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Entries in creative christmas (4)

Monday
Nov122012

Creating Calm & Avoiding The Holiday Storm

One week into November and the Christmas itch kicked in. Now, I do love me some holiday merriment and a good wreath. But I don’t feel the need to deck the halls minutes after Halloween or even the day after the turkey has become leftovers. Rather, I love to spend December relishing the moments—the hot chocolate and snuggles, hanging ornaments in just the right spot, watching Christmas Vacation, decorating our family’s favorite sugar cookies…. 

However, I can’t do these things in peace or at the (slow!) pace I like if I get swept up in the Christmas frenzy. So, to stay in the holiday spirit and truly enjoy the meaningful moments of the season I have to plan ahead and spread out my to-do list. In years past, this meant I would begin Christmas shopping in August and create handmade holiday cards in October. 

No surprise, this is no longer the case. I just don’t have the time to get a jump on anything. And there’s nothing like last minute everything to make me feel stressed out during the holidays.

That “itch”? It's an early sign of this stress, which is why I spent every night this weekend bookmarking gifts for family and friends. Still, it did little to make me feel that I’m approaching December with a completed checklist and an organized state of mind. So, when stuck in traffic I hatched a plan to restore my Christmas calm (yes, traffic is useful for meditative self-reflection, problem solving, and learning enough news from NPR to make witty cocktail talk).

The plan? This year, I’m going tell myself “No.”

No, I don’t have to prepare everything from scratch. I can cheat and use Trader Joe’s frozen mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving (just add extra salt and pepper…no one will know). I can order Christmas cards online instead of printing them myself. And I can bring a store-bought dessert or make it from a box without it reading that I don’t care. 

No, I don’t have to buy presents (or that many). I can stop worrying that everyone get a present—a personalized, heartfelt letter enclosed with my holiday card is enough. My toddler will equally love four or forty gifts, so I plan to simplify and follow the smart advice of giving something he wants, something he needs, something to wear, and something to read. I also can let go of finding THE perfect gift—it’s okay that I didn’t locate the vintage locket I imagined giving my best friend. And, while the idea of gift cards previously bothered me because they don’t feel personal, I realize that no one is judging me for my originality. Heck, I could get everyone a gift card to their fave store. Or, better yet, make a donation to a charity in another’s name!

No, I don’t have to say “yes” to every party or volunteer request. True, tis’ the season to be giving. But not to the extent I'm burning the candle from both ends. Give to yourself and your loved ones by being present the rest of this year.

Saying "no" to my old notions of the holidays and to myself is worth the extra time for more important memories that can't wait.

~ The Other Sarah

Wednesday
Dec212011

Christmas Without Consuming in California

Because the decision to say “no” to consumerism and instead be more mindful during the holidays is a universal issue faced by many families, especially during these uncertain economic times, I thought I’d follow Sarah Stewart Holland’s lead and share what my family does to stretch our budget while still embracing the Christmas spirit.

A few years ago before budgetary constraints forced me to be creative with my holiday spending (i.e., pre-baby, pre-WAHM, pre-Los Angeles mortgage days), my friends and I decided to forgo traditional gifts in favor of alternatives that better captured the meaning of Christmas and the holiday spirit. It’s funny, we came to this decision after we finally had full-time jobs that paid the bills and were no longer grad students. Despite our newfound ability to buy presents without worrying about ending up in the red, we still felt guilty about needless consumption or, if “guilt” is too strong of a word, we definitely felt turned off by the frenzy surrounding Christmas shopping. (Maybe it was a sign of our newfound maturity as adults since we were creeping closer to 30?) Either way, we made a commitment to get each other gifts that didn’t play into such consumerism. As a result, we created a much more thoughtful Christmas tradition that we’ve carried forward.

Each year, we give gifts in amounts that we can afford to charities that support causes near and dear to our friends’ hearts, we give gifts of experience (i.e., a French-themed movie and dinner night prepared at our home), or we give sentimental gifts (i.e., mixed tapes, photo albums, etc.). These are all things that are easily translatable to a holiday with kids, too. You can give your child a gift of making pancakes together. You can give you parent friends a night of free babysitting. You can buy an inexpensive massage book and experiment giving full-body massages to your spouse. Or you can scan your children’s artwork and create a coffee table book or DVD for grandma and grandpa.

Other ways families can enjoy a more manageable holiday season include:

  • A Family Gift Exchange: Everyone selects the name of one person and only buys or makes a gift for the individual within a certain price cap (usually $25 or $50). Or children only receive presents, while adults enjoy the gift of watching the kids’ excitement.
  • A Makeup Gift Exchange: A girlfriend recently told me that she and her close girlfriends draw names and buy a beauty product priced at no more than $25 for one other person, so everyone doesn’t go broke and gets to go home with something fun that she might normally pass up at the cosmetics counter.
  • Gift Giving Done Right: Elizabeth Antonia of the littlest offers this sage advice based on a tradition established by her older sister—each family member gets four gifts: something you want, something you need, one little something, and something to read.
  • Homemade or Practical Gifts for Siblings: Design Mom shared a great idea where siblings only make each other gifts such as painted cocoa mugs, repurposing old sweaters as scarves or beanies, or mason jar snow globes. And if they’re too young to manage a creative project, she has the children pick out practical gifts for everyone like toothbrushes or band aids that feature different designs.

How do you make the holidays fun but more manageable?

~ The Other Sarah

Friday
Dec022011

Christmas without Consuming: The Tree

I grew up with fake trees. Well, there is one infamous episode from my childhood that involved a crooked Douglas Fir, but for the most part all I remember are fake trees. Fake trees are fine. I put one in my front room but I LOVE real trees. I love the smell. I love the feel. I love their presence.

In D.C., I made Nicholas haul a nine foot tree to our THIRD floor walk-up. TWICE. I LOVE Christmas trees.

However, I'm trying to celebrate a Christmas without consuming and there is nothing more consumable than a Christmas tree. You lay down a wad of cash for something you will only look at for a couples of weeks and then throw away. Plus, they ain't cheap. Our local Knights of Columbus sell them for $50-70 a pop. It's an expense I just couldn't justify.

Nicholas was ready to just use the fake tree we already own and skip the one in the front room. But come on! You want me to give up my real tree AND have only ONE CHRISTMAS TREE. I'm frugal, not crazy. Luckily, my parents volunteered to give us one of their trees to decorate.

Their generosity was much appreciated but let's just say it wasn't the liveliest of presences when we first brought it in.

20111202-150731.jpg

Plus, this is AFTER Nicholas had spent time fluffing and straightening it. Now, it's a pencil tree so it's not supposed to be luxurious but dang. Not to mention, I didn't realize this was the tree my parents were going to loan us.

This tree and I have history. My mom bought this tree when I was in middle school. I remember vividly going with her to pick it out and insisting it was the ugliest tree known to man. To my hormonal tween self, this tree seemed scrawny and lacking - the very opposite of all that Christmas is supposed to represent. I pitched a fit. My mom told me to suck it up. We got the tree. After we got it home, my mom spent hours wrapping every single branch in lights. This tiny tree was covered in probably 1000+ lights. It was a sight to behold and no longer seemed so little and sad.

But I didn't get the tree covered in 1000+ lights. And I'd be lying if I didn't say my resolve started to crumble.

20111202-162510.jpg

But you know what? Telling the entire internet you're not spending money on a Christmas tree has a way of keeping you honest.

So, we fluffed and fluffed. We covered it with lights (not 1000+ lights but still). We might have had to purchase a single strand of Christmas lights to finish the tree after trying and failing to fix several broken stands. My friend Dylan informed me this was a "rich person's solution" and he'd be telling the internet of my failure. But there you go.

The joy of unwrapping ornaments and the memories attached was just the same no matter if the branches I was hanging them on were wood or plastic. Griffin got to help decorate for the first time, which was fun as soon as he figured out you put the ornaments ON the tree not take them off. We watched A Christmas Story like we do every year and laughed at the same jokes. ("You used up all the glue ON PURPOSE!")

And at the end of the night, we had a special presence in our living room. A small simple tree that fits perfect in its space and is beautiful not because it's majestic or expensive but because it is ours.



~ Sarah Stewart Holland

Wednesday
Nov302011

A Christmas Without Consuming

Image via ChristainMom.com

I wish I could I could say it all stared with a philosophical breakthrough. I wish I had had some intense dream that involved leaving my material possessions behind and had awoken with Buddhist-like peace in place of my capitalist desires.

But that's not how it happened. What happened is that money is tight and Nicholas and I are tired of making every decision based on the massive amount of law school loans looming over our life. We want to be debt free and we're willing to make sacrifices to get there.

Unfortunately, our new found frugality has run head on with the holiday season—the season of spending. But this season I'm opting out. I'm going to try to celebrate Christmas without consuming.

No shopping bags full of gifts. No big, fresh tree. No miles of wrapping paper that will just be thrown away. Not even an eggnog latte to get me in the Christmas spirit.

I'm not saying I'm not going to spend any money at all, but I am going to try and spend very, very little. More importantly, I want to spend with purpose. Before I purchase anything, I want to step back and ask "Why am I doing this?" Am I spending to make myself happy? Am I spending because I think I have to? Am I spending because I'm afraid I'll miss out if I don't?

I hope to learn more about myself and see one of my favorite seasons with fresh eyes. If you'd like to join along, leave a comment pledging to spend a Christmas without consuming. I plan on sharing money saving tips, homemade decor and gift ideas, and the lessons I learn along the way.

If you're looking for an enlightened guide to show the way, I'm not it. However, if you'd like to face a challenge with a friend who will listen to you complain about your struggles and celebrate your successes, then I'm your gal.

So, let's raise our mugs (filled with hot cocoa we made ourselves!) to a Christmas without consuming!

~ Sarah Stewart Holland