Thursday, December 20, 2007

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify


A Simple Christmas
Sojourners Magazine
December 2007
by Amy Ard

This article by Amy Ard is really short but pithy and thought-provoking. We have all heard the Christmas rants about commercialization and stress and "unplugging the Christmas machine." Sometimes I make those rants myself. Ard's article is refreshing in that it is not so much a rant as a gentle letting us off the hook, reminding us that we do not HAVE to do as much as we do.

Amy Ard and her husband started a unique journey last January - they had resolved to buy nothing new for a year except for perishables. Intangibles like tickets to the theater were also OK. As Ard writes "We've found the best thrift stores, traded items with friends, and managed to give birth to our first child without ever stepping foot in a Babies R Us." (Wow.) Ard writes how stressful Christmas shopping has always been for her, because she procrastinates and does it all on Christmas Eve (yerk, that would stress me out too). With their policy for this year, though, they had to do something different.

The Ards spent a lot of time and advance planning this year thinking about their family members' unique personalities and interests and finding gifts that would fit within their "no new objects" parameters but that those who received them would really like. They are giving antique photographs to a photography buff, theater tickets and yoga classes and farmer's market gift certificates to others who have those particular interests.

What I liked about Ard's article is that she doesn't go off about how we should not give gifts at all. OK, OK, I know we all spend too much money on Christmas and get too wound up about it, but I also like finding things that I really know someone will get a kick out of. In my family we do a lot of exchanging of books and music, because we all like those. Christmas shopping does not stress me out a whole lot, because I tend to start early and spread it out. When I find something that I know someone is going to love, I look forward to giving it to them for weeks or sometimes even months. Call me a materialistic fool, but I get a lot of joy and pleasure out of that part of the holiday.

BUT - we probably all have parts of the holiday that DO stress us out, whether it is the shopping or not. Ard 's article prompted me to think about what those things are for me, and how to minimize them or eliminate them altogether. I gave up sending Christmas cards when I was in seminary - I just never got them done, and have long since given up trying. One thing that does get to me is wrapping gifts - I am not good at it, tend to put it off, and then wind up grumpy about it. Perhaps next year I will wrap as I purchase so that it only takes a few minutes each time instead of one or two wrapping marathons. (It's too late for this year, but we can always make good resolutions for next).

With having two small boys in the house, I have given up this year on having the decorations look "perfect." As we decorated our tree, I told E. 2007 would come to be known as "the year of breakage," since our two well-meaning urchins kept hanging ornaments about 1/16 of an inch from the end of the branch, and then wondering why they went crashing to the floor. One window sill wise man got decapitated as G. was having a conversation with it. However, I have found that we have enjoyed the decorations just as much without everything being perfectly in place all the time. The wise man was made right again with just a little Elmer's.

I can be slow to grasp new concepts, but am gradually learning that we can choose what traditions are unbreakable and which ones can be scaled back or cut out altogether. I also think, though, that at times we make our own "tradition" of wigging out about all we have to do. I'm trying to remember that I am choosing to do these various extra activities and that I can also choose to enjoy them or not. If we don't or can't enjoy some part of it, maybe that is a clue that that part should go.

Anyone have thoughts on this? Tips on how you de-stress the Advent/Christmas season?

Merry, Merry Christmas to all!

Reverent Reader

3 Comments:

At 12/20/07, 2:27 PM , Blogger LeAnn said...

You know, the best Advent I have had in a LONG time was a few years back when I realized it was all the busy commitments I had, all the places to be and competing priorities. I felt foolish standing up on Sunday mornings talking about Advent as a time of waiting and preparation when every other hour of my Advent days was filled with frantic business.

So, I started in May one year talking with all the committees in the church and the Session, informing them that I was giving up meetings for Christmas (except of course Session... I didn't have control of that schedule, and didn't feel like I could ditch that one:>) But that I wanted us to plan our work so that they would not need me for those 4 weeks, and encouraged them to plan it so that they also didn't need to meet.

But the catch was, that was not intended to be more time to shop and bake, but rather to fill that time with some sort of activity (or non-activity) that nurtured the waiting aspect of the season. For my part, I spent 2 hours in the evening each week in the sanctuary with candles and soft music playing, in prayer for the people and work of the church, and invited anyone who wanted to join me in silence for any of that time.

Only a hand full of people joined me, but those who did reported such amazing things that evolved from that time of silence, and many others enthusiastically shared their added practices that they used with the gift of their "liberated" meeting time.

And it is important to note that all the work got done, and no one missed those meetings!

Guess one common thread here is that in the fast paced lives we live, we must prepare ourselves in order to prepare ourselves!

 
At 12/24/07, 11:08 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My lightest Christmas was the year I had my third child on Nov. 22nd. I could relax (well, sort of) while my nursery-school-parent friends were looking exhausted and yelling at their kids. It was a lesson in the effect of overdoing that I hope I never forgot.
I've also had a year off from "typical" Christmas activity now and then, which makes the return the following year a miracle of newness.
It helps to start from scratch occasionally, tho that doesn't necessarily mean throwing out all tradition.
Merry Christmas, Leslie!
Betsy

 
At 12/26/07, 8:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes to de-stress I just wonder; that is, try to just let the mind/spirit go, let it become very curious about some special thing. Music can be a guide to some of the ancient mysteries that God willing still surround and confound us, like magi old and new !

 

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