Hard to believe (though easier for me as we now have snow on the ground!) but Christmas will be here soon. I thought it was the perfect time, now in October, to start thinking about what that means for me and my family. Last year, we talked my husband's family into exchanging names--one person to buy for rather than five. It worked surprisingly well and we had a fun time with it. This year, my family (there are 13 of us) is doing a Yankee Swap. So, that's 9 less adults to buy for. We're still buying presents for the three kids.
What will I do with all that extra time and money? Well, I definitely want to participate in Samaritan's Purse, Operation Christmas Child again. I think that was the most fun purchasing I did last holiday season. For those of you not familiar with the program, you fill a shoebox up with toys, non-melty candies or gum, and personal hygiene items like toothbrushes, etc., and drop the box off at a collection location near you. The boxes are combined at a central location and shipped around the world to children in need, who otherwise wouldn't have anything given to them. The organization asks for a $7 donation to help pay for the shipping and you choose the age group/sex of the child who you are buying for and label your box accordingly. It's so much fun to do and to imagine the child's face when they open their present.
Something else I want to do is sit down and decide what the most meaningful parts of the holiday season are for me. I want to do something in nature--decorate a tree in the middle of the woods with popcorn and cranberries and homemade edible bird feeders for the animals. I want to spend more time enjoying the sights and sounds and smells of the holiday. I want to make Christmas meaningful again, not just a slew of activities to get through until I collapse in the new year. And of course, I want to spend time focusing on the original, true meaning of Christmas for me, the birth of Jesus. Last year was the first in a very long time that I created an Advent wreath. Lighting the candles at each meal and reading a scripture verse was calming. I am considering no tree this year and very minimal, mostly natural decorations.
For a long time I thought, "Well, others will be disappointed if I don't do X, or if I don't volunteer with Y." But I have the entire rest of the year to volunteer my time for causes I believe in, it doesn't have to be just a one month/week/or day thing in December. And I'm sorry if I insult someone by not displaying the holiday decorations or ornaments they gave us--though in reality they've probably forgotten they ever even gave it in the first place!
So, here's my advice for you this season. First, read all you can about alternative/pared down holidays in books like the Tightwad Gazette, Unplug the Christmas Machine, and the One
Hundred Dollar Holiday.
And take some time now, before the rush begins, to determine what you do and don't like about the holidays. If you love giving gifts and can't imagine paring down, could you give gifts that have less of an impact on the earth and it's inhabitants? What about some consumable gifts like fair trade coffee and chocolates, or sweat shop free clothes or accessories? Want to spend more time in nature or creating new family traditions? Start talking to other family member now, don't wait until a week or two before Christmas. For many, many people the holidays are the most depressing time of the year. What could we do to help those who might be feeling down? Animal shelters struggle to pay their fuel bills as winter closes in. Can we help with that? Food shelves typically are bombarded (wonderfully) with food this one time of the year. Could we make a donation for future purchases when people aren't giving so much? Could we "adopt" a local family or elderly person and pledge to leave a box of food anonymously for them each month for the rest of the year?
Christmas is about giving: Giving hope, peace, warmth, food, love. It's not just about giving material gifts.