Each December Andy Williams assures us daily that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” but I doubt everyone agrees.
In the over-hyped holiday season, some people resent constant reminders of lost loved ones and distances un-bridged, others feel the financial pressures of gift-giving (not to mention feeding their families) and many struggle to find meaning amidst over-commercialization.
I’m a bit of Scrooge myself, mainly because I struggle with popular Christmas songs, premature store displays and the “gimmies and the want’ums.” I have found some survival strategies, but first, let’s contemplate the problems:
Many Christmas songs simply depress me. Darlene Love and U2 resonate remorse with the words “It’s not like Christmas at all, ‘cuz I remember when you were here”; Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra evoke tears when they croon “I’ll be home for Christmas… if only in my heart”; and Judy Garland’s quivering “From now on we’ll have to muddle through somehow, so have yourself a Merry little Christmas now” is so sorrowful, the song’s lyrics had to be changed. Need I even mention Elvis’ vow: “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you”?
What’s more, have you ever wondered why holiday songs celebrate adultery (“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, underneath the mistletoe last night,”) and the fact that a kid with un-medicated ADHD is “gettin’ nuttin’ for Christmas” (okay, so he “broke [his] bat on Johnny’s head”)? And, seriously, must we sing along to the date-rape anthem “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (“Say, what’s in this drink?… I ought to say No, No, No, sir…(Oh baby don’t hold out…).”
All of this Christmas cheer now starts in late September, when savvy retailers “get a jump” on the holiday season. And yet, it still strikes me as odd to see candy corn and candy canes sold side-by-side, and Christmas ribbon stashed alongside back-to-school supplies.
Sure, I recall pouring over the Sears Christmas Catalog and making wish lists when I was young, but I don’t remember the fervor, the frenzy and the early fall start. (Also, we didn’t have Costco, Wall*Mart and 2,500 TV channels’ for commercials…)
Now, with my own kids, I feel like a Suburban Scrooge. So, I came up with six survival tactics to help me through the season:
- Delay the Season’s Start. Just because retailers start hawking Christmas goods in early fall doesn’t mean you must buy into the madness. My kids know not to mention any “Gimmies and Want’ums” until the Thanksgiving turkey gets cold.
- Celebrate the Season. When my children were younger, we hosted annual cookie-decorating parties. Kids would come over to load sugar cookies and Gingerbread men with frosting and sprinkles, make festive paper chains, construct crafts and watch holiday movies. What ensued was utter mayhem, but the focus was on the kids’ presence, not their presents.
- Focus on Giving, Not Getting. Having children shop for others helps turn the attention from their own desires. We stress giving hand-made items to teachers and friends, and experiences (tickets to events, spa treatments, coffee cards, etc.) instead of material goods to relatives.
- Give for the Sake of Giving. My kids’ favorite holiday tradition is “Saint Nicholas,” which is our own rendition of a European custom. In late November, we send an anonymous letter to local friends and family, announcing that late on Dec. 5, St. Nick will visit the area to leave holiday treats in shoes that he finds on front porches. At dusk on that evening, I load the kids–dressed in dark clothing– and goodie bags into the car. Playing holiday CDs to help us get into the spirit, we drive around town, sneaking through yards to deliver treats. Some families leave carrots or hay for St. Nick’s horses, and a few pack up home-made cookies, but by and large, it’s an exercise in giving without expecting anything—not even thanks—in return.
- Clean Out before Cleaning Up. About a week before Christmas, I used to hand each of my kids a paper shopping bag, and tell them to fill it with unused or unwanted toys. They learned to make way for Santa’s loot by passing on treasures to kids who might not receive anything else.
- Volunteer Time. I hope my kids grow up knowing that time is the greatest gift of all. Several of my friends make holiday traditions of volunteering in soup kitchens, helping at food banks and working with “differently abled” individuals. This year one of my sons suggested handing out blankets and sandwiches at a “camp” downtown.
How does your family focus on what’s important during the holidays?
And, by the way, if the mom- and pop-petition found in holiday cards annoys you, too, you’ll enjoy this week’s bonus blog, which we’ll post on Friday.
– Linda Williams Rorem, 5 December 2011