Monday, November 23, 2009

A Simple Holiday...

I've always loved the holiday scenes in Louisa May Alcott's, Little Women. Financially impoverished and yet rich in love and mutual support, the March family enjoy a Christmas filled with simple pleasures - carols sung around the piano; oranges, books, and small, token gifts; laughter and leisurely companionship around the fire. Many of us long for just such simple celebrations and yet, year after year, we find ourselves exhausted and struggling under the weight of complicated and expensive holiday seasons.

Why do we continue with traditions that wear us out when we could pare back our activities to create the peaceful and refreshing celebrations about which we dream? Well, partly because we are surrounded with commercial messages to make the holidays as expensive, elaborate and busy as possible. Have you ever seen a TV commercial exhorting you to relax and enjoy the holiday? The economic pressure seems unending, one to which we must respond if we're to make our loved ones happy.

And then there are family obligations. How do we go away to the beach or to mountain cabins when loved ones are ill or dependent upon us for their holiday plans?

And what about our own ambivalence? On one hand, we want a simpler and less commercial holiday and yet on the other hand, we don't want to give up the rich memories and comforts of well loved childhood rituals.

One way to begin looking at this issue is to take a look at our holiday values. What means most to us this year? Just being together at home? Spending time outdoors? Religious rituals? Music? Sharing time, talents or resources with others? Getting some rest and respite? Giving gifts? Travelling to be with extended family or friends? The traditional holiday feast? Do our activities reflect our values? What if we chose the three most important components of the holidays and let the rest go for this year? We could always change back again next year if we don't like the experience.

If we find that one or more of our "top three" is impossible to enjoy because someone is working shift or someone is ill, is there a way that we could still enjoy a part of that experience? (ie Going for a family walk in the park rather than driving to the mountains or having one friend in for a simple lunch rather than 23 for a four course meal.)

Now in many cases, it may be a little late to make major changes in family traditions for this year, unless circumstances demand it, but it might be a good time to start talking about next year. You might want to try discussing possibilities such as one of the suggestions made by Jennifer Louden in The Woman's Comfort Journal:

1. Turn the pressure of corporate America off and declare a no-shopping holiday season. Practice the Native American tradition of giveaways during the holiday by giving away useful or loved possessions instead of buying new.

2. Create new holiday rituals to replace painful or empty ones. You don't have to keep family traditions that don't make you feel good anymore. Try celebrating Winter Solstice.

3. Do something you wish you had done as a child. Organize friends and put on a holiday play. Or have a potluck dinner... with non-traditional foods. Consider serving foods you always wanted to eat as a child.

There are are many options. The important thing is that we tune in to what matters most to each person, then caringly negotiate with family and friends to reduce the annual stress and exhaustion and increase the peace, joy and comfort of the holiday season.

Photo by BigStock Photos

No comments: