The winter holidays are an interesting time in the United States. We appear to be so obsessed with Christmas that shops begin to decorate for it and sell random holiday related gewgaws as early as October. November barely gets a start before holiday music permeates the radio waves. By December it’s a veritable Christmas frenzy.
While I have no issue with an individual’s excitement, the ubiquity of this Christmas-mania is a bit much for me. For one, I realize that most of this is done by corporations to capitalize on your holiday spirit/gift giving, encourage excess, and thus gain financially as many empty their wallets and increase their debt for the occasion. Secondly, I feel like nothing can live up to that kind of hype. I mean, two to three months of pumping up an event that is quickly over can only lead to feelings of disappointment or disillusionment.
I have always been a fan of holidays that resulted in big family dinners. Gathering together with your loved ones, eating a hearty meal, and enjoying your time together is a lovely tradition. Of course, as a child, I was pretty into all the gifts. I liked receiving them, but I also enjoyed giving them. Wrapping presents was SO FUN (and still is); my grandmother even let me wrap all her gifts for the family too! Though as an adult my thoughts on the gift exchange have altered from my childhood views.
Ah, holiday gifts. They can be both pleasant and stress-inducing. I certainly don’t have the funds to purchase adequate presents for all the people I love and appreciate. And receiving gifts can be an odd affair. Some people feel like they MUST buy you something or you’ll be offended, so you end up with some really interesting things that you don’t actually want or need. It’s the thought that counts, right? Well, sort of, because if you didn’t get that person something, then feelings of guilt for not reciprocating the gift or a mad dash to buy them something set in. It’s a slippery slope.
Personally, I don’t want or need much. The things I really need are in the vein of home repair, so rather costly endeavors which I wouldn’t expect to be addressed in a gift giving situation. I do not need clothes. While I don’t buy a lot of new stuff, I tend to keep what I do have and that adds up over time. I don’t need trinkets or gadgets. In fact, I am trying to have LESS stuff overall.
I used to bake goodies for friends and family. While the treats were appreciated, a lot of time they went uneaten because of the general inundation of holiday foods. Of course, that made me feel disappointed because not only had I put lots of time and effort into foods that went to waste, but it was like not giving them anything at all. Blarg. Completely the opposite of the point. Now I only bake for my parents, my two coworkers, and my own household.
I have talked to several other friends who are experiencing similar holiday stress. I think the key here is mindfulness. Whatever holidays you celebrate, you can do so mindfully. I realize that all human beings have different personalities and different expectations of the holiday season. However, I think with mindful actions, you can reduce your holiday stress and increase your holiday enjoyment.
Remember to take some time to breathe and practice self care. The holidays can be a wonderful time to reconnect with loved ones. Instead of worrying about tangible gifts, let your presence be the present. Many of us are so distracted we are not fully engaged in the present moment. One of the best things you can give someone is your undivided attention. Compassionate listening is sometimes exactly what someone needs. When we listen with compassion, we are not only waiting for our turn to speak, but we are truly listening with our ears and our heart. What a beautiful gift that is! When someone attends to us in that way, we feel uplifted, validated, and cared for.
Try to avoid giving a gift just to give it. Instead, give a person something that they want or need but won’t indulge in. For example, I love organic, sun-dried tomatoes, but they are generally hard for me to find and are usually a little pricey. If someone gifted me some, I’d be delighted. It’s a gift I want and can use, but don’t generally treat myself to. Maybe you know someone who could benefit from a massage or loves to be creative, but doesn’t have a lot of art supplies. Possibly you have a friend or loved one who could use some adult time, so you offer your babysitting services. You can definitely find gifts that fit a person’s passion or assists them with self care.
You can even combine the two ideas. Treat a friend to a meal. Or maybe a trip to a museum or a walk in a park. Have a game night. Just be present. Stash your phone for the duration and enjoy the present moment, it is a wonderful moment.
Happy holidays, friends! You are loved.