Now the following is not to brag and not to judge. I know everyone has different situations, different temperaments, different expectations. But if you're feeling the holiday noose begin to tighten, you might consider the following. I want you to be able to love the holidays.
(Because it's me, this will tend toward the practical and proactive side of things. I seem to be better at giving people assignments than at encouraging them to think deep thoughts or be spiritually uplifted. So we'll go with my natural gifts.)
This post over at Ask Moxie asks the following questions: "What is the most important part of the next five weeks for you? What do you want to teach your children about this time?"
Have you asked yourself these questions? If you don't have children, have you asked what you want to remind or teach yourself or others about this time? I had never thought about the question in those terms before. What do I want Lucy to know about Christmastime? Here is part of what I said in the comments there:
1.) Less is more -- our gift-giving and traditions are simple and fun. That's the way we like it, and we think it's better for everyone involved. That also means there's less stress.
2.) We have more than we need, so we give to others. We buy Angel Tree gifts for less fortunate kids. I hope to do some volunteering when she's older. And gifts come from people who love her, not from Santa.
3.) Jesus came and Jesus is coming again. We want to focus on Jesus' birth and death -- the sacrifice He made for us. But we also focus on the day Jesus is coming back to set everything right, and our part in that work until He does come back. It's a time of hope.So if you've never thought about it before, you might take a whack at writing a list like this. Then start acting on it. Cut out stuff that doesn't fit with what you want out the holidays. It's up to you. You get to choose.
On that note, the comment I made on the SortaCrunchy post included the single best piece of advice Norman and I got while we were engaged: Make rules for the holidays NOW. For instance, decide that you will always spend Christmas Day at your own house. Tell all the family members and always stick by it. That way, when kids enter the picture, all your family members will be used to it, and they'll make less of a fuss.
Again, it's up to you. You are in charge of yourself and your nuclear family. It's not your job to make other people happy. Be kind and generous, surely. On occasion you're going to have to make sacrifices for your extended family. But you don't always have to. Setting up rules ahead of time will make it easier for you to stand by it. If the thought of traveling around Christmas makes you cringe and start to hyperventilate, don't do it. [See my blog post here for how beautiful a quiet Christmas Day can be.]
Gifts should follow in the same spirit. Perhaps you love to give gifts. Maybe it's your love language. Awesome! Go for! You have the means, you have the energy, you have the scotch tape -- presents for everyone! But if the thought of spending as much on them as they spent on you last year makes your bank account shudder or your brain hurt, don't do it.
You need to do what's best for yourself and your nuclear family. That might mean you don't have the money to go all out. That might mean that you want to spend your time during the season on enjoyable traditions instead of scouring the mall and the internet for gifts. If your recipients are really going to scoff because you didn't spend enough on them... well, I'm not sure why you would care what people like that think of you. (If you're one of those people -- shame on you! Get over yourself!)
But you're going to give them presents. That's what we do, and there's very little getting around that without either a very good excuse or a fat lot of chutzpah. Do your best within your means (financial, temporal, physical, and emotional). Baked goods are great if you have more time than money. Gift cards are great if you have more money than time.
[Obviously if you have convictions about consumption, you'll want to cut back on gifts, whether you have the means to give lavishly or not. But if you have these convictions, then you're already thinking about this, and you probably don't need suggestions from me.]
So what am I really saying here? Sometimes I feel like I'm saying, "Screw them! I've gotta look out for Numero Uno!" But I'm not.
I'm saying there's only so much of you. I'm saying you can love people without doing what they expect of you. The holidays are a beautiful, wonderful time. Think -- really think -- about what is important to you, and act accordingly. My favorite personal finance blogger is fond of saying, "Spend extravagantly on the things you love, but cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t." I believe the same should be true of the holidays. If you don't love it, please don't waste your money, time, energy, and stress on it!
How We Do Christmas meme from last year
Baked goods I made for several people last year
Decorating for Christmas
Decorating our Christmas tree
Last year's Christmas dinner
My thoughts on Buy Nothing Day