November 29, 2010

Welcoming a Quiet and Sincere Holiday Spirit


Hello blogiverse friends! How nice it feels to settle back in with you the morning after a holiday weekend.

I spent the long weekend in the country at my mom and stepdad’s farm. I drank tea in front of the fireplace, read a dropout memoir in bed, stayed up too late with a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills marathon, took a late afternoon walk through bare-limbed trees with my husband, made my way through a stack of my mom’s magazines, and ate my fill of cheese and crackers. It felt restful and quiet and restorative in some important way. I feel now like I am on a precipice. Maybe it’s the end of one chapter, beginning of another; maybe it’s simply an end-of-the year feeling. But I’m in a taking stock kind of place, trying to figure out what makes my life feel especially delightful and meaningful, and considering how to get more that it.

I’m approaching the holidays with the same sense of, “How can I make you a reflection of what’s really important to me?” I cannot resist a trip to Marshall’s, cannot pass up its indoor garage sale, what-gem-may-hide-under-this-pile-of-crap appeal. I stood in line there in the early evening on Saturday with the carols blasting away and the place already filled shoppers who seemed suspiciously ornery for so early in the shopping season. Maybe it was because of those fireside cups of tea or quiet walks, but I felt a separation between the holiday madness––the slow, snaking line, the automated voice barking that register three is now open––and me. Who knows: in two weeks time, when I’ve been looking for the perfect gifts and coming up short, I might not feel so cocooned in a shield of holiday protection. But it seems like something worth hanging on to, or trying to figure out how to hang on to. To resist the “madness” and hang on to a sense of quiet and peace.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of tradition and ritual lately. My family is in the midst of a several years-long growing pain. The kids haven’t yet had kids, so there are no little ones to fill the holidays with excitement and squeals. But marriage splits Christmas day in half between our nuclear unit and in-laws, siblings spreading out like a melting snowflake on a window pane. We haven’t figured out yet how to make the day work, how to make that midday parting not seem like a downer. We’re working on it.

It’s not yet December but I’m already thinking about ways to maximize the best parts of this season and minimize the less likable bits. I love the festive cocktails, twinkling lights, holiday crafts, Christmas cards, blooming paperwhites, big boisterous dinners, cookies, watching When Harry Met Sally and Anne of Green Gables, hauling out the Christmas records, snow. I’m less fond of big crowds in stores, eating too many rich foods, feeling like you’re spending more than you have, social obligations rather than real warmth and community, feeling frantic, disappointed people and expectations. Like many people, I enjoy the wind-up more than the Big Day. Maybe it’s worth instituting some December traditions to enjoy this all-too-brief period of light, togetherness and revelry in a natural season of darkness and solitude. I’m thinking holiday happy hours, perhaps? What are you all doing to make this season feel meaningful to you? And how are you keeping your sense of quiet and calm?

Photo credit: George Deputee

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  • Kristina Strain: Goodness, you nailed it. That paragraph about “growing pains” and how marriage splits the holidays in half. Our family is the same– no kids from the kids– just the holiday shuffle. I had no idea this would be part of it. I never realized how important kids are to the holidays when I was one, but boy, do I get it now. We survive by spending Christmas eve with my parents, and Christmas day with his. It’s not perfect, it still stings sometimes, but at least we have a whole day with each group.5 years ago

  • fanny | live happy: I am loving your thoughts on reflecting and just being. And um, if your folks need some company at their farmhouse, sign me up, that sounds like a delightfully calming time!

    I think that’s where my focus is these days, figuring out what I need and how I can make it happen. And then trying to find little pockets of calm amidst all the chaos.5 years ago

  • Kristina, The saying goodbye part is so hard! It makes me realize how kids create new nuclear units. Like, as soon as one of us kids has kids, I think that person is going to have more voting power than anyone else!

    Thanks, Fanny. Yeah, their farm is totally blissful and remote and very relaxing. I love the idea of looking for pockets of calm. That’s what I’m on the lookout for, too.5 years ago

  • Christine S.: Well, it isn’t so much the kids not having kids thing in our family…it’s more that feeling of split sending my teens on a plan on the 24th to visit their dad and the emptiness that ensues because of it. I have my parents (thank God!) and siblings here to visit with but there is palpable void that increasingly becomes scarier as time goes on. Someday, soon for Thing 1, the decision of where they merrymake for the holidays will solely rest on their shoulders, and I know that naturally I will be given the snub from time to time for them to spend time with their other side of the family. That split is what is concerning my mind right now.

    However, I do have to say that I do nothing out of obligation over the holiday season because I think that definitely takes the Christ out of Christmas. I do everything out of the wellspring of devotion to my family and friends and to the community. The choices I make over the holiday season come from what will enrich and cause love and joy and not distraction and frustration. And, that even comes down to the resounding “no” to the company party and the need to overspend on gifts.

    My nephew’s concert is this Thursday. I will be there. My son’s chorus concert is the following Tuesday. I will be there. My daughter has invited friends over for a cookie exchange and cooking baking on the 12th of Dec. I will have a clean house and provide hot chocolate and pickables along with the ingredients and equipment for them to have at it. My children’s “Christmas in PA” will be on the 18th at my house with family. I will make cozy, just like I did for Thanksgiving, the environment for us to have an enjoyable evening.

    These simple choices of tuning out of chaos and in to family and, hopefully, a few visits with friends for a drink or a bite to eat are gifts aplenty for this time of the year. And, they are how I keep my sanity without doing anything other than appreciating the love of family and friends for the holidays – that is the greatest gift of all!5 years ago

  • Tall J: Funny you should metion Anne of Green Gables. I just watched it on Friday during some much needed down time. Don´t you just feel so homey watching it?

    For me, a hard thing about the holidays is that I try not to get wound up in the commercialized hustle and bustle and end up getting wound anyway, in the “people to see, places to go” bit. Which parent “gets me” for Christmas Eve, and who will I visit on Christmas Day? Or will we stay overseas at the in-laws this year, and if we do that, how will I explain that I´m not coming home for Christmas after all? I normally try to schedule in visits, but I´m trying to remember that phone visits can be rewarding in their own way, and I can´t plan for everything.

    I have a new tradition this year: Advent Tea (you can actually buy tea Advent calendars in Germany). In the morning I sit down to drink my tea and reflect, write, listen to music, or just spend some time feeling Christmas-y.5 years ago

  • Wise as always, Christine. And I know what you mean about the visitation split-up. Unfortunately, even once the decision is up to the kids when they’re grown-ups, it still sucks! It’s so hard to feel like you are choosing one parent over another. That’s why I’m just trying to remember that there are 11 other months of the year ripe for travel and togetherness.

    Tall J, I absolutely love the idea of Advent Tea. I sat down and did Morning Pages today with my coffee for the first time in a long time and it was such a great way to start the day.5 years ago

  • Margaret Roach: I took to the bed over half the holiday weekend, quite uncharacteristic of Type AAA me, but there was cheese and crackers here, too, lots of it, and BBC crime series marathons.

    As for holiday plans (besides more cheese and crackers) I am thinking of putting up a tree this year. Why not? Those ornaments haven’t made their way out of the attic in years, and maybe 2010 is their time to shine.

    xoxoxox5 years ago

  • anne: I can completely agree with your lists of holiday likes and dislikes.5 years ago

  • molly: You know, I need this reminder every. single. year. Thanks for providing my 2010.5 years ago

  • Evelyn: I’m in a different place from many of you. I’m 60 and married, but with no children. All of our siblings live “away” and we rarely see their children, and most of them are adults now.

    My husband and I still have our parents, but they are very elderly and frail. That lack of the presence of the next generation surely does make a difference at holiday time.

    This year, for the first time, we have all decided not to exchange gifts at all. We all seem to be at a place where we’re saying, “I need to get rid of stuff, not add to what I have.” Thanksgiving was quiet and Christmas will be quieter, I think. But somehow, I’m not mourning it. It seems like it’s time.5 years ago

  • geek+nerd: I agree – I am all about the build up to the big day. Our “big day” is actually usually quite quiet! I am very fond of giving handmade gifts…and I work on making them all year long. That takes the stress out of the busy holiday season and allows me to have more family/friends time during the holidays. Last year I started a card-writing brunch and I am doing it again this Saturday. I used to find card writing to be a chore, and now I am so looking forward to it. Gathering friends around me made it such fun!

    I think that you are very correct in thinking about what is important to you about the season. It’s your life – so craft the activities and traditions that suit you the best!5 years ago

  • Sarah J: thank you for articulating this, sarah. it’s something i struggle with every holiday season. my husband’s family is divorced and things are a little over the top gift-wise. attending christmas at three homes is just overwhelming and their spending, if loving, still makes me feel uncomfortable. we are not in a place to be so generous with our gifting and it’s hard to tell people who love shopping that you’d much rather share your time. i guess our problem is that we’ve never made a choice and are still trying to do everything. last year, my mom joked that i could opt out if i took up skiing.5 years ago

  • Brooke: I love the idea of happy hours… This year is the first year that my husband and I aren’t traveling for the holidays. We’ll be nestled in at home, with just my parents visiting, waiting for our baby girl who will arrive in January. We’ve already made a pact to not think about what we’re “missing” this holiday–family in other parts of the country, cocktail parties, and the crowds of department stores. Instead, we’re keeping things simple and treasuring our last few weeks as a couple before we become a family of three. Lots of candle-burning, Christmas card writing, holiday movie watching, and some nursery decorating. And plenty of time sitting around with my feet up, drinking cocoa!5 years ago

  • Margaret, That sounds like a triple awesome weekend, and a recipe that I’d like to replicate myself!

    I’m with Sarah J, geek+nerd, and Evelyn when it comes to gifts. The past couple of years we had a no-gifts-unless-they-were-homemade policy. Like Evelyn, I feel like I want fewer things all together. (But I still want a new pair of pajamas.) It’s nice to take the focus off the presents and put it on food, winter walks, board games, and hot chocolate.

    Molly, Me too. 🙂

    Brooke, Even though I’m not pregnant, I basically want to crib all of your suggestions for a holiday season. 🙂5 years ago

  • Brie Barton: we’re travelling. my other half is from new zealand, so it’s continent hopping for us! i dream of a time when i’m not boarding an airplane for christmas, but i also love being able to see family and spend time together. i think the split is hard before it’s easy. and i’m trying to think about how i’d like to do advent celebrations – focussing on the why of christmas. pausing to establish traditions that hopefully will carry through to when i have my own little ones.5 years ago

  • Kristine: I love your quiet reflections as always.I think the key for me is to try and make new traditions as some of the old ones fall away. Every year my husband and I buy each other tacky Christmas pajamas that we give to each other to wear when we decorate the tree. We make sure we have a night where we drive to fancy neighbourhoods and sip hot chocolate and look at the lights. it’s a wonderful life is always a must and I cry every year.
    I will try to avoid the craziness and carve out some time for reflection and peace as well. Good luck to you in maintaining the calm!5 years ago

  • Cindy: I am the same way. We spread out the holiday by going to the Zoo Lights, driving around neighborhoods looking at decorations, going to the uptown walk etc. I buy alot online and hate to go to the crowded stores. I am buying alot of handmade stuff from smaller stores this year as compared to previous years. Also edible treats are always accepted! My favorite Christmas time movie is Little Women! I have it recorded at home, I just need to watch it over the weekend. Can’t wait! There is so much free stuff to do with your family, you just have to look around your town!5 years ago

  • Shauna: What a lovely entry, Sara. It really clicked with a lot of what I have been feeling this last week. And the poem you shared on Thanksgiving was also perfect for the day. The “growing pains” are happening here, too. My boyfriend and I split the holidays between our two families. And while I love his family, there is that pull for me to go to my parents’ house in for the days surrounding Christmas and hibernate, reconnecting to my brothers and parents and a childhood sense of home and warmth.

    But growing up brings its own good things too. This year, I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time and there is the excitement of new traditions forming as well. My mother drove down to LA a day early and we spent the day in aprons and laughing, fixing up our little house to welcome the 13 guests coming. It was tiring but wonderful.5 years ago

  • Sarah J: @ Cindy– I just watched Little Women and felt much better about Christmas after crying my eyes out.5 years ago

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