Happy Holidays

Holiday Ruminations

Every year I promise myself, I will change my expectations for the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and not get caught up with feeling that I have to do more than I have time for.

This year I am on that path

I took a trip for Thanksgiving week that included friends, my significant other, a boat, the Mississippi and 4 decks of cards. I had one of the most enjoyable, stress-free holidays of my life. I followed my week off with my last conference of the year in Phoenix, and then drove back to Florida with a friend, visiting Route 66 sites, hiking canyons and visiting National Park sites.

Now, it’s 12 days before Christmas, and I’m working hard to keep the pressure at bay.

Over the years

My family has adopted a very different attitude towards gifts than what I was raised with. My parents experienced the Great Depression, so my mother made sure we had a holiday experience she only dreamed of growing up. I have to say, we really didn’t enjoy opening gifts for hours. The fun and excitement wear off when you unwrap a roll of toilet paper, even if it does have crossword puzzles on it. My sister and I imposed a gift limit of 3 when we got to the age where we had voices and had learned to use them. My mother just couldn’t help herself—she would create these towers of boxes held together with big ribbon. She didn’t count the boxes, she counted the towers as a single gift. After a few years of this, my sister and I gained collective insight and recognized the joy mom got from her abundance of gifts and we learned to indulge her in the same way.

Once I had children

I drove my mother crazy, a talent I developed at an early age, by opening gifts at the pace of children when mine were young. My kids weren’t into the rip and tear action. They would pick out a gift, unwrap it, and then want to play with it. How novel. So, we would open one or two gifts a day and do that until there were no more. It would take a while, but we liked keeping the tree up, and discovering daily something new under it. Everyday my mom would call to see if the kids had opened her gifts. Sometimes they had. Should I note that my mom was the source of most of the packages under the tree? With her generosity, I didn’t purchase gifts for my kids until they were about 8 or 9 years old! There was no need. I miss her dearly, and not for the gifts. It was for everything else she brought to my life.

Find the Time

This year I am not getting caught up in all the pressure and rush of the holiday. I find that I have time to be reflective, cherish memories, and live in the moment. I’ve had time for an impromptu dinner with a friend, I’ve said yes to every invitation, and I will get done what I get done and not stress over the rest. It’s a new paradigm for me. And with the way I’m feeling as compared to years past, I really like this!

Choose Priorities

There will always be more to do. Always. One gift I have is being able to triage: do the important things first, and everything else is just noise. The important things are time with friends, connecting with people who you haven’t had the chance to see, remembering people who have passed. Will anyone really remember if I didn’t get a tree up or if my house is not lit with Christmas lights?

A ton of cards

One of the things I feel compelled to do every year is to send out Christmas cards to my personal list. It’s something that was always part of my family tradition growing up. We would sit around the table, addressing envelopes, stuffing them and putting on stamps. My dad was with Kodak so every year we would pose at Thanksgiving for the picture that would capture us in 2-D to be made into our holiday card. Three hundred would be printed, and we would be busy for a week getting them sent.

I never sent out three hundred

For many years I would send out upwards of 200. The past few years I’ve been trimming my list. This year I sent 120 cards, and I’ve enjoyed hearing from recipients that they loved my Christmas letter. I succumbed about 20 years ago to replace the short hand-written note with a mass produced letter. I like including pictures and it’s an easy way to provide an update with a few photos and short dialog just what’s been happening in my life and my adult children’s lives. And I enjoy receiving them as well. I’m working on my humor. My favorite Christmas letters are those that have me laughing out loud. Yes, you know who you are. Keep it up!

I confess that I keep every Christmas card, photo and letter I receive

I have them going back decades. And I’ve found uses for them. In addition to cutting them up for gift tags, one year, back in the 1980s, there was an office door decorating contest. I reached into my received card archive and used them to cover the door. I learned from the comments I received from co-workers that few people send or receive as many cards as I do. That did not deter me.

The Boat Trip

Last year, in early December, my significant other and I took a boat trip on the Mississippi, and they had a cabin door decorating contest. I did not have my archive of cards with me, so I had to resort to more creative ventures. I used painters’ tape to create the Mississippi and some tributaries from the top to the bottom of the door, added many pine trees and a miniature of the boat on the river. It became a place to stop for other passengers.

Be kind and engage with a smile

And that’s the point. It’s time to be kind and engage with a smile to people you don’t know. It’s time to be with people you love. It’s time to share your talents. It’s time to relax and be in the moment. And it’s time reflect on those who live only in our memories. If only we took the time to do this all year long.

Old family habits are hard to break

Instead of doing what I think I ‘should’ do, I’m doing what I want to do: my Christmas card list, a day of cookies, seeing friends and family, not worrying about a ‘perfect gift’. Not worrying about perfection, period. It’s turning into a much happier time for me.

I wish all of you who read my thought articles an abundance of kindness and joy from others, and a sense of wellbeing and fulfillment of a life well-lived. And I hope you can find a way to remove yourself from the stress we create for ourselves.

Happy Holidays and may you have a Happy New Year as well!