10 Ways to Enjoy the Holiday Season That Have Nothing To Do With Buying Presents
The other day, as the sun was setting at its depressingly early hour, I stepped into a Crate and Barrel for a dose of holiday cheer. Inside, there were decorations for the mod bachelor pad, the enviro-loving pinecone candle burners, and people who just want to buy a lot of gold trinkets, a lot of red ribbon, and a life supply of sweet chocolate-dipped confections packaged in striped tins. After I stumbled out, sort of in a Karen Carpenter-induced daze, I needed a caffeinated jolt. Inside the ‘Bucks there were more carols, Christmas mugs, gingerbread cookies, and a widespread feeling of hurried pandemonium. As happy as I was to get my coffee in the beloved red holiday cups, the whole production felt sort of…empty. I walked back to my office, past the Gap and a display of sweaters that pronounced in hypnotic scroll, “Joy to the Girl!” And I just thought, this is not what it’s about. Whether or not you work in Times Square perhaps you, too, would you like to count some ways in which we can celebrate the season that have nothing to do with gift receipts and sales on prepackaged gingerbread men.
There’s something about candlelight–the way it lends a sense of import, makes you lower your voice just a bit, and makes everyone look about 87% more attractive–that is just inimitably…magic. For one night, why not make like the 19th century and rely on candles rather than electricity, if only just for a dinner a deux.
If you can find an affordable place to go (for all you New Yorkers, there’s free skating in Bryant Park), this is the kind of holiday activity that makes your heart pound in a good way. In super cold climes, I bet you can even step on to a frozen pond, which is pretty much the most romantic thing ever.
Are your thoughts racing? Are you, at this very moment running three different to-do lists in your head? Turn off the television, and your iPod, and the Elvis Christmas record playing the background. Sit down, take a deep breath, and then slowly exhale. Stop doing and just be for a second. Now keep breathing in and out, and focus on the air coming through your nose, causing your chest to rise and your belly to swell. Let it out slowly. Repeat until a sense of equanimity fills you (you will be shocked at just how fast that will happen–1 minute might do the trick).
I am thinking of having a super low-key dinner in our living room with some friends who live nearby, and I will most definitely tell everyone to bring something to nosh or sip. This season is all about sharing, and nothing warms my heart like someone at my door with something from their kitchen, even if it’s just cheese and crackers (thought by some to be the perfect meal).
When it’s blustery and going outside involves umpteen layers and boots that make you feel dowdy, isn’t it nice to just stay in and order a pizza? This is a great opportunity to watch Doctor Zhivago or Babette’s Feast or just revisit your holiday faves (my suggestions: Little Women and When Harry Met Sally).
Few things make me happier (tipsier?) than sharing a cocktail (or three) with a friend (or 15). Technically, unless you have a really well-stocked liquor cabinet and pantry, you might have to buy something for this one. But you’re not wasting money on a piece of crap you’re being forced to give as your office Secret Santa; you’re spending some dough on a night when your friends can drown whatever’s troubling them in eggnog, grilled cheese sandwiches, and the company of people they like.
Hot Chocolate Tasting
You might walk away with a stomach ache, but you are going to like it. Mix up batches of a few different hot chocolate recipes or mixes, and have a wee teacup of each. Swirl the chocolate in your cup like wine and compare the notes and aromas of dark chocolate versus milk…kidding! Just sip ’em and decide which takes the prize for most delicious and you’ve found your signature drink of the season. Then make a bigger cup with the winner and wiggle yourself into a cushy chair with a fat book. (Wouldn’t hurt to include marshmallows in this tasting, either.)
Once you’ve stayed in with a movie night, a night of martinis, and a hot chocolate tasting, you may find yourself fortified to actually brave the cold. Wear your puffiest jacket, your silliest hat, and your ugliest, most practical boots and take a walk (bonus points for snowshoes). It easy to think of this time of year as dead, but once you are out in the world taking stock of nature or your neighborhood, you might find there’s a lot to captivate your attention.
Deck the Halls
I wish I were someone who always got my house (read: little apartment) into tip-top seasonal shape (read: clean). Oh well. This year we got a tree and decorated it with lights and red yarn. The branch that fell off while we were carrying it home is now in a vase, and I plan to make a garland out of paper snowflakes. No giant inflatable Santas here, but no gorgeous wreaths from Williams-Sonoma, either. You don’t need me to tell you this, but it’s just a reminder: Doing things your way, not the “right” way, will make you a lot happier during the holidays and the rest of the year.
With our IRAs plummeting and an eye infection lingering, it is awfully easy to be consumed by our own personal sphere of drama. But the times when we manage to see life from someone else’s perspective can snap us into a state of gratitude for
all we have going for us. Make it fun: if you like kids, volunteer to read to them at night in group homes. If you like babies, offer to be a snuggler in the newborn section of the hospital (yes, this is a real volunteer position). If you like food–the way it brings people together and sustains their spirits, as well as their bodies–volunteer to prepare and serve meals at a soup kitchen.
What else do you do at the holidays to buck the commercialism and connect with the season, your family, your community, and yourself in a more meaningful way?