If you had to choose, would you keep Thanksgiving or Christmas? If recent conversations are a clue, many of my friends would say Thanksgiving. They say it’s all about expectations. Thanksgiving is simple. Time spent with those we love, eating a great meal and reflecting on our blessings. (I suppose it may also includes naps, football and parades.) Christmas, despite it’s origins, is saddled with a very high bar of expectations. It’s no longer about expressing love. There are “time-honored” (and often guilt-motivated) traditions to uphold. These include tree buying (or dragging from the attic) and trimming, house decorating (inside and out…a constant untangling of lights), baking cookies, attending holiday parties (with a dish or a gift), caroling, volunteering, donating, pulling off secret santa shenanigans, sending out Christmas cards (after finding the right sentiment, updating the address list, buying Christmas stamps and writing a detailed annual letter ), watching holiday classics, attending church services and, of course, buying just the right gifts for everyone (including the mailman) while remembering to fill the stockings. All this squeezed into already over-scheduled lives with the added headaches of coordinating complex family schedules (and perhaps dealing with challenging dynamics).
I’ve had many Christmases like that. There are good moments…and lots of stress. Our commitment to simplify has encompassed Christmas in the last few years. Cutting back on activities, expenses, the number of gifts, etc. This year, our (adult) children agreed to not exchange gifts. Instead, we will have an experience together (yet to be determined). I love the simplicity of that plan, made even sweeter by the promise of time together and shared memories. We have a few decorations in our house but no tree (which I could never quite reconcile anyway given my reverence for nature). Since we’re all complaining about weight, there’s on pressure to make cookies. And I gave up Christmas cards years ago when the stress of meeting my own expectations outweighed the joy. Instead, I’m seeking other ways to embrace the season. Holiday music played anytime. Treating a friend to coffee. Attending (only one or two) seasonal events (like neighborhood caroling or a musical meditation at church). It leaves time for reflection, restoration and gratitude. Space to be both humbled and inspired by the meaning of the celebration. And a calmer entry into the new year.