The Holiday Season

IMG_2929I blinked a few times, and autumn was gone. We did have extra traveling this year, and winter seemed to come sooner than usual with an early November snowstorm. But I was dismayed to discover that I had not accomplished even one of my autumn projects. You know, the outdoor ones you schedule for that crisp, clear weather. And those harvest- and school-related blog posts never got written. I can’t believe how long it has been since I posted here.

So now we are in the middle of that busy season made sacred by childhood memories and Christian tradition. I loved Christmas growing up. It was exciting beyond belief to travel up north to Nana’s house with the cousins, celebrate the Polish Wigilia on Christmas Eve, and then dive into a gigantic pile of presents.

Now I am a mother creating memories and a culture for my own family. But things are a little different. Christmas today seems even more secular and materialistic, if that is possible. And both The Man and I come from larger families. When all our siblings began marrying and accumulating offspring, holiday gatherings became . . . well . . . overwhelming. The logistical challenges alone will keep a group email or family Facebook page active for weeks. Traditions and expectations are just not as straightforward as they were for my parents’ smaller family.

I found my introverted nature increasingly at odds with the responsibilities of moms at Christmas: shopping, hosting, parties, and have I mentioned that I dislike cooking? My respect for what generations of women have done to give their families memorable holidays has grown immensely.

And so I realized in recent years that I was not looking forward to Christmas!  Gasp. This would never do. I knew my own attitude about the season would affect my family. Around this time I read Mitten Strings for God, by Katrina Kenison, which has become one of my favorite parenting books. Among other things, she has practical ideas for simplifying the holidays. She says, “It takes conviction to say, ‘This is enough.’ Whether it be enough holiday events, enough guests at a party, enough presents, or simply enough activities for next Saturday. And it is hard to feel confidence in our own choices, in our own sense of limits, when everyone around us seems convinced that more and bigger is better.”

As in many other areas, we have found focusing on quality over quantity to be the key to truly enjoying this time of year. Here are some practical hints that have helped us enjoy Christmas more:

– Keep the focus on family and meaningful traditions that are simple. A few of ours are cutting/decorating the tree and then the kids sleeping around it the first night; a paper advent calendar; having cookies and tea while watching the Nutcracker; listening to Handel’s Messiah; setting out unshelled nuts with a child-friendly nutcracker; going for nighttime drives to look at Christmas lights.

– Simple pleasures: Christmas candles, Christmas tea, Christmas lights, Christmas music (Pandora is great for this), a Christmas book or movie. I’ve found I don’t need huge boxes of decor to create a special atmosphere.

– Online shopping. This has reduced so much stress and saved so much time.

– Buying fewer presents but better quality. Or consider non-tangible gifts. Ideas abound on the internet.

– Less pre-holiday baking. One or two varieties of cookie may be enough. Who says you must have five or six? There usually is no shortage of sugar around at this time of year. Try buying some special fruits as an alternative.

– Making sure down time is scheduled in. The gift of time is truly one of the best gifts we can give our children or our mates. They don’t need more “stuff,” they need our time and attention. Cuddle up together with a cup of hot cocoa and some Christmas music, and realize this is the life. (Some peppermint schnapps is really good in the cocoa too. Shhh, don’t tell the kids.)

Enjoy life. Enjoy your family. And rejoice in the Greatest Gift that all this bustle is supposedly about.