Sunday, November 23, 2014

Alternative Advent calendar

I'm starting this off with a disclaimer: normally I object to any material about "the holidays"—meaning Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Kwanzaa, and the general December Madness—before Thanksgiving. But I'm going to make an exception for this little tidbit, because it's actually about preparing for the onslaught of the holiday season and coming up with ways to minimize the madness. So, since even I concede that the holiday season can be considered under way as soon as Thanksgiving is over, it follows that in order to plan ahead for it, you need to start planning before Thanksgiving. And ideally, rather than increasing your December-mas stress by starting the season even earlier, it will reduce it so you can enjoy both holidays more.

The folks at the Center for a New American Dream have been urging folks to "simplify the holidays" for several years now. The goal, they stress, is not to do away with the gifts, the decorations, the carols, and all the other things that people love about Christmas; it's to get rid of everything else, the extraneous stuff that just adds stress and detracts from the joy of the holiday rather than adding to it. So, for instance, rather than giving each child half a dozen presents, so that they spend hours opening them all and end up in a state of sensory overload where they can't really focus on anything, perhaps you could increase the joy by giving them each just one or two presents that they will really love and treasure, and letting them spend the rest of the day playing with and enjoying them. Instead of baking a dozen different kinds of Christmas cookies (and then feeling compelled to eat at least one of each and ending the day feeling dyspeptic and guilty), maybe make just the few kinds that everyone in the family loves most. Instead of covering every inch of the house with colored lights, consider having just one tree in one room, where it will really stand out and look special.

The problem, as I've noted before, is that it's one thing to decide you'd like your holiday celebration to be simpler and more meaningful; it's quite another to make it happen. Especially when your holiday celebration isn't just yours, but your whole family's, and a lot of those family members are deeply attached to their current way of celebrating.

Well, this year, the Simplify the Holidays campaign is actually acknowledging that fact. The authors have put together a Simplify the Holidays calendar that's kind of like an Advent calendar for minimalists; each day, there's a different exercise, tip, blog entry, resource, or inspirational thought to help you turn your simplified holiday from a dream into a reality. Last week's entries included:
  • An exercise called The Big Picture, in which you list all the things you do each year to get ready for the holidays, then think about which ones you really enjoy, and think about ways you might be able to eliminate or reduce the ones you don't enjoy.
  • Guidelines for talking to your loved ones about the holidays and which parts are most meaningful to all of you.
  • One reader's story about how she reduced the emphasis on gifts at her family's Christmas celebration and focused more on "spending time with each other."
  • Links to the Simplify the Holidays pledge, a list of actions you can vow to adopt for de-commercializing Christmas, and booklet, which features a wealth of tips on planning a more meaningful and sustainable celebration.
  • An inspirational quotation on the True Meaning of Simplifying. 
As we approach the season of holiday joy and madness, I offer you this alternative Advent calendar in the hope that it will help you focus on what's important to you, increasing the joy and minimizing the madness. Or, if you like your holiday celebration just fine the way it is, thank you, then maybe you can pass it on to someone else who you think could do with a little less stress during December.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled Thanksgiving thoughts.
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