Skip to main content

$Monday: Dreaming of a Wise Christmas

It's a tough holiday season for the half of Americans whose finances have taken a hit in 2020, especially families with children. And yet, we can make it a profoundly meaningful holiday. The pandemic is a tragedy of what you might call Biblical proportions. Paradoxically, that presents a unique opportunity for us to get serious about the reasons for the season. Think of all the Christmas and winter-holiday stories you know, from ancient times to the New Testament to classic cartoons and holiday films. Can you think of any that don't involve the overcoming of a terrible hardship? How many involve poverty and deprivation, like the Biblical Christmas story itself?

This is the year of all years to shift our focus from greed and gluttony to love and hope and faith... from flashy vanity to quiet sparkles in the dark.

If you have children, you are most likely experiencing some kind of financial hardship this year. Let go of the idea that you must buy your children a pile of toys. Children are less materialistic than we give them credit for. Be honest with them about how this year is different, and focus less on wrapped gifts and more on quality time together, like baking, playing games, doing puzzles, singing or playing Christmas songs, decorating with whatever you have or can make together, and making snow sculptures outside. Even playing video games together can be quality time. Kids don't remember most of the gifts they unwrap each year, but time spent with family members is the stuff childhood memories are made of. Trust me, trust every expert on this: Your child will benefit less from receiving presents than you think, and they will be harmed by your stress more than you realize. The greatest present you can give your children this year is your own mental health, your emotional support, your calm, and your presence.

Did Mary and Joseph buy Baby Jesus a bunch of presents to unwrap? NO! But they did let wise guys bring the child gifts, no matter how impractical or child-inappropriate. (Lesson: Be gentle and flexible with your crazy-gifting relatives and acquaintances this year.)

For a shot at having your Christmas cake and eating it too, respond to relatives who express sadness that they don't get to travel and see your children this year with gift ideas to send. Make sure your child knows who sent each gift so they can feel the love beaming in from all directions and thank the sender.

At my house, I've already explained to my daughter that she can't expect a mountain of presents this year. (She helpfully reminded me, "Mom, I've never had a mountain of presents for Christmas.") Uh, true! Still, I don't want the tree to look sad on Christmas morning, so in addition to the three or four fun things I bought for her, we'll wrap up a bunch of stuff we would have had to buy for her anyway, like socks (every kid's favorite gift, I know--but at least they're fun socks with favorite characters on them) and body care products (hint hint, quarantine is no excuse for going over a week without showering, stinkbutt). Meanwhile, I told every relative who asked what to buy my daughter to send Robux, because I hate buying that dumb cryptocurrency, but it makes my kid incredibly happy. I guess I understand. I do remember the joy of receiving a fat roll of quarters to put in the Ms. Pac-Man machine at the arcade, and Robux are kind of the same thing as that. Also Robux are easy to mail in a card and don't take up space in my house.

Whether or not you have children, you can exchange meaningful and useful gifts that not only don't cost extra money but might even save everyone money and time. Win-win! Everyone has to eat, right? And everyone needs hygiene and cleanliness and good cheer, wherever they are staying, whether it's a house or an inn or a stable. By now I'm sure everyone but the very rich has completed a crash course in home economics--cooking, cleaning, and grooming ourselves and our own families, at home, even if we used to outsource some of that labor. And we've all discovered that we are better at some of those tasks than others. We enjoy some of those tasks more than others. (For example, my husband has mastered the art of creating homemade personal care products!) So why not share our housekeeping "gifts" with each other so that we can enjoy some variety and special treats without having to become Martha Stewart on top of everything else we're dealing with?

For Thanksgiving, my local extended family members exchanged homemade foods by porch drop so that we could all share and enjoy a varied feast without having to cook small portions of a bunch of different things ourselves. My parents roasted the turkey and made dressing and gravy, then portioned it out for my household and my brother and my aunt. I made mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and a cheesecake. My aunt made cookies. My brother made corn casserole. We all feasted on a big spread of different dishes and enjoyed each other's efforts, even though we had to tell each other so over Zoom. Nobody had to host a big party or hire a dog sitter or travel a long distance with a dog or wait in line for the bathroom or shout over the TV and crowd noise or dress up in clothes without a stretchy waistband. It was kind of great.

Any group of local relatives, friends, or neighbors can do a casual exchange like this for any holiday, of food or anything else you happen to be good at whipping up in a large batch in your own kitchen, such as body scrub or bath bombs or nice-smelling household cleaners or beeswax candles or even cheerful holiday decorating crafts.

For absolute grinches of all things crafty or domestic, you can do a free exchange without even spending the time creating anything new--by swapping used books, board games, or puzzles. Gifts of fresh entertainment don't require a purchase. Just plop something that once entertained you but now bores you in a reused gift bag or some "wrapping paper" made of old magazine pages or junk mail or festively decorated paper grocery bags, and off you go! Ho ho ho!

The magic of the 2020 winter holidays is all about rising above adversity and honoring the traditions that matter most--or starting new ones that have special meaning this year. Vaccines are on the horizon, but they aren't here yet. We can give each other strength, inspiration, and emotional support to have a quiet, meditative, safe and healthy holiday. Other winter holidays in other years can be slap-happy, carefree, or excessive; this year, may yours be peaceful and clever. Don't pressure yourself to make it more-more-more.

As my daughter reminded me, this is actually nothing new at my house. I've been promoting this approach to the winter holidays for years now. For more ideas and reflections, see The Magic Nutshell's POSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST.


Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be: You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")    35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't

LEIRAH AND THE WILD MAN: Available for Pre-Order Now!

I am thrilled to announce the surprise release of my first novel! Leirah and the Wild Man: A Tale of Obsession and Survival at the Edges of the Byzantine World is now available for pre-order. Leirah dreams of stealing a Viking longship, hunting pirates, and freeing the world's thralls. As if by magic, the dragon boat of her fantasies appears at her backwoods homestead, and a crew of seductive outlaws invites her to join them in terrorizing the rich with disguises based on the monsters of local folklore. But Leirah fears their secretive interest in her favorite brother Aven. She takes him and flees on an epic journey down the length of the Danube, from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, through the gates of Constantinople, and into the last stronghold of the Goths.   on sale October 23, 2021 (hardcover)   and   November 11, 2021 (ebook) Nook Kindle   I released this book softly, with no marketing or distribution arrangements made in advance, so you will not find it already

Feast Your Eyes on This Cozy Cabincore Kitchen

My dream kitchen has become a reality at long last! Just in time for fall, I am falling in love with this new hearth of my home. Feast your eyes on this pure Michigan, cozy, crazy, cabincore kitchen! It's too bold and particular a style to be everyone's cup of tea, and that is exactly the point. This isn't a generic, beige box of a house to be flipped into the impersonal sales market, and it's not a rental unit, and it's not an entertainment space designed to be minimally offensive to the maximally judgmental hypothetical guest, it's my family's home , where we personalize our own cups of tea using supplies organized within our giant alien ceramic shelf pod and its smaller companion weird ceramic pod that holds our precious baggie of holy basil given to my husband as a tip at the bike shop he manages. Most of the ceramics in this room were created by a personal friend, artist Lisa Truax, who used local Michigan earth as one of the components in the piece tha

Pocket of Joy: Starting a Shiny New Project

Oh, the buoyant thrill of a sparkly new idea! Ooh, the giddy joy of starting in on it--like planting the first footprint on a blanket of new-fallen snow, or drawing the first line on a clean sheet of paper, or sweeping the first brushstroke of slick, wet paint across a wall! Of course, it takes follow-through to manifest a dream through the sweaty, dirty, messy middle of any big project. But when you know you can do it, you can hold onto that shiny new feeling to sustain you all the way to the finish. Here I am chiseling away at the remains of my old kitchen back in the spring, when my new kitchen lived only in my imagination. My husband and I have been working on our kitchen (with my parents' help early on) for four months now. Our summer has been a marathon of hard, sweaty, dirty work littered with setbacks, frustrations, and frequent changes of plans--including the decision to redo our main bathroom at the same time, while we're at it! Anyone who has repaired or remodeled a

Pocket of Joy: Laughing Off Bogus Critics

Beware the false devils of other people's anxieties, insecurities, and petty jealousies that they try to project onto you. If you hear negative messages about yourself repeatedly, especially from people who are very significant to you, like your parents or closest friends, they can worm their way under your eardrums and hijack your own inner voice with their damaging scripts. Once internalized, they can sound like fundamental truth, but they lie as shamelessly as the false angels of your ego do. Don't listen to those who fear your competition because they feel threatened by your talent, your passion, or your persistence. Don't listen to those who would betray you just to keep you down in the crab bucket that they themselves are too afraid to escape. Don't laugh with people who are laughing at you in a mean way. It's healthy for your friends and mentors to keep you humble with constructive criticism, friendly ribbing, and gentle teasing. It's good to maintain yo

Pocket of Joy: Catching More Grief with Sugar

A few days ago, I wrote about the irrational anger at death that I discovered lurking under my grief and fear . Then I saw this poem by Gabrielle Calvocoressi, and it broke my heart open in a different place. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Gabrielle Calvocoressi (@gabbat) It is said in pop psychology that sadness lies beneath anger, but in myself I find layers of both, one upon another over and over again, glued together with veins of sticky sweet frustrated longings and backed up affections and other feelings wedged here and there untidily, which cannot be easily peeled apart and healed. I suspect that most people are like me in that way, more or less, and so they have patterns of mixed up emotional tissues unlike mine, in other disordered arrangements. Last week I realized once again, as I must do from time to time, that I am a coddled pet of this world, with so many privileges that a sense of entitlement sneaks up on me whenever I forget how a

Pocket of Joy: Sunny Days with Dark and Stormy Nights

We need both sunshine and rain to survive, all of us--all people, all animals, all plants, all life on Earth. And when we can learn to enjoy changeable weather and seasons with a flexible attitude and a readiness to take advantage of whatever comes along, we can weather the storms of life--metaphorically speaking. Literature helps us to envision pleasures we've never experienced as well as terrors and hardships we've never faced--in the safe, pillowy world of our own imaginations. Reading literary fiction makes us more empathetic and resilient when we encounter situations we've read about in real life. Dark fiction inoculates us against shock and despair in the real world. Writing fiction has therapeutic benefits as well. Way back when I used to participate in NaNoWriMo , I learned that a good author must behave like a fickle, brutal god of the ancients--setting up trials and tribulations for our beloved creations just to watch them fight their way through. My writing compa

Blown Away on Publication Day

The responses to Leirah and the Wild Man 's publication have blown me away! I feel like one of Victorian illustrator Arthur Rackham's little fall fairies lifted on a happy gust of wind. I told my husband earlier this month that I wanted to release my first novel secretly, so nobody I knew would feel obligated to buy it and pretend to read it. Even worse, I didn't want my parents or coworkers to actually read my salacious book! I’ve tried for years to find a literary agent who might grant me access to the professional services and veneer of legitimacy that traditional publishing offers, so I would have the courage to put my weird and wild writing out there for readers who don't know me but happen to be looking for 11th century Byzantine thrillers. But I ran out of patience with the publishing industry's compounding scandals, dramas, changing rules, and vulnerability to volatile markets and supply chains. Years ago, finding an agent felt not only possible but inevitab

Small But Sweet Bathroom Renovation

We have fixed, upgraded, and redecorated our little old bathroom just in time for another pandemic winter! Now that the kitchen and main bathroom are both functional and personalized for our family, we are ready to hunker down in comfort. I had hoped I wouldn't have to spend quite as much time at home heading into 2022, but here we are. At home. What a difference it makes to have a beautiful bathroom, though! For a tall person, it is such a relief to my back to have a higher bathroom vanity that allows me to wash my hands without bending over, and a shower that rains down from well above the top of my head! We put up a taller mirror (an inexpensive antique) than the one that was there before and installed the new light fixture ("rescued" from our local Habitat ReStore) up close to the ceiling, making the room seem taller and bigger even though there is actually less space between the vanity top and ceiling. We saved loads of money by doing as much work ourselves as we co

Releasing My Thirsty Darling

Good news! I have accepted the death of my most cherished lifelong career dream, and that means I am ready to release my debut novel exactly the way I want to: full of blood and other juices, rich historical detail about places you've never visited in another book, a large cast of complex characters entangled in complicated relationships, historical authenticity beefed up with a healthy disregard for biased conventions, and an all-absorbing plot that moves at its most effective pace. Leirah and the Wild Man glides forth destined for a fate of cult classic, not bestseller. Let's... push... things... forward. (Shout out to nostalgic muse Mike Skinner of The Streets and his legendarily underrated Original Pirate Material .) Here she comes, my thirsty darling, like the Lady of Shalott floating off to her glorious doom after a fever-hot vision of Lancelot torched her will to stay locked up and safe in her tower. She won't live happily ever after, but she'll look flawless a