Taking care of yourself during the holiday season entails more than just mentally preparing for the holidays. In order to avoid the lure of buying more, spending what we don’t have, and buying the love of those we care for, we need a gift-giving strategy in place so that we can resist the lure of consumerism and put the JOY back into Christmas.
The Holiday Season comes fraught with expectations (usually unrealistic), social functions (usually too many), and extended family (often stressful). The gift you need to give yourself this holiday season is self-care. Come back each Sunday this month for examples of self-care activities that will bring you peace in the season of chaos.
Christmas Gift Giving around the World
While decluttering my office, I came across a report I wrote in Spanish for a culture class the year I spent in Spain. I remember the shock of finding out that kids in Spain didn’t get gifts on Christmas morning. As an eighteen-year-old, I naively thought every child all over the world received gifts at Christmas.
But no, in Spain, children set their shoes out on the front porch on the night of January 5 with hay for the Wise Men’s camels. The next morning, they rush outside to find the hay gone and presents in their place.
Presents in shoes? No thank you! Only tiny gifts fit in shoes. Americans had trees, big trees, that sheltered bigger and better gifts each year.
In my ethnocentric naiveté, I chuckled a bit at the poor Spanish children who missed out. They never experienced the glories of mountains of brightly-wrapped Christmas presents stacked under a tree.
Those poor children never spent hours shaking gifts to suss out the contents. They never searched their parent’s closet looking for hidden stashes of gifts. The poor things missed out on the best parts of Christmas.
Or did they?
The Worst Best Christmas Ever
The winter we lived at the end of a holler in West Virginia stands out in my mind as the worst best Christmas ever. We lived in an idyllic turn-of-the-century two-story house on 40 acres. Enough land that my parents finally caved to my begging for a pony.
Peanut had an ornery streak, though. One day she jumped up on the veranda and trotted through the kitchen in an attempt to rid herself of my little brother. Nevertheless, I loved her and defended her actions to all who complained.
While scouring swap meets for bargains, my parents discovered an old harness. I convinced them to buy it, for I had a hazy dream that Peanut could pull a wagon, or perhaps even a plow.
As winter drew near, we shivered at night in the cold rooms. In the evenings, our dad read chapters from the Little House on the Prairie books. A new dream formed in my head.
I wanted a sleigh for my pony to pull. I wanted to whip across the snow-covered fields like Laura Ingalls Wilder, wind tugging at the edges of my hand-knit scarf as sleigh-bells rang out merrily on the crisp morning air.
At eight, I didn’t know the difference between romantic fantasy and reality. Peanut had never worn a harness. We lived in West Virginia where snow accumulations rarely covered the tops of my boots. Although my parents loved swap meets and garage sales, the chances of them finding and purchasing a sleigh on their limited means hovered below zero.
For months before Christmas, my parents kept the four of us out of the barn. On long winter evenings, they would disappear inside after we went to bed, and we could see the mysterious glow of lights through the weathered wood slats.
Visions of Sleigh Rides
My older sister and I imagined all the things our parents might be doing. “They’ve found a sleigh and are refinishing it for me,” I insisted.
“Maybe,” she replied with doubt in her voice. “Maybe Mom is sewing something for us out there.”
“Naw,” I insisted, “she has a sewing room inside. Why take her machine out to the barn?”
As Christmas Day approached, my dad, a rebel without a pause, announced, “Christmas represents a pagan holiday, and Christians have no business celebrating it with a tree.”
My siblings and I rebelled against the rebel. We couldn’t understand his sudden decision to forego a tree. Obviously, our parents still meant to give us gifts.
We traipsed around the property breaking off bottom branches of evergreens. Our mom looked a little surprised when we carried our pile to the house and made an awkward corner concoction that resembled a tree.
We dug through the attic and found the lights and ornaments to dress our tree—regardless of our dad’s dictates.
Our forbidden Christmas activity fueled my fever for a one-horse-open sleigh. I imagined the card with my name on it lying under the ‘tree’ on Christmas morning.
In my mind, I ran to the barn and ripped a blanket off a beautifully restored sleigh. Next, I would hurriedly hitch Peanut up and dash off across the snow-covered fields.
On Christmas morning eight feet thundered down the stairs and eager hands flung open the parlor door. Our parents had come through and left gifts under the tree. Vickie had an amazing black tricycle with white polka dots. Kevin had a toolbox with tools inside. Donne and I? We had cards with directions to head out to the barn.
When we arrived, my parents pulled off the blankets and revealed…furniture.
Not the Gift I Expected, but the One I Needed
Yes. Two bedframes, dressers, cozy chairs, and desks. My sister’s set looked antique and paired beautifully with the delicate yellow floral pattern that covered the chair seat, quilt, and pile of folded curtains.
My set, a beautiful white, had my favorite Sears and Roebuck catalog fabric covering the chair. The pastel patchwork pattern looked crisp and clean, but not too girly. A warm quilt matching the curtains and chair completed the set.
My face fell. I struggled to come up with an appropriate response. Hot tears of disappointment warred with the knowledge that my parents had spent hours refurbishing used furniture for us. They had looked through the earmarked catalog pages and figured out which dream belonged to which daughter.
The bed frames would replace the paint cans under the corners of our mattresses. Desks and chairs and pretty fabric would turn our rooms into beautiful bowers—just like the ones we drooled over in the Sears and Roebuck catalogue.
My unrealistic expectations crashed around me. I remember mouthing an incoherent thank you for their gift. And pouting the rest of the day. No beautiful sleigh. No sleigh ride behind my frisky pony.
Instead, a sacrifice for something I didn’t want. But something I needed. By the end of the day (or perhaps it took a whole week), I had fallen in love with my furniture as reality set in. Peanut would have made a lousy (and dangerous) carriage pony.
I grew to appreciate the sacrifice of time, money, and talent that went into the loving gift my parents gave me. Christmas, after all, IS about sacrifice and love. I had learned the folly of consumerism—even if a book fueled my desire, it still qualified as consumerism.
A Quick Peek at Consumerism
In order to understand what happens in our heads during the holiday season (and, apparently, the months leading up to it), we need to understand the term ‘consumerism.’ Just like everything else about Christmas, the word has two dueling definitions. One, ‘a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods’ describes the Black Friday mobs and the thousands of hours of toy commercials advertisers bombard us with.
The other term, which appeared at roughly the same time (the early 1970s), has more to do with protecting consumer interests through regulations for consumer safety and manufacturing standards. This kind of consumerism keeps lead paint off our children’s toys and insists that manufacturers label toys with small parts.
Consumerism represents and worst and the best of all that can happen. In order to not lose our way with romantic fantasies and unrealistic expectations, we need to focus on the proper place of gifts during Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong. Gift-giving scores at the top of my Love Languages list. I love giving extravagant gifts and a well-thought-out gift given to me creates all kinds of warm fuzzies.
Putting the JOY Back into Christmas
The JOY acronym helps me remember what to focus on during the holidays.
Jesus. To keep our focus on Jesus during the holidays, perhaps we need to remember the Three Wise Men. They came bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh—gifts fit for a king. Gold to provide wealth, frankincense to symbolize worship, and myrrh for anointing.
They didn’t show up with the latest, greatest inventions, the biggest talking doll, or battery-powered camel. Tried and true gifts that fulfilled real needs, both present and future.
I invite you to stop the insanity of Christmas consumerism (the bad kind, not the good kind). A healthy self-care routine involves planning ahead, setting expectations, and making decisions as a family about what Christmas means to each of you.
Others. Learning about our family members and teaching everyone in our family to focus on others helps protect us against consumerism.
Check out the free love-languages tests over at Gary Chapman’s website. You’ll find tests for married people, singles, teenagers, and children. What you learn may surprise you. The results will certainly help you navigate a less-stressful holiday season.Don’t let gift giving turn into a dance of unrealistic expectations and mindless buying. #holidays #gifts #lovelanguages #consumerism Click To Tweet
Yourself. Don’t forget yourself over the holidays. Keep up your healthy self-care routines. You’ll discover that as you say, ‘No!’ to consumerism, you’ll have more time for reflection and self-care. This will equip you to handle all the stress that comes with busy seasons in your life.
Next Sunday, come back for the Holiday Guide to Spending and Stressing Less.