There. I said it. Still reading? Or did you just say, "GAH! This woman is NUTS!" and hit the back button on your browser?

Okay let me clarify. It's not Christmas itself that I'm not crazy about. I'm all for the whole warm fuzzy, help your neighbor, time with the family, love and peace on Earth thing. I love that part of Christmas.

It's the decorations out in the stores before Halloween, people trampling each other for the last Tickle Me Elmo, obligation, must do because someone will be upset, in your face marketing, Buy buy buy buy buy because if you love your kid you will buy part of Christmas I hate. In fact, my dream Christmas is to go on vacation to some snowy mountain and spend the holiday skiing, tobogganing, playing Uno in front of a fire and watching movies. I haven't convinced Hubs and Jake of that one yet.

The realization that I needed to change my view of Christmas came the year that I sent a gingerbread house flying across my kitchen in frustration because I was overwhelmed with the obligation, the expectation, and the fact that I just couldn't do it all. It was then that I realized that it was in my power to change what I didn't like about the holiday because really, how we celebrate is up to US. It's only as commercial as I allow it to be, in my house.

So we made changes. Similar to Andrea's 25 days of Christmas challenge, I created 24 mini stockings and hung them by the fireplace, stuffing each one with a small item. The idea was inspired by a gift that was given to me when I was 17. A high school friend of mine had given me a box of Advent penny candy, which was one of my favorite gifts ever.

Oh my, you say. Twenty four MORE things for your kid? Gah! Are you nuts? Spoilage supreme! You know what they say about only children......

Ah, but here's the thing. Most of those items in the stockings were "tickets" to family outings or events. They were afternoons baking cookies, skating at the local arena, visiting the Man in Red, taking in a movie, hot chocolate and a walk in the park. The rest were tiny treasures that Jake would be thrilled with.

"How successful is that?" You ask, " I mean, I have kids who expect chocolate squares..." Let's just say that Jake is turning 13 and still loves the advent stockings. I slacked off on them last year and he made it clear that he really missed them.

Over the years, we have revamped and revised what Christmas is to us. I stopped sending out Christmas cards because they only end up in a landfill, anyway and I can never get them done in time. Why not send cards out throughout the year instead? I also buy pre-made gingerbread and sugar cookie dough because it makes just enough for us, and it's so much easier.

Then you get the two traditions we adopted that have shocked people to no end.

1) we go out to a hotel for Christmas dinner

With a family of three, why not splurge on a beautiful buffet so that I don't have to spend my holiday cooking and cleaning up? Not just that, but all three of us get to eat exactly what we want?

2) Hubs and I shop for our own gifts, together.

For years we were fraught with stress trying to shop for each other until finally, we decided to spend a day in the city and buy our gifts together. This way everything fits, it's always exactly what we want, and there's no stress involved. We have a nice dinner out and look at the Christmas lights, then when we get home everything is wrapped and put under the tree. For us, it's about quality-a few nice indulgences, rather then a bunch of cheap junk we don't need.

What about everyone else, you ask?

If I have time, there's hand made things. Stuff like cookies, ornaments, preserves, and treasures either crocheted or sewn are given to friends, family, and co-workers. They don't have to be big and expensive, but something small and handmade is always appreciated.

The holiday, for us, really is about Jake. The things he asks for are educational, and so it's so much easier for us to splurge on a big chemistry set or laboratory glassware, tools, etc that we know he'll use for years. His gifts are shopped for in secret, ordered online, and hidden so that he hasn't an inkling about what they are. Still, the kid has a sixth sense. It's seriously annoying. The selection of gifts for Jake depends entirely on the list and what's in the budget. I always ask him to make a "top five", and remind him that if he chooses things that are very expensive, to be prepared that he won't get as many items. He's at the age where he understands that and is content with whatever is under the tree on Christmas morning, whether it's two boxes or ten. Sometimes the smallest things that cost the least are actually what makes the most impact, like the year that Santa hid some Hot Wheels amoung the branches of the tree for Jake to find, or when he left a pretty bell from his sleigh.

It doesn't have to be that $40 Tickle Me Elmo that everyone is clamouring to find (and that killed Jake's love of Elmo forever!)

How do you celebrate Christmas?

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