a reason for the season
This rant is a little late this year. Halloween is this weekend, and I have already received countless email messages with pre-pre-pre-holiday sales. In fact, I just opened one tonight for Christmas candy! Could we get rid of the Halloween candy first? PLEASE!!!
Once again I do my part to remind people that the holiday season is not about counting how many presents you give or receive, but rather a time to spend with those you love (related by blood or not) and count your blessings. This year, most people are looking at tightened budgets, and wondering how to make do. Trust me when I say that there are many people out there worse off than you. With this guide, I hope to help everyone come up with ways to enjoy whatever holiday they celebrate. With a little planning, and setting expectations, you can have a wonderful guilt-free holiday season.
This year I would like to challenge everyone to think of those less fortunate - and act. In the US, homeless is on the rise, especially among families with children. Reports are that the average age of a homeless person is a mere 9-years old. Think about that when someone tries to guilt you into something this season.
Conversations with friends have reminded me that sometimes we all need to step back and remember what we are celebrating during the holidays. I suppose I should step back here for a minute and state for the record that I love Christmas. I love the decorations Ė from the fancy themed department store window displays to the Charlie Brown Christmas trees. I love the music Ė my holiday collection is huge and I know it drives some people nuts. I love the traditions Ė from hanging stockings to special recipes that have been handed down several generations. I even love the cards Ė from finding just the right one down to the stamp that goes on the front. All of these things connect us to others and remind of where we come from. What I canít stand is the notion that you have to spend, spend, spend Ė because that my friends is what tears us apart.
Donít get me wrong, for those that have more money than they could ever know what to do with, I say go for it, especially if you remember the little people along the way. But most of us, arenít close to having those kinds of problems of abundance, as my friend S, often reminds us. Iíll say it again because it still rings true: Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice is every day that you have a roof over your head, food on the table, and people who love you. The terrorists donít win if you spend beyond your means and literally spend the next decade or more paying off the interest payments. When families are forced to live paycheck to paycheck so they can keep up with the Jones, no one wins. It truly is that simple.
If you sit down and get kids to open up, they really donít want (most) a new bike or the latest video game system. Children want to spend quality time (a little one-on-one) with Mom or Dad (or both). Remember that when the urge strikes to go over your budget Ė think about how many late nights you will need to spend at the office to pay for it.
That doesnít mean I am totally against the whole present thing either Ė I just think it should be done within the spirit of the season and your means. How many times have you received a present that a) was so not you, it wasnít even funny, b) felt guilty because you knew the giver had spent too much, and/or c) wish they really hadnít? True, there is something to the notion it is that thought that counts. But if you believe that, then be thoughtful this holiday season Ė to all parties concerned. Because, again be honest, how many times have you a) bought someone something because you felt you had to, b) had no idea what to get someone but got them something anyway, and/or c) went over budget because of these feelings of obligation and guilt? The holiday season shouldnít be so painful. Thatís not what they are about.
Fret not. Hope is not lost. Here is my updated guide to enjoying the season. Itís not too late to catch the true spirit of the holidays. In fact, there is plenty of time to turn the tides and make this the best holiday season yet!
- Set expectations. This is probably most important. Let your friends and family (including kids old enough to understand) you plan to do things a little different this year. Of course, be sure to share some of the highlights of the fun things you have planned instead, and let the excitement begin.
- Get creative. Grab your local paper or go on line and see whatís going on this season. Maybe tickets to the Nutcracker (there is lots of great community theatre out there) and make a night of it. Where are the best places to see the lights? Pack some hot cocoa and bring your camera. If you belong to a church or synagogue, investigate what activities they will be offering (midnight mass isnít always at midnight). Donít forget your library. Chances are good there are fliers posted with music concerts, art making, and perhaps even caroling opportunities. Also many museums have free days around the holidays. Why not take advantage?
- Get everyone involved. Itís no fun if someone does all the planning. Have a brainstorming session. Ask what they want to experience this holiday season. Make sure at least one idea from each person is included in your plans. Learning to compromise is important. Also assign age-appropriate tasks to help everything come together. Share the work of gathering information, ordering tickets, making reservations, inviting other, and so on, with the entire family so no one is overburdened.
- Plan ahead. Sit down and mark out your plans, and make sure everyone in your family gets a copy. Remember that since you will not be shopping and running around like a crazy person, you will have time on your hands, so have fun and enjoy the simple joys of the holiday season.
- Make a gift list. Decide who you would like to give a gift and a budget. Here are so no-to-low cost ideas:
- Coupons. This was my Momís favorite and better received that you might think. Gifts of time (a day with you, baby-sitting, errand running, a week of your kidís chores, etc.) are always appreciated. If appropriate, kisses and back rubs are nice too. Donít forget to put expiration dates and if you like, make some redeemable for a particular time of year when you have more time/money.
- Use your talents. If you love to cook or knit or sew, the ideas are limitless. If you have a knack for music, put together a mix of your favorite songs. Did you take an amazing photo this year? Find an inexpensive frame and presto! If you have a dozen or so you love, make a calendar.
- Write a letter. Not one of those awful over-the-top-my-family-is-better-than-yours end of the year holiday updates though. Tell someone how you really feel. Let them know you care and think of them. Also what you hope for them. It is one of the simplest things to do; yet youíd be surprised how much this can mean to another. Speak from your heart and spelling and grammar wonít matter.
- De-clutter. There is nothing wrong with giving a gently used book if you think the recipient would love it. Ms. Manners and other etiquette experts all agree that there is no harm in re-gifting (as long as you donít make the grand faux pas of giving it back to the original gift-giver). In this category you may want to add passing down a treasured heirloom or even a family recipe. Just think of the goose bumps you would get if someone presented you with grandmaís pearls or Aunt Idaís infamous eggnog recipe.
- Donate. Give a gift to your favorite cause (or a cause the recipient believes in) in their name. Most organizations are happy to provide you with a card or letter for the recipient. Plus you may be able to earn a deduction on your taxes (no harm in that).
- Do their homework. No, don't go digging up an essay so your niece sails through English 101. Here I am thinking about someone on your list that is going on a vacation or perhaps moving to a new town. Why not put together points of interest, restaurants, and other places of note. Trust me, this could easily be the best thing they ever received.
- Draw names. If you have a big family I have heard this works great. Everyone draws a name and a limit is put on the amount spent. This would also work well in families that have seen a sudden rise in little ones - this way the adults don't feel left out.
- Shop locally. Support your local artists at a holiday fair or family owned specialty shop in town.
- Use the Internet. If you want to buy a big-ticket item or a must-have toy, do a search on Google (or other search engines). See who is offering the best price. Also use Google (or other search engines) to see if a particular retailer is offering free shipping or other specials. Click, click and you are done. Items can be shipped to your office to make things easier and keep from ruining the surprise. Also if you haven't discovered Etsy, the holidays would be a good time. Artists from all over the world offer amazing crafts and artwork, many at good prices.
- Give back. Again, you should find some time opening up without all the rushing around or looking for parking at the mall. But just an FYI Ė soup kitchens usually have more people then they know what to do with on actual holidays, so try to pick a day when people are needed and you and yours will feel more useful. Adopting a family is a great idea if you can, or on a smaller scale most malls/bookstores/kids stores will have trees filled with ornaments that represent a childís wish. Also don't forgot about thanking the folks who helped make your holidays a little brighter.
- It's okay to wish. Donít be afraid to use wish lists. If you have generous family or friends who would like to get presents (especially for the little ones), it is perfectly fine to have a wish list. People who donít have kids are often clueless about what to get, or afraid of getting something the child already has or in the wrong size. That said, I wouldnít necessarily advertise it, but if they ask, why not make it easy? And of course, if you do use one, keep it current! Is your wish list current? Save yourself the hassle of returns. And what better time to update your wish list on Amazon then when they are giving stuff away for doing so?
- Oh, and donít forget Buy Nothing Day. Instead of going to the mall the Friday after Thanksgiving (this year November 27 in the US), resist the urge to spend any money. As the site says, for 24 hours every November we remember that no one was born to shop. There has to be something you would rather do than risk your life looking for parking at the mall.
on the night stand :: Big Frog Can't Fit In by Mo Willems.