When I was little, I would look forward to Christmas for weeks!! All the visits to Santa, Christmas parades, and church events just added to the excitement. Then having children and watching that excitement in them was exhilarating! We had "fat" Christmas' and lean ones but we always had Christmas. Even the year we planned to go to Bass Lake to a cabin in the snow that wound up on the side of the road with a broken transmission and no presents. That Christmas day we instituted going to the movies for entertainment and bright and early on the 26th, we took the kids to Toys R Us and let them shop for about $200 of toys each.
Lately though, my interest in Christmas has taken a blow. When my mom, dad and sister passed away, it was hard to celebrate "family" gatherings without our beloved ones. Also, Christmas has become so commercialized and all about the gifts rather than the gathering. Stores bring out the goods before October and the day or so before Christmas, I walked into K-mart that had been re-made into the next Holiday.... Valentine's Day. This Christmas in particular, the thought of so many people out of work, struggling just to get by, who have lost homes to foreclosures.... it just seemed wrong to go "all out."
So this year, I did Christmas in a way that made me joyful and hopefully those around me too. Mainly I took the time to ask myself what do I WANT to do, what is important and how can I keep it more relaxed and simple. Here is a little list of my thoughts on this years' Christmas.
1. Do what YOU want. I put a few decorations on my porch, nothing big, but each night when I saw them, I felt really good and Christmassy. We have lights, TONS of lights, but taking all that time to put them up and then paying for our electrical "excesses" in January didn't seem fun. I did enjoy looking at other people's lights and hopefully they did that for their joy as well. I played my stash of Christmas music, attended local events and parades and had fun at each and every one of them.
2. Make things ahead of time. You hear it every year... people starting their shopping in January but it sure makes it easy come the end of the year. I put on some Christmas music in September and worked a little each day on cards and tags for gifts. You can believe me, next year I'm going to do a better job of planning ahead. We put out a special little annual newsletter and instead of working on it in a big chunk in December, I'm going to write a little and add pictures each month on it while it is still fresh in my mind. And I think I'm going to make it a New Year's newsletter instead of a Christmas one. Pressure off to complete everything by Christmas.
3. Realize that it's the thought that counts, not the price of the gift. I love being thought of, even something little makes my day. I have some neighbors that I've gotten to know this year that I just really wanted to give them a little something and I found an ornament with such a sweet sentiment, I knew it was for them.
4. Take short cuts. If you find gifts that are pre-packaged, bundled, already wrapped up, why not? One less thing you have to do when the big day comes.
5. Downsize. Ok, I used to decorate excessively every year. More was better right? NO! I don't like spending an entire day putting things up and then another one taking everything down. This year, my tree was 3 1/2 ft. high, decorated with my very favorite ornaments (about 10 of them) and I felt exactly the same way as if it had been a full 7 footer. I waited until the 24th of December to put it up, that's when it felt right. It went up in about 15 min. and will be put away in about as much time. Do-able!!!
6. Have the recipients participate in their gift. This one I plan to try next year. I bought supplies to make cookies in a jar and then caught cold after cold and decided for everyone's sake, maybe I'd forget about that gift this year. But next year, I think I will have a party where we will make a couple each. One from me to them and one they can make for someone else. Gift given!!
7. Remember the less fortunate. This always feels good to be able to do. Buy food for your local Food Bank bin. Contribute to the animal pound. Take a child off a Salvation Army tree and really make a nice gift for them. What about that elderly neighbor next door? Surely you could brighten their day with a visit, a bag of groceries, a book for them to read.
8. Give guilt a rest. "But if they get me something and I don't get them something, I'll feel bad and they will think I'm cheap." Don't we beat ourselves up enough. Are your "friends" so petty they would actually think that? Maybe they aren't really your friends and your life would be simpler without them.
9. There are 365 days a year to remember someone.... it doesn't HAVE to be Christmas. I love my friends and family. I love to surprise them when there is absolutely NO reason for a gift.
10. Simplify. Don't do more, do less. Make those things you do decide to do extra special. Bake cookies with your grandchildren and have fun decorating, then take a picture of it and put it in a special frame so they can remember that. Spend some time instead of money. Enjoy the outdoors at this beautiful time of year. Remember Christmas is about a special night when the "light" came into the world, peacefully, quietly, into humble surroundings, to people whose gift was their love.
I'd love to have you share your ideas for a more joyful Christmas here. My top 10 are probably not going to be yours and that's OK. All I know is, it was fun this year, and full of joy and made me excited about what next year could be like.