Thursday, January 2, 2014

Christmas in the 'Burbs

I've thought about posting to this blog the last couple weeks.  But I thought it would be hypocritical.  As life was already in need of simplifying this time of year, making an extra effort to get time at the computer to write would have made things even less simple.  So please excuse my absence.

As a person of faith, I love Christmas.  It is a time of great joy.  And even if you are not a person of faith, it is a wonderful time to make time for merry-making with those you love.  Or at least it should be.

Ugh.  If there is a time most challenging to someone trying to live a simpler life in the suburbs, it is Christmas.  Everyone is giving everyone else presents we don't need.  But it is custom and expected.  People wouldn't think to do something different.  It is just an expected part of life.  Even our pastor got into it one year, publicly noting to the congregation that Starbuck's gift cards would be particularly appreciated.

To the extent that I feel our family cannot get around gift giving sometimes, I try to have us give baked goods that we make.  My thought is that if someone eats it, it at least won't end up in the landfill.  But making time for baking can be a challenge when so much is going on this time of year.

And at this time of year, everyone's having parties, most of which require a gift of some kind.  This is particularly true for the kids' parties.  Even though our family gives very few gifts amongst us--mostly just small things for the kids--we end up spending more than normal due to the parties.  I don't want to be a wet blanket and deny our kids going to these parties.  So, I just wonder at how much everyone is spending.  And I worry how much debt they are taking on.  I'm sure others in our social circle think we're either stingy and/or impoverished to not be giving so many gifts.  We're definitely weird by comparison.

I'm used to all that.  It is irksome, but I suppose it is tolerable.  But there was an added dimension this year.  This was the first Christmas I was on social media.  Wow, how depressing and sad. 

We had a particularly full house at Christmas this year.  At some point on Christmas day, I stole away a sanity break and looked at Facebook.  Typically I enjoy seeing my friends' cute posts of their children (human, feline or canine) and memes about various spiritual or social justice topics.  But on Christmas I was surprised at what I saw.  It was not even midday when I checked Facebook, but already there was a steady stream of images involving gifts.  Most were pictures of kids and/or kid gifts.  Kids with prized toys.  Kids with a bunch of used wrapping paper.  Kids next to piles of gifts, some wrapped, some not.  Clearly, the gifts were the focus of the day.  Again, as a person of faith, that was a shock.  That is not what Christmas is all about.

Let me say that I was not raised in a religiously observant household.  In fact, the family in which I was raised used to do the same thing.  But what struck me was that most of the posts were from families who were church-goers.  But at the end of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, even the title character could tell you that presents are not the real meaning of Christmas.  We all love that story, but I don't think we really believe its message.

My husband and I have mindfully taken a different approach at our home.  We preemptively arrange to not do a lot of presents.  And the ones we do have, we don't open until later in the day.  We focus on other fun things.  We make yummy meals together and we play games.  To direct our attention to the reason for the day, I begin the day by leading the kids in a Bible Study of the nativity story in the New Testament.  We end the day with a walk around the neighborhood to enjoy the Christmas lights.  And we watch a Christmas movie.  Second year in a row, we watched White Christmas this year. 

Those are the things that are the most fun: spending time together.  I look back at my childhood Christmases.  No matter how we spread it out.  No matter how big the pile of presents under the tree.  Once the unwrapping was over on Christmas morning, there was a let-down feeling.  So that is it?  Even when I got stuff I liked.  It was sad, we spent the rest of the day doing our own thing and not doing anything together.  We just played with our respective toys.  It was so empty.  At this point in my life, I could probably only list on one hand the number of presents I even remember getting.  Stuff like that doesn't make lasting memories.  But I believe that the fun stuff our family does together does make lasting memories.  That is what counts.

But you do feel alone when you realize what your neighbors are all doing.  It is not easy to go against the tide and do something different from those around you.  It is well worth it though.

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