We’re doing Christmas a little differently this year. We’ll be traveling over the holidays, so that gave us plenty of excuse not to decorate a tree. We’re happy to let that go rather than put one up, and then come back in the New Year only to have to take it down. We’re doing Christmas, simplified.
Simplifying Christmas means doing less. But what we’ve found is that you can do the things that make the cut very well, intensifying the experience. It seems more meaningful to be doing less in this way.
This afternoon, during the blizzard, I mixed up my traditional cream cheese sugar cookie dough (you can find the recipe here). My daughter, Robin, and I are planning an all-too-rare day together to decorate and pack them.
I decided to play around with my recipe and wound up making a batch flavored with spices and molasses (add 1/4 tsp each of allspice, ground ginger, allspice and nutmeg; 1 tsp of cinnamon; 1/4 cup of mild molasses to the recipe, and adjust flour amounts as necessary for consistency) and a couple of batches flavored with cocoa – about 1/4 cup- to make chocolate cookies. I wouldn’t have had the time to experiment in other years because of too many other items on my list.
Pete and I are making our Christmas cards again this year. With less to do overall, this has been a joy instead of a stressful task. We use one of his photographs and match it up with a phrase from a Christmas carol. This year we’re . . . well, it’s a surprise. I’ll have him take a photo of the card, maybe, after they’re finished and mailed.
Christmas gifts in more frugal times with grown-up children in the family are simpler, too. Just the thought of having to go to Toys ‘R Us is enough to elevate my blood pressure. We’re happy to have the reprieve for a few years before the grandkids come. We’d rather spend time with the kids than receive gifts ourselves.
Our friend Becky Blanton wrote a wonderful post about gifts at Christmas called Gifting and Regifting and the Magic of GIVING. Her point is it’s not supposed to be about GIFTS, it’s supposed to be about GIVING. Her muse and mine must hang out together from time to time, but Becky generally listens to hers better than I do:
Becky has distilled the many not-so-great associations with Christmas gifts we’ve all experienced into the reality of giving. Christmas simplified.
These days, there’s plenty to read in the blogosphere and traditional media about simplification. The”new frugality” permeates lifestyle features in every form of media. Our recessionary decade has ushered in the antithesis of the acquisition mode, and its excesses, that we were in throughout the 80’s and 90’s.
Coming from a family that didn’t have much when we were growing up, this is all very familiar. My mother could squeeze a nickel until it cried for mercy. When I moved to California in the 80’s it was like living on another planet, where everyone was racing to acquire. Minnesota’s culture was a little more subtle, but acquiring bigger and better was a big preoccupation with many. What I saw around me, and aspects of my own life, embarrassed me.
The pendulum has swung back and now simplification, uncluttering, and thrift are back again. Retailers like Organized Living or Totally Organized promote the idea of having everything in its place. Other sites, like Unclutterer.com, promote the idea of living with less altogether, accompanied by mindful decision-making on what we do have and keep.
Although, there are certainly elements within this trend that run the gamut. An article I read on Becoming Minimalist articulates the good balance that comes when frugality and minimalism work in tandem, citing the freedom to just be that comes with less.
Another article I read somewhere else talked about purchasing gifts at thrift stores – the ultimate in noble frugality. It cited a real score: a set of unopened drafting pencils – around $70 new – acquired for $5. Sounded great until I read on where the author wasn’t sure if they’d ever been used by the recipient. Doesn’t that kind of defeat the whole purpose of giving, thrift and frugality, I wondered?
A few months ago I read an article about “stealth wealth,” where folks buying expensive things felt compelled to downplay or hide them, for fear of critical opinions. How things have changed! Interventions are held for shopping addicts, and “retail therapy” now has a sinister undertone.
Perhaps what we have with all this is a kind of haute frugalité, with an overblown benchmark that will translate down into a more practical application in daily life, just as couture is reinterpreted into something people can actually wear. We won’t be reducing the number of things we own to 100 or less, but we can appreciate how much easier life is going to be without the things we don’t use.
Pete and I try and be mindful about what we give, hoping it’s something that will be enjoyably used. We like to make gifts for people or give experiences if we can. Sometimes we fall short of the mark, and other times we’re right on the money. I beamed when son Ben was excited about the books he received. It meant that I was getting to know him well enough to anticipate what would interest him. I got a little verklempt when we heard from another child that “I have everything I’ve ever wanted.” Christmas is about giving in the way Becky describes it when these kinds of events occur.
Christmas is also the season to be inspired by others who give so much of themselves to others who have so little. I recently was introduced to this man’s cause and wanted to give you the opportunity to see a true saint, alive and doing the work of God:
I’m writing this and the blizzard is tapering off. It’s getting dark and we’re home, where we should be on a night like this. There’s stew with beef from our steer simmering in the crock pot, and tonight is our annual date to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”together. We’ll set up the TV trays and bask in the warmth of the wood stove, and my husband will cry when Jimmy Stewart comes home to his family. Just like he does every year.
- Getting Through Christmas Frugally (myinvestingblog.com)
- How to Have A Meaningful, Yet Frugal Holiday: Mint’s Personal Finance Roundup (mint.com)
- Green Christmas Ideas – Simple, Frugal and Ethical Holiday Gifts (lillslist.com)
- How Do you Avoid Mega Consumerism At Christmas? (ahighandnoblecalling.com)