I have a love/hate relationship with the holidays. I love the shimmering beauty and festive spirit of Christmas: the sparkling lights, the joy-filled carols, the alluring packages carefully arranged under a twinkling tree. What I don’t love so much is the heavy weight of expectation I place on myself to make the holidays bright and meaningful for those around me. Over the past few years, as I’ve delved into the minimalism movement and embraced simplicity in my home and schedule, I’ve become aware of how easily I still fall prey to the trappings of consumerism at Christmastime, with its messages of “more, more, more” and “bigger is better” — the dark side of this otherwise merry holiday.
Last year, I finally began to make some changes that helped me cut back on spending and alleviate some of my burdensome gift-giving expectations. I started at school. We all donate money at the beginning of the year toward class gifts for the teachers’ birthdays, Christmas, and Teacher Appreciation Week. Still, I felt compelled to buy or create a unique and special gift for not just one but all of my children’s teachers. One year, I spent hours making matching sets of coasters and clipboards, appropriately decorated for each teacher. They were a hit, and I was bolstered by the praise and thanks I received. But then, it dawned on me: Was that why I went to all the effort in the first place, to gain acceptance and affirmation for myself? That was hardly in line with the true spirit of giving.
So, I scaled back — way back — and determined that my anonymous contribution to the class gift was sufficient, for me and for them. How many of us know a teacher who has been inundated with thoughtful gifts from their students, every birthday and holiday, for years on end? Handmade ornaments, candles, coffee mugs, mason jars filled with scrubs and mixes. My gift from now on was to be the gift of one-less-thing. This lined up perfectly with my personal philosophy and hopefully gave a bit of space to the teachers, as well.
The next area of gift-giving I let go of was harder because it dealt with those closer to me: my friends. Gift giving is a love language I enjoy bestowing on those I care about, but finding the perfect expression of my love for and knowledge of my friends was becoming a burden at Christmastime, when I already had five children, neighbors, and other individuals to shop or create for.
Instead of focusing my gift-giving energy on my friends at Christmastime, which also produced the unspoken burden of reciprocation at the most inconvenient time, I decided to redirect it to the celebration of their birthdays. In this way, I had the whole year to happen upon just the right thing for each of my friends, and because their birthdays are all spread out over the year, I didn’t have to worry about feeling overwhelmed, eliminating the stress of mass gift-giving. With a few exceptions, I’ve made these birthday gifts into one-on-one outings for breakfast or lunch, giving the gift of time and conversation during this busy season of our lives as moms.
Finally, this year, I have identified another area where I can move obligatory gift-giving off my plate for the holidays: baking for my neighbors. We have five families on our street, and I have always baked assorted goods for them at Christmastime, but some years, finding time to bake ended up as a night-before-Christmas-Eve baking frenzy, which really served no purpose. After all, Christmas is just one big feasting celebration; no one wants to receive another plate of cookies, muffins and bread to add to their waistline.
One year, I hosted an open house for my neighbors the week before Christmas. I spent two days baking like crazy and carefully plating all of my creations, only to have one family show up for the evening. The five of us sat for an hour, sipping coffee and eating cookies in our living room. The next day, I packaged up the rest of the goodies and delivered them to each neighbor’s doorstep, feeling disappointed that we hadn’t made the connection I had so hoped for.
This year, I have decided to celebrate my neighbors in November, the month of gratitude, with new harvest treats and notes of thanks for their help and friendship throughout the year.
By eliminating the stress and overwhelm of gift-giving at Christmas, I can concentrate more fully on the wonder of God’s greatest gift to us, not wrapped in gold or silver but in a common swaddling cloth — our Redeemer Jesus, who would grow up to save the world from sin by giving His life for us on the cross. No other gift can compare.
God’s greatest gift to us was not wrapped in gold or silver but in a common swaddling cloth — our Redeemer Jesus. -@WhispersofWorth: Click To Tweet