Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Simple Winter Holidays

(My apologies to anyone reading this in the Southern Hemisphere, where Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, and the new year may all take place during summer.)

I grew up with big C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S. Presents piled to the ceiling, huge family gatherings, feasts in the American tradition. Even the years that were lean had big Christmases; the Salvation stepped in to help us one year, and credit card companies filled in for Santa many a year.

Papa really didn't know what to make of my big Christmas. His had always been more simple; the gifts were few and most likely something they as children needed. There were toys too, but rarely anything that would elicit a Wow! Raised in the Catholic Church, Christmas involved mass, and having a Mexican-American mother meant that the included many traditional Latino activities in their holiday plans. We make almond crescent cookies, they made tamales.

Twenty years ago, when we had our first married Christmas, I did my best to make it big, on a budget. We didn't have a major credit card back then, but I'm sure JC Penney helped us out. We had the traditional big breakfast with my family, and spent the rest of the day driving to Tucson to meet up with Papa's family. His grandmother was getting remarried the next day.

I could go on and describe other Christmases over the years. Let's just say we started to get extravagant as our income rose, helped along by credit and the increasing popular 0% interest for ___ months.

We probably started the slow down a decade ago. I started a savings account for Christmas each year, which helped stop the debt spiral. We found that we already had a lot of stuff and we actually wanted less. As our children were showered with gifts we began to see the wisdom in small gifts, needed gifts.

Each year we put out fewer decorations, and as we put away the decorations each year we sent some to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. The number of Christmas bins was cut by at least half.

About ten years ago we began acknowledging the winter solstice in a more formal way. At first it was something I did alone, sitting in darkness and waiting for the precise moment when the position of the earth would change and bring the light (for me, this year, it happens on 12/21 at 10:08 p.m. local time). Papa and I might get out for a walk or hike on the day of the solstice. Once the boys were a little older we began giving them solstice gifts, most often little handmade items (usually made by a talented friend). A couple of years ago we started the tradition of rolling beeswax candles a few days before, or even the morning of, the solstice.

This year the winter holidays are nearly here, and I am happy with their simplicity. We were able to buy gifts for the children that weren't manufactured in China. Our general plan is to give items that will last (both developmentally and in terms of durability) or items that are meant to be consumed (crayons and paper). Our adult gift recipients will once again receive handcrafted gifts. Adults who made a specific need known will see that need met if it is within our budget.

Within our own family we cut back our spending, and we set specific limits for Papa and I to follow. It has been freeing to acknowledge that we don't need anything. We may want many things, but our needs are taken care of.

There will still be big C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S at my dad's house. He is trying to balance his desire to get the kids everything they want with their parents' desires to not get so much. He asked for input ~ from kids and parents. Yet, for himself, he could think of very little that he needs. I think he is beginning to see the consumption from the other side.

I feel so calm and relaxed. The gifts I'm making aren't finished, and nothing has been wrapped, and I feel fine. I don't feel like I have to keep up with or compete with anyone. No longer are there subtle competitions: who got the decorations or lights up first, how many different types of cookies have been baked, are the cards sent yet, are the presents all wrapped. I stepped away from it ~ out of the mainstream.

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