I work at a financial institution and we are encouraged to make small talk while waiting on people. Since I've been on vacation, I've been asking a lot of my regular members if they had a good Christmas. Do you want to know what the number one answer is?
"It was good, but I'm so happy it's OVER."
It's kind of depressing to me that this is how people view the holidays. One more burden to get through. It's almost a forced frivolity. No one wants to participate at the level they do, but guilt makes them feel like they're going to ruin Christmas if they don't do it just right. If they don't decorate every square inch and make cookies and hand wrap gifts and spend thousands of dollars on gifts for everyone they ever talked to in the previous year, they'll be judged for being lazy or a Grinch.
It's that kind of attitude that makes Christmas stressful for people. Yet, this year I had ZERO stress about Christmas. Some minor grumblings about putting up the tree (and soon, taking down the tree) but I grumble every year about the tree, so that's not anything new. It takes me a week to get it up and get it just right and then I fall completely and utterly in LOVE with my tree. I spend hours looking at it and wanting to take pictures of it and post them to Facebook. I used to be a big ball of stress around Chritmas. I was not pleasant to be around. I bemoaned Christmas every year. Last year though, I had a really humbling Christmas that forever changed my view on Christmas and how I was my own worst enemy when it came to Christmas.
Last year, I had quite a few financial difficulties that happend around Christmas, causing me to not have a lot of money to spend on gifts for anyone. Although I had always been low key about Christmas in the past, the Christmas wasn't going to be low key, it was looking like it might turn into a "no key" Christmas! Friends stepped in and helped me get gifts and winter clothes for the kids. I spent a lot of my Christmas crying. First from despair and then from joy when I realized how truly blessed I am to have all these amazing people in my life. I was able to get the kids some presents, even though they were kind of lame to my eyes. Yet, when they got their gifts, they were so happy and thankful. The $3 dollar package of army men entertained Jonathan for hours. None of my family threw my gifts back at me and declared them unacceptable. It was what it was and it was over.
So, here are the lessons I learned from my "bad" Christmas, for lack of a better adjective. It actually ended up being good, but you get what I'm saying.
1. People will never tell you they hate your gift, even if they do. Why? Because they love you! Even if they can't or won't or don't want to use it, they can re-gift it and that's less money they have to spend, since they have what you gave them. You'll never know because do you honestly remember what you got your sister 2 years ago? I don't. On the flip side, don't just get stuff because it's cheap. I know I could go to Target and get a $10 lotion set for my sister, but she hates smelly lotion. That brings me to lesson 2...
2. Having less money to spend means you may have to work harder, either by finding a great gift within your budget or becuase you have to hand make 20 jars of snowman cookie mix you found on Pinterest. Either way, it's totally worth the time and energy.
3. Christmas is the same time every year, so be prepared! I see more stress in my customers around this time. It comes off them in waves as they try to rob Peter to pay Paul and hope that guy Bill doesn't show up at the door looking for his share. A standard payroll calender usually has 26 bi-weekly paychecks. If you get paid twice a month, like the 1st and the 15th, then it's 24. If you tuck away $25 a pay period, by Christmas you have $600-$650 saved, depending on your payroll schedule. Trust me, coming from a single mom on a tight budget, you won't miss it! Find a system that works for you. A Christmas club account, envelope system, buy $25 dollars in coin and put it in a piggy bank. It helps your Christmas spirit to know you have Christmas covered financially and that January won't bring a Visa bill that you're afraid to open.
4. Don't let your neighbor, your Facebook friends and Pinterest make you feel bad. This is so tough in our "share all" society. Between Pinterest posts showing you how to make handmade gifts and Youtube videos of houses decorated and synced with music, it can make a lot of people feel inadequate. If you feel that one tree is all that is needed, by all means, put up one tree and one tree only and don't let your Instagram dictate otherwise! Some people are really into Christmas and it's ok if your level of enthusiasm doesn't match theirs. If you don't have the time, patience or talent to wrap gifts, put them in a gift bag. No one who cares about YOU cares about your Charlie Brown tree and bare undecked walls!
5. Create traditions to do every year. This is something I think makes every Christmas cozy. Traditions don't cost money and are usually looked forward to the most by kids. Either an early present on Christmas Eve, new pjs, reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" or finding the pickle in the tree. These will creat memories more than any gift will. Two new traditions here were the pickle, with the winner getting a crisp $2 bill and the kids have to make gifts for each other. Those were really fun!
So, there it is! Christmas is what you make it. One person's way isn't better or worse. I love Christmas on a much smaller scale then say, my mom and sister. There are people I know who love it on smaller scale than I do. That doesn't mean they love it less, just different.
Next year, vow to make Christmas YOUR Christmas and enjoy it so when asked how your Christmas was you don't resond "Good, but thank GOD it's over!"