This year, Christmastime was a time of adjustment.
My first time living away from home, away from my family traditions and my fiercely festive mother who could no doubt enroll the Grinch in leading the Jingle Bells sing-along. We’re in the midst of building a tiny home, I’m still learning how to “winter” (how many layers is too many?), and most of the folks I’d be making for or gifting to were hundreds of miles away. It's Christmas Eve as I write this post and I feel as though the holiday season slipped away from me.
I’ll give myself some credit - I made a gift list and was finished shopping a couple weeks before Christmas. Reaching out to my friends and family was a priority and I spoke with more than I thought I could. Foraging in a friend’s garden led to a few homemade decorations. But overall, the spirit was lacking and I didn’t feel I fully enjoyed the most wonderful time of the year.
Christmas is different for everyone and this year, I learned it’s a time of celebration, reflection, generosity, and gratitude for me.
It’s a time when, as the new year comes to a close, I have the opportunity to slow down and settle into rhythms of love and joy that aren’t always present during the busier times of the year. Seeing the craziness around me brought me to the fact that I never want this time to become stressful, and that it’s up to me to be a force for calm and happiness in every environment I enter.
In the clarity of the present, I’ve created a 2018 Holiday Bucket List so when September and October of the upcoming year start sliding rapidly by, I have a bold reminder of my commitment to making the most of the holiday season.
1. Share with each of my loved ones at least one reason why I am grateful for them during Thanksgiving week.
On Thanksgiving, I found myself sending numerous "Happy Thanksgiving! 🦃🍽🙏🏼" text in variation depending on if they were vegetarian, if we were close, etc. Some included a "grateful to have you as a friend!" but toward the end of the messages, I felt oddly superficial. There was so much more I wanted to say to all my friends. I should have called or written a letter or at least told them how deeply they'd touched my life and how much I cared for them. Next year, I want to: Call, write, or text how grateful I am for the people around me so there's no doubt in their mind that they are thought of and loved.
2. Cook at least one dish and one dessert for Thanksgiving dinner.
Once upon a time, I could cook. But when I met Alhen, who is practically a professional chef, I stepped away from the stove and started setting the table indefinitely. This means that when he isn't cooking, I'm more than likely to eat cereal, leftovers, or something less healthy and savory than I'd prefer. This year, I want to bring back my love of cooking and food to the Thanksgiving table with a couple delicious recipes everyone can enjoy. These are a few that I'm considering:
3. Thanksgiving Weekend: Get a real tree, even a tiny one for the tiny home! Make decorations, preferably with found or natural objects. Decorate the tree. Decorate the house.
Thanksgiving weekend was the BEST growing up. We would cook all afternoon and evening on Wednesday, watch the Macy's Parade and have Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, we'd shop on Friday (which I now skip but thankfully enjoy knitting and Netflix in its place), get a tree on Saturday, and decorate all weekend with Christmas cassettes and classic movies playing in the background. Yes, I said cassettes. We kept it real for many, many years after CDs and MP3s were invented.
In my modern traditional plan, the weekend goes like this: We cook on Wednesday, watch the parade - feast - and play games on Thursday, make decorations - lounge - and eat leftovers on Friday, celebrate Shop Small Saturday in town buying any little gifts left on the list and a Charlie Brown Tree for the tiny home, and spend the remainder of the weekend decorating, eating, crafting, and enjoying festive music!
This Pinterest board illustrates what I see in my mind when I think of Christmas. It also includes handmade ideas, decor inspiration, and Scandinavian traditions I'd like to enjoy.
4. Celebrate and share on Giving Tuesday.
Thanksgiving Weekend / Shopping Weekend extends past Cyber Monday and into Giving Tuesday, presumably the largest day of charitable giving for the year. While I wish Giving Tuesday took place BEFORE everyone emptied their wallets shopping for gifts, it's fitting that it comes in line with the rest of the shopping holidays. This year (and last year, actually), I gave to Priyam Global. In their own words:
A caregiver-based approach to supporting the well-being of children with disabilities.
Priyam Global's operational model equips and supports families of children with disabilities to end the poverty cycle, to improve their living conditions, and to be well.
Next year, I aim to give more and advocate more for Giving Tuesday and my organization of choice.
5. Send out Christmas cards, photos, and letters on or before December 1.
This was on my list THIS YEAR. Alas, it's December 24 and we've decided to send out "New Years" cards so folks know we love them and are alive out here in the woods. Personally, I used to dread receiving cards. I thought they were a waste. They were a bittersweet token to receive because how can you ever keep them? Or enjoy them for longer than the season?
I suppose that's the point. They're a kind gift for the holiday season and afterward, we pass them on to make room for new tokens to come into our lives and brighten our spaces. Next year, when I do send out holiday cards on-time, I am committed to sending cards that can either be recycled, composted, or planted!
6. Watch at least one of my favorite claymation Christmas classics: Rudolph, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Frosty the Snowman.
How could I not? These are my favorites to have playing in the background while decorating, quietly humming the words to all the precious songs. I truly missed them this year.
7. Stick to a Christmas budget of $400 or less, including decorations, splurges, excursions.
I admit that I have not yet tallied up what I spent on Christmas this year. Out of a little retail therapy and trying to fill the void of being away from home with excessive gift-giving, I fear I went overboard with my spending. Money guru Dave Ramsey estimates that the average family household earning $50,000 yearly should reasonably spend up to $800 on Christmas. He advises calculating that number based on your own household income to find your "reasonable" Christmas spending budget.
It'll be my first year with a Christmas budget and I'm excited to start with what I believe to be small. Growing up, my mother bought presents and quietly stashed them all year, making her Christmas budget go much farther than she could have managed if she were shopping the month before the holiday - so in my mind, Christmas is overflowing with perfectly wrapped packages and takes all morning to enjoy. Finding a happy, healthy medium without attempting to go "full minimalist" with my first holiday budget is what feels comfortable for me, but I'd love to know (if you don't mind sharing) how you budget for the holiday season.
8. Finish Christmas shopping AND making on or before December 10.
If the perfect gift pops up the week before Christmas and its within my budget, I wouldn't pass it up. But setting a shopping completion date puts my mind at ease. I don't want to accidentally leave someone out, nor do I want to be frantically knitting two days before Christmas with the hopes I can get it under the tree in time.
9. Wrap all Christmas presents on or before December 10. And ideally, make it a party!
For years, my mother would haul all of our Christmas presents five houses down to her best friend's house and they'd wrap together, sharing paper and trimming and what I assume to be gloriously uninterrupted lady bonding time. They'd emerge with a trove of stunningly wrapped gifts, tagged and ready to put under the tree. She'd put a few under as a tease and hide the rest, staying up late Christmas Eve to arrange a most glorious spread the next day.
As the meaning fades away from a mass of presents and into the experience itself, I envy those hours my mother spent with her best friend - and sometimes a small group - working tirelessly by hand to craft memories for their loved ones during the holiday season. Next year, I aim to plan or participate in a wrapping gathering, where one or more friends get together to share trimmings, conversation, and a few glasses of bubbly around the fire.
A bonus to this section! I recently found a tutorial on how to make Furoshiki Gift Wrap, a Japanese reusable wrapping that's also perfect for takeaway lunches, gift giving, and creative instances like hair wraps and dog bandanas. In the spirit of minimizing waste and consumption, making a set of Furoshiki by hand, wrapping meaningful gifts with them, and sharing a graphic in each package for how to use it could become the perfect gift wrapping tradition.
10. Mail all Christmas presents on or before December 13.
A no-brainer. I can't let the stress of going to the post office, waiting in line, safely packaging boxes, and paying to mail gifts keep me from sharing the few things I do buy with my loved ones. This year, I'm shipping at least four gifts off after Christmas and I want for this to be the last year I let that slide by.
11. Celebrate the Winter Solstice.
Originally, I wanted to learn about Advent. I see these adorable Advent calendars on Instagram and the idea of little surprises each day seemed festive enough. Upon looking into it though, I felt I'd be improperly appropriating a custom created for something I don't believe in. So, out of respect for a culture and religion that is not mine, I am venturing to learn about what I see as another "reason for the season", the Winter Solstice.
I want to learn about the origin of the Winter Solstice, the various cultural interpretations and celebrations of the holiday, the scientific expression happening before, during, and after the solstice, and incorporate some of its traditions into our home.
12. Go caroling.
What practically no one knows about me, because I am quite careful to never share it, is that I love to sing. I may enjoy singing more than I enjoy writing. And I have not, in my memory, gone properly Christmas caroling but ONCE at a street market in high school.
Caroling brings such joy to my heart and I'm sure there are others out there that feel the same. Maybe we go caroling locally - maybe we go caroling virtually! How would that work? Whatever way we do, I want to go caroling at least once, bringing the Christmas spirit to any who happen to hear us. Join me?
When I look at this list, I am overcome with joy!
This expression of the holiday season includes many traditions I hold dear and a couple new ones I’d like to create. While I recognize that Christmas, festivities, and celebrating aren't for everyone, they're some of my favorite parts of living. What worth is bearing the burden of daily troubles, worldly challenges, and the heartbreak of the human experience if we can't savor the sweet moments afforded to us by tradition and celebration?
I'd love to hear how YOU celebrate the holidays! Please share with me your favorite traditions and if you're looking to start a new one next year.