I love driving down city and suburban streets to see buildings, street lamps and homes adorned and lit up in honour of Christmas. I get caught up in the excitement of holiday cheer, with joyous music and candy cane decorations in store front windows. I look forward to celebrating the holidays around friends’ Christmas trees and sharing in their festivities.
However, I often hear my friends complain about the less cheerful side of Christmas. The side that is not all fun filled and festive. When I hear about the tedium, the obligation, the sense of responsibility and guilt at not upholding tradition, I am grateful that I don’t share in this obligation. When I hear about the financial responsibility and overwhelming stress associated with making sure that everyone gets what’s on their on their wish lists, or that family get togethers are meticulously planned so as not to offend anyone, I am glad not to have this on my to do list.
In a recent poll that was conducted in the United States, almost half of all the people questioned said that they would like to skip Christmas altogether. I believe that the same would be true for people worldwide. Their number one reason: financial stress associated with gift giving. In fact, I do know a few people who have made the decision to make Christmas a non event. One such person, living in Australia, says that she loves no longer getting caught up in the frenzy of giving and doing and is “building up to some beautiful, creative quiet time”. Time to take a breather and recuperate from a busy enough year.
I realize that for many, giving up Christmas is not an easy feat – especially if you have kids. Even my daughter, despite being raised in a Jewish home, wants to partake. Every year she asks if we can have a Christmas tree and decorate our home with lights. She’s made a wish list for Channukah and a list of gifts she wants to buy her friends. She’s excited that we will be joining some close friends around their dinner table on Christmas day. She feels deprived, left out at not being able to embrace Christmas to its fullest.
A child’s eyes see only the magic of Christmas. The thrill of opening up gifts that have been beckoning them from under the tree for weeks, of writing a letter to Santa in the North Pole and then awaiting his arrival on a sleigh. Which parent wants to disappoint a child? Heaven forbid he or she find out that it’s really not Santa providing all the wonderful gifts but parents who will be paying dearly as interest on their credit cards soar in the months ahead. And so, most parents grin and bear the heavy burden of spending what that they haven’t put aside. Not just on their kids, but on extended family, friends, teachers, employees. The list is endless.
How about making a change this year? Instead of buying a gift for every niece and nephew, how about putting everyone’s name in a hat and buying a gift for the person whose name you’ve drawn? How about placing a cap on the amount that each person will spend so that no one feels that they have to outdo the other? What about home made gifts such as a batch of cookies in a nice basket with cellophane and a ribbon for some? How about a charitable donation in someone’s name? Even a small amount is appreciated and the amount is not shared with the recipient. How about doing away with wish lists and ultimately disappointment at not getting what one wants or resentment at feeling obligated to fulfill the wishes? Instead of many gifts, how about contributing money towards a family fund for something you can all enjoy together – an experience or a trip?
In addition to the financial burden of over extending oneself by lavish gift giving, many adults find themselves taking on responsibilities they would rather not – either by entertaining in one’s own home or by agreeing to spend time with others. How about a change in this department too? Instead of following tradition for tradition’s sake, think about what would be meaningful to you and your family. Is spending time with relatives exclusively what you all want or would you prefer to spend more time with family friends? Would it be more relaxing to plan a drop in on Christmas day rather than having to extend yourself in the evening and then cleaning up until the early hours of the morning? How about having a pot luck instead of thinking that you’re not good enough unless you put out a smorgasbord of your own homemade goodies? How about agreeing to join certain relatives after dinner for dessert or drinks rather than enduring an entire evening that you’d rather be spending at home with more immediate family?
My suggestion is to think about how you’d like to spend your holidays this year. Then, if you’re co parenting, discuss this with your spouse. Consider what messages your children are being sent by maintaining traditions as you’ve always known them. Do they hear you grumbling about the same old or looking forward to time with others? Then, think about how you can set a different tone and precedents that will assure you uphold what’s important to you. If your children are older and you’re feeling angry, dissatisfied, resentful, overwhelmed or stressed rather than content, grateful and mostly relaxed, then bring your family together for a meeting to discuss what’s on your family’s wish list and how you can create change if needed. You may be surprised at the amazing ideas your children can come up with and you’ll be able to enjoy, rather than dread the holidays for years to come!