As many people know, Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year. This is especially interesting given my disdain for cold weather and winter in general. As I put another year as a therapist under my belt, my view and understanding of this season and time of year continues to change and evolve. Sadly, this time of year represents a great deal of sadness, loneliness, stress, hurt feelings, and a whole host of other emotions for a large amount of our population. This often relates to past traumas, lost relationships, reminders of past or present struggles, the list goes on. As a person who is truly blessed with health and happiness, I find that while the lights, sparkles, and joy of spending time with friends and family will always be high on the list of reasons I love this time of year, I am, indeed, developing a new disappointment in the season.
While I certainly don’t have all the answers to this one, I can share how and why my family has decided to do things differently for the past few years. Some of this comes from the wisdom of my friends and family, and others from observations of the world around us. In any event, I believe something’s gotta give.
Stop. Making. It. About. Stuff. – Seriously. Stop. The glazed-over looks in people’s eyes at the store the other day really made this message hit home for me. While looking at the clearance fancy jam at Marshall’s this weekend, I took pause when a hand reached past me and nearly hit me in the nose to get the pretty $4.00 jar. I looked at a sea of zombies shuffling from aisle to aisle with little to no regard for the other patrons around them…unless of course they were in the way of the jam. Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel that something has gotten lost in the quest for a perfect gift if it is creating such a high degree of stress.
Your kids are greedy – Let’s face it. Unless we teach them otherwise, children learn from what they observe. If the holidays are about stress, getting stuff, and a break from work and school, that is the narrative they will grow up with. Regardless of your religious affiliation or stance, imparting the wisdom and joy of giving to others on your children is hugely important.
It’s Society’s Fault – So don’t buy into it. Think back to all the Christmas/holiday music, movies, and stories you grew up with. Most of them depicted beautiful homes with beautiful trees, lights, and feasts with beautiful families who dressed nicely, didn’t yell or frown at each other, and had selected the most perfect gift possible for everyone on their list. I realize I am stating the obvious here, but it is truly images and messages like these that become ingrained into our core values and expectations of how things “should” be this time of year, not to mention the pressure to make it perfect. What happens when your family looks more like the Griswolds? A degree of dissonance develops with the way things “should” be, and the true reality of family dynamics, and life, in general.
So, wow. I’ve now turned Christmas from a sparkly, magical time of year to a time where society has made us and our kids into a bunch of greedy brats. No. This is not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that we have the ability as parents, siblings, children, or whatever your role is in life to actually make the season magical, but just not in the ways we have been made to think.
As promised earlier, I’ll share how we are raising our son, with the hope that we can change the narrative in his life and his future family’s with regard to what the season is all about. First off, 4 gifts from Santa (yes, the Santa thing is a whole other discussion for another time…). He is able to ask for something he wants, something he needs, something to wear, and something to read. This aims to reduce excess when it comes to gifts under the tree, which will inevitably be forgotten about a week later. As far as our extended family gatherings, we’ve all agreed that it’s fun for the kids to get a small gift, but no need for the grown-ups to stress themselves or their finances, since our family is so big. Instead, we get together for food and to spend time with one another. Quality time spent together is far more valuable to any material good.
Make no mistake, my kid is no exception to the greediness issue I mentioned. As he gets older, however, it does seem that our efforts are not completely fruitless. While watching a TV commercial for some toy, he very astutely pointed out that Christmas is about family, not presents… and then shortly thereafter he asked for some more Beyblades. Anyhow, this year’s efforts included having him use his own money he received as gifts to purchase hats, mittens, and scarves for children in need. This added in an impromptu math lesson, too. For 8 of our 11 years of marriage, my husband and I have decided not to get each other gifts for Christmas. Instead, we pick a local cause and donate money instead. We do this not only to set an example of giving for our son, but as a reminder of how fortunate we indeed are.
Perhaps the Ondrovcik way of doing things won’t work for your family, and that’s OK. The point of all this here is to quite literally think outside the box, and recognize how impactful the season truly can be if our focus is right. Connecting with others, giving of your time and generosity is what it should be about. There is no such thing as a perfect Christmas. Most likely the cheesiest thing I will ever say, but being present for others is the best present you can give.
Happy Holidays and Happy 2019 from our entire team.