I don’t celebrate the holidays. Or, rather, I didn’t celebrate for many years. During the last two weeks of December, I rest and do nourishing things I enjoy, like reading all day wearing my pjs. The shallow, surfacey, hyper-desire-full, sugar-buzziness permeating this season has never felt joyful. It has felt stressful and expectation laden. As a kid, it was also dangerously drunken. I wondered why people approached December with any thought other than “how will I hide my disappointment this year?”
Deciding to make the holidays a renewal time has been, well, renewing. Everyone else is occupied, so I enjoy a vacation without worrying about what’s happening in my work life. Nothing is happening in my work life. When my now-husband and I became a couple, we relished that time together free from other people’s expectations.
Four years ago, six days before Thanksgiving, we bought our home. We left a closet-sized apartment in Brooklyn and moved to 3000 sq ft on four acres in the Hudson Valley. We had lots of space and four pieces of furniture. All we cared about was making dinner in our adult-sized kitchen. We cooked our first Frank, a turkey raised by a local farmer. When my son arrived, he joined the First Annual Drive to Get Frank From the Farm. We selected our first holiday tree and bought some lights for it to brighten up the empty space.
The next year, there was Frank v2, a tree with more ornaments and less empty space. At Christmas, we exchanged presents. Why the change of heart? Honestly, I can’t remember but that Christmas Day cured me of every “will I be disappointed?” fear I’d carried. It was joyful. And enough. We agreed that we didn’t need to repeat the expense every year. Like coming home from a great vacation but not intending to return.
Good thing, because the next year, we were both laid off and started a new business. Scarey! The holiday was still wonderful. At Thanksgiving, there was Frank v3. Over the holiday break, we cooked a panoply of meals we loved, like wandering back through time and collecting the dishes that made you happy. Kitchen time was as satisfying as unwrapping presents had been the year before.
We also started Jolly Book Flood. Inspired by the Icelandic “Jolabokaflod”, we visited a local bookstore, bought ourselves a small stack of books and spent much of the holiday reading in front of the fireplace. Jolly Book Flood is the best tradition I’ve ever experienced; I wish I’d thought of it years ago.
This Thanksgiving, amidst the Picking Up Frank v4 at the New Farm Because the Previous Frank Farm Isn’t Raising Turkeys Anymore (bonus: they also had fresh veggies and butter), I announced that I wanted a “proper” Christmas. With presents and stockings. What, on earth, got into me? I’m not sure but I think it was Hope. Hope, like celebrating a bountiful harvest also instills faith that there will be more. My business stabilized with opportunities on the horizon, though I still feel constantly insecure. We’ve had enjoyable client work and my husband starts a longer-term position in January. We were celebrating the end of a hard year that was mostly hard because we were afraid it was going to be hard. The year was actually fine. We wanted to create something that reinforced that sense of “its okay” together. Something that reinforced our growing sense of we have and are doing “enough”.
Which is … kinda maybe … ironic? Wouldn’t celebrating “enough” have been not buying anything at all?
Perhaps, but I’m a big fan of irony. I didn’t experience grasping or fear or lack or heavy expectation during the entire process. We invented the process. Perhaps, next year when I need cash that could have been in our savings account, I will change my mind. Perhaps. Or perhaps, by celebrating, we have energized ourselves for another year of solving the challenges that will arise. We’ll see.
Right now, here we are, having enjoyed expressing ourselves together. We had four criteria:
- Buy locally: The experience included lovely afternoons browsing in nearby towns like New Paltz and Rhinebeck. We visited local retailers that sustain us, like our Balsamic vinegar shop and favorite shoe store and groceries at Adams. When we didn’t buy locally, we supported only companies we want to support. (Which, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear, did not include Amazon.)
- Establish a stocking tradition: Stockings are complicated, it turns out. My husband is British, raised in Spain, so he had strange ideas like wrapping the in-stocking gifts. We talked things through, which was fun. What food: oranges, nuts? The funnest part (yes, its a real word, a regular superlative of the adjective fun) was stockings for our pets. I suspect stockings will stay even if presents don’t.
- Buy presents for ourselves: The surprising show stopper was buying presents for ourselves and wrapping them. I loved seeing what he choose for himself, as much as I enjoyed what he choose for me. If I could wave a magic wand, I would transform the holidays into this self-and-other-satisfying experience. I gave myself meaningful things that encourage self care as well as enjoyed surprises. I rarely enjoy surprises, for those like me, it mitigates that risky social experience.
- Jolly Book Flood 4Evah: We expanded the tradition, visiting Oblong, Merrit and The Strand. We also replaced our Kindle with a Kobo. More on that in another post.
What have I learned about ‘enough’ at Christmas? Nothing concrete. I have no 5 step plan for minimalism or One Rule to Rule All Rules. Each year, ‘enough’ … depends. On many things.
The only constant truth, underlying every year when I was free from the empty drama of “enough” at the holidays, is this: your time, energy and attention is the most valuable part. Honor the crafting of a loving, nourishing experience, whatever that might be, alone or with others you choose. (Especially if you celebrate as a spiritual experience or don’t celebrate because it isn’t your spiritual experience.) Eschew cultural marketing. There is nothing to chase at the holidays. Let joy find you.