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 Leave a Comment
Amen sister!! I’m on the way to the calm of Christ Jesus that very road you speak of! A pastor called it manger danger… where is your focus he said? I love your ideas to love on people all year and blessings to you this very Christmas Day \0/
Aimee Mae Wiley says
Thank you, Sadie. Blessings to you, too!
Beth Williams says
This world makes it so easy to fall into the gift giving trap. It’s almost as though that is all Christmas is about. There is nothing wrong with gift giving in & of itself. We shouldn’t make ourselves crazy or spend to much just to get everyone gifts. There needs to be a reason behind the gift giving. We love the other person & don’t want a thing in return. We have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas & why we celebrate it at all! I feel like Charlie Brown “Doesn’t anyone know the real meaning of Christmas?” This world doesn’t want to hear it about a savior who claims to be the way! They want to say happy holidays so as not to offend anyone. Listen to the song “It’s Called Christmas” by Go Fish. Another song I love is “Leaving Heaven” by Matthew West. Their lyrics say what Christmas is all about. A savior who left the splendor of Heaven to come down to broken Earth & save us from our sinful selves. It was the greatest gift ever given-yet not wrapped in fancy gold or silver just swaddling clothes & put in a smelly trough.
Aimee Mae Wiley says
Thanks for the song recommendations; I am going to check them out. Yes, the real gift of Christmas is not all fancy and wrapped in a bow; He came with nothing and gave us everything we need for eternal life. Blessings to you, too, this Christmas.
I love your ideas. Less let’s us have time to slow down and appreciate the real gift to us. As a teacher, you are absolutely correct. It’s such a kind gesture, but sooo much stuff. Merry (calm) Christmas!
Debra A Mantini says
What a beautiful thought. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.
Aimee Mae Wiley says
Thank you, Debra. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to do so here at (in)courage.
Becky Keife says
Aimee Mae, I love how you identified the areas that were causing unneeded stress and a pull toward a skewed focus and made an actionable plan to address those things while still leaning into the joy of giving and celebrating. So good! I think those areas that need adjustment will be different for everyone. But ultimately we each get to ask, God, how can I focus on your love best this Christmas and share it with others all year long?
Aimee Mae Wiley says
Absolutely! I agree, God doesn’t ask the same thing of each of us. We need to listen carefully to the Spirit’s leading as we encounter others and share His love (and ours) with them at Christmas and throughout the year.
Melissa Ens says
Thanks, Aimee Mae. I love how you took the ways you expressed your love for people and moved them to other times of the year. Our December traditions (or intentions) can start as lovely and simple, but if we keep adding to them as years go by and never prune anything back, it grows into an unsightly mess! Even if it’s just the list in my mind of what I WISH I were doing and not what I actually accomplish, pruning and replanting in other seasons is so healthy. Thanks for sharing your ideas.
Aimee Mae Wiley says
I love your gardening analogy! I have certainly had years that looked completely overgrown and chaotic. I take notes every year after Christmas to remind myself of where I felt overextended and what felt just right, along with ideas for how to proceed more simply and intentionally the next year.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Thanks for this post. I just started working full-time last month for the first time in 19 years so I have been stressing out about how to get all my baking done this year for gifts for friends, neighbors, and coworkers. I settled for making candy thinking it would be less time-consuming, but some of it didn’t turn out so well. I was considering another trip to the store tonight for more ingredients, then getting up early to make more goodies. But after reading your post, I’ve decided to just give what I have. I’m sure everyone already has an abundance of sweet treats right now anyway. Next year I will make a plan to fully enjoy Christmas and not make the holiday season so stressful!