Well, here it is. December. Halloween got rushed through. “Yeah, I ate some candy and looked ridiculous.” Thanksgiving was pushed aside. “Oh, sure, I am grateful for you, too. Give me a piece of pie and let me get to the main event.”
Autumn celebrations are over. Let the madness begin!
We can choose to let the hype of The Holidays overwhelm us, or we can take back our power. We don’t have to be slaves to imposed activity, forced cheerfulness and financial burden.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to be swept up. The pressure to perform is real. I like to consider myself a work in progress in this regard.
Over the years I have discovered some simple things that help free me from the artificial obligations:
1) Make a list.
Check it twice. If you enjoy buying gifts for people, by all means do so. But, let’s be realistic. Are you buying for someone because “you have to” or because you want to? Do you go to the store or to your computer with a list of people you don’t care about (really) and without a clue as to what to buy for them? Is your best guess one of those “holiday bath sets?” Whoever wants one of those—ever?
Could you cut your current list of 20 people in half? Could you reduce it by even 20 percent? I am not suggesting you kick Grandma off the list, but there might be one or two who would actually breathe a sigh of relief if you didn’t buy something for them.
2) Prioritize your list.
Think of it as a Level System. By narrowing down your list, you can devote your time to shopping for those you would like to buy the most meaningful gifts. Don’t be afraid to compose your list in some sort of hierarchical order. Think of it like speed dial on your phone. No one needs to know whether they are number one or seven, but you will know when you are shopping for them.
Having the time to choose a special gift for someone, imagining their face when they open it, can make Christmas shopping a fun activity rather than a burdensome chore.
3) Limit the money you spend.
States that offer gambling and lottery games also offer helplines to those whose gambling has gotten out of control. Advertisements for liquor always have the tagline, “enjoy responsibly.” I have yet to see a shopping mall or website make the request, “Please shop responsibly.” You know, it’s quite the opposite. People overspend. The thrill of the hunt on Black Friday is certainly dampened upon the arrival of credit card statements in January. You look at them like someone must have stolen your credit card, because you couldn’t have possibly spent that much. But, you did.
Before I begin shopping, I have a total budget set with an amount to be spent on each person. It’s like deciding how much you are going to drink in an evening or how much money you are going to willing to lose at the casino.
4) Be creative.
No, don’t get nervous. I am not suggesting you suddenly take up knitting and make a scarf for everyone. I mean “creative” by thinking outside the box. Some of the nicest gifts I have received have been handmade or crafted. If you are a good cook, a selection of a nice sauce or candy or canned goods can be presented in a thoughtful way. Choose a product that the person would really enjoy. Other gifts could include a lunch or dinner at a local restaurant. Make it an event.
I have gifted people with a nice dinner at a place I knew they wanted to try, but I was included in the deal! Rather than giving them a plastic card and saying, “Have a nice time,” I say, “I would like to take you there after the holidays where we can enjoy it together.” If you are not willing to break bread with them in this way, maybe they fall into that 20 percent on your list.
5) Spend your time wisely.
There are 31 days in the month of December. Most of us will have to work approximately 20 of those days. If you don’t shop at work, that leaves you a little over 10 days to do whatever you want to do for shopping, wrapping, shipping and socializing. I’m tired already when I think of it that way! So, I really prioritize.
There are certain traditions I enjoy, like joining our friend for a Christmas Eve concert. She buys our tickets and that’s our gift. This year Johnny Mathis is coming to town, and he is on my bucket list. So I will do that. But, I have chosen to decline some invitations because I just don’t want to make myself crazy. You can do this, too. Choose events that will bring you joy. If spending time with your family, your dog and a good book is what’s going to make you happy, then do it!
I am finding that setting some limits on my spending, activities and the buying of physical “stuff” has been making my holidays a lot more enjoyable. I don’t feel the guilt of spending too much. I am not exhausted trying to do too much.
The gifts I enjoy giving and receiving are consumable and experiential. You don’t fill up a garbage can with bows and ribbons if you have eaten the fudge and are reliving the songs at the concert.
The social pressure during this time of year can be overwhelming if we let it. Empower yourself to say “yes!” and just as importantly, to say “no.” Even if you consciously try only one of these suggestions, the next month of your life could be just a bit less stressful.
You hold the reins of the horse-drawn sleigh. You can either go dashing through the snow or walk through a winter wonderland. Your choice.
Author: Pat Steele Nielsen
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: erika g/Flickr