For years, the adult members of my family have had the tradition of choosing names out of a hat each Christmas. The name you pick is the person you are getting a gift for that year. It is a really nice tradition, relieving us all of the pressure to buy presents for each member of the family. That way, each of us can also sped a little more money on one gift than we otherwise would if we had to buy several gifts.
I have really appreciated this tradition over the years because it did help to get me out of the holiday frenzy. Since I have been an adult (and when or if that has actually occurred is up for debate), I have never really enjoyed the holidays because of the Christmas chaos. I have hated everything about it: the insanity at the malls, the lines snaking out the door of the Post Office, the incessant holiday music wherever I go, the boxes of cookies and candies around the office which I feel obligated to imbibe only to end up feeling sick later, and the flowing cheap wine, egg nog, or other nasty alcoholic concoction that makes me feel even worse. I dread the lines of cranky people with crankier children at the airports going to visit Grandma, the crowded planes. And I, along with millions of others, have persevered through all of this to reach the crazy family at the other end of the journey, whom I love, but let’s face it, at the holidays we’re all a little more challenging than usual.
The pressure of performing at Christmas gives me anxiety. I have chosen some years not to participate, or to participate in a limited way, not traveling, not sending cards, not decorating my house, and abstaining from the candy and cookies. But ultimately I have found that I still get sucked in against my best intentions even so. At best, I would feel inspired to shower my beloved with gifts and spending beyond my means. At worst, I ended up feeling sad about not reaching out to friends that I normally don’t have the chance to connect with over the year, and really sad that I didn’t find a place to hang the stockings or put up the few decorations that I have.
The truth is, I love Christmas. And much in the way that I am in a constant struggle to embrace my Christian identity which has been hijacked by right-wing zealots with a heartless political agenda, so has Christmas been hijacked by the retailers and architects of an economy that is entirely driven by consumers. It is true, and even though everyone seems to know it, we all seem to turn away from the fact that Christmas is the single most important consumer holiday. The majority of retail sales happens between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
And this just isn’t a sustainable way to have a healthy economy. I don’t know much about economics, but I do understand that it is folly for an economic system to rely on our collective ability to make money during the work week, go to the mall on the weekend and buy stuff, most of which will eventually end up in a landfill.
The way most of us celebrate Christmas isn’t healthy or sustainable for many reasons.
I won’t wax nostalgic for times gone by that were simpler and better. I have no illusions that Christmas wasn’t the chaotic consumer frenzy that it is today when I was a kid. I loved Christmas as a child, and I loved the presents (I don’t know how my parents did it with five children). As a child, for me Christmas was about the anticipation of the gifts I would receive. I loved all of the other things, too: the decorations, the carols, the food, the gatherings, the television specials, and the telling of the story of the birth of Jesus.
But for a child, it was all about the presents. For an adult, it has become all about anxiety and stress.
I think I have finally found the way to celebrate Christmas in a way that I can really enjoy. My beloved and I did not exchange gifts. We are staying at home together for a cozy day of relaxing, game-playing, reading, eating great food, enjoying each other’s company, and being grateful for all that we have. This year for the family gift exchange we all made gifts to charities in honors of each other instead of buying each other stuff that we don’t need (more about that in posts to follow). We didn’t get a tree that we would have to dispose of later, though we did hang some lights and put up a few decorations. We will send out a few New Year post cards to let our far-flung friends know that we think of them and love them even if we can’t see them.
And I will continue to write these blog postings as an exercise of creative expression and as a way to stay in touch with people. I figure if I keep putting it out there, people will stop by and keep connecting or reconnect. And it’s working!
Merry Christmas, everyone!