With "the big day" less than a month away, I'm seeing a whole lot of Christmassy fuss on Instagram. I must admit, my social media circles are very lovely and probably don't even represent the full craziness of the modern world. Which scares me even more. I used to work in retail, and it horrified me the amount of money people spent on stupid things; things they neither needed nor actually wanted, much less couldn't actually afford; but there's this perception that a certain amount of money and certain size & quantity of gifts equates love. I'm more interested in letting my children know I love them by spending my time with them……. but I get the feeling that's not the norm in our societies.
If you're wondering how to bring some simple slow living ideals into your Christmas
month day, I thought I'd share some of ours.
Make the opening of gifts a special time - As a child, each year our parents would gift us meaningful thoughtful items - a new beautiful outfit (not Christmas themed, but something to last for years and years), a book or some music, and one-or-two other special things. Our gifts were always wrapped amazingly - we would save the paper each year, and re-use it again and again and again. I can probably find some wrapping paper at my dad's house from my childhood days. Us kids loved the specialness of wrapping as much as my parents did; my dad is quite the expert at not needing to use sticky tape (which means your paper doesn't get torn). Christmas morning was a time for special togetherness, not tearing paper from plastic toys the second we woke up. We'd wait for everyone to wake up, make fruit salad and coffee, and then gather around our potted plant tree and open gifts one by one by one. This is what I love doing with my children now; reminding them that the giving of gifts is as special and magical and the receiving of gifts. Watching the person's face as they open the present you've made or thoughtfully purchased for them. Not intent on tearing your own gift apart and not caring what anyone else is doing.
Talk about what giving gifts means, have an open conversation with your children - We are open with our kids about the cost of Christmas, how much all the gifts cost financially to our pockets as well as to our Earth. If they want a certain something that doesn't fit within my ideals of what I want to see in our home, or spend our money on; we talk about it. Do they really need it, or want it. Why do they want it? Will it last, or break in a short while? What can they maybe have instead? Without denying our children all the joys of childhood, we guide them sometimes gently, sometimes a little more emotionally, towards a different way of thinking. This is harder some years, easier other years depending on their ages, their friends, what their list is…. I go over my own way of parenting again and again each year, making compromises and asking them to make compromises. Our ideals don't always overlap, but we work through it. Begin now with smaller children how you want to continue = they won't build the expectations of large expensive gifts if they haven't been raised that way. Remember, that spending time on your children shows love in different ways than spending money. Money is time - choose where you want to spend your time.
Encourage home made gifts within your extended family, or request certain gifts - In a lot of the online forums, and social media groups I'm part of one of the biggest challenges to slow simple living can be extended family and friends. They look at us and shake their heads, pondering why we're denying our children all the good toys, and make up for what we don't give our children, by over-gifting. My advice is to be clear and honest, but also understand that we're all living different journeys. Sometimes emailing or texting in advance about your gift wishes helps rather than having to talk in person. Often suggesting an item helps. I've found over the years, friends are keen to fit into your wishes, but sometimes don't know where to start and where to buy, what they could possibly make. Give them clues, hints, ideas or even be very specific and guide them to websites or products. Remember that not everyone has the time or skills to hand craft something, just because you think it's a good idea. Giving enough time for friends and family to look at your options will help immensely, and not they're stressing because you're forcing your ideals on them last minute. Subscriptions to magazines, art centres, museums, etc are great gifts to give and ask for.
Keep it simple - seriously, this should be the easy one… but it seems our society loves to complicate and over-do everything. By simple I mean: your Christmas tree. Truly a tree made from a fallen branch decorated with children's home made stars and angels is truly more beautiful than a perfect cut down tree adorned with every single bit of tinsel possible. Let go of copying someone else's Pinterest idea, and let your kids guide you in how to use what they have to create something beautiful. Toilet paper rolls do really make fabulous tree decorations!
Learn to say no over the coming month. Don't take on having to cook or bake for someone else if you truly don't want to do it. It's ok to say no, with a smile and no guilt. When friends visit you, they really are coming to spend time with you. Make your home beautiful, and your food delicious, but pare it back - spending the whole party in the kitchen isn't slow or simple; it's stressful and you miss all the meaningful conversations and special times with friends and family. Ask everyone to bring something along, to lighten the cooking, make simpler meals and less of them. Food waste at Christmas time (and all year around in fact) is a massive strain on our environment and our farmers. Australians waste $8-$10billion of food each year, while many people are going hungry. Christmas can be a time to change your ways of wasting food - thinking about slow living every single day, not just when it suits.
Write a list of your priorities - what do you love most about Christmas, how does that make you feel, why do you love that? Include those into your days, but don't worry about having to need other people's over-the-top expectations. Train yourself and your children into wanting a different way of living, but simply starting it. Choose this year to NOT go to any shopping malls. Do gift shopping at local craft markets, or online with indie makers, or make your own gifts. I truly think most of us have more than we need, so making something small and special rather than spending money just because is our way of saying no to the consumerism of Christmas. After having worked at shopping malls for many years, I don't go anywhere near one during the whole Christmas period. To be honest, I don't go to one during the year unless absolutely necessary. That piped Christmas muzac and the tacky cheap decorations are enough to keep me away, let alone the hoards of people carrying plastic shopping bags.
Make new traditions - ask your kids, your partner, your family what they want from your new family Christmas. What would be special to them? While I loved the whole morning of family breakfast and opening gifts with my parents and siblings, that looks different with my kids; but I have made the decision for us to be home each Christmas morning so we can begin our day with the slow quiet magic of Christmas, not the hyped up tear-open-everything that it could be. This does mean we have to drive on Christmas day to be family, but it's important to me (and us) that we have our own traditions and ways of making the season meaningful to my children.
Don't take on guilt & don't give guilt - Oh families and Christmas and any big seasonal times seem to come with stress, heated discussions, fraught tension and a lot of guilt. Learn to not take it on. Oh, I don't say that lightly at all. It's super hard. But if you think clearly about it, it is a journey you can move towards. Minimising guilt in family situations. I'm not saying be a doormat and let your siblings/in-laws/whoever take over on Christmas Day, but if you don't let it get to you, then they don't have the power over you. Remind yourself it's their deal and not yours…. Walk away and breathe if need be. The streets are often quiet on Christmas Day, so go for a walk and enjoy some time alone away from the stress of family.
Simplify your home - In these coming weeks, the last weeks of school, and the build up to end of year, if you have less mess and piles of need-to-do around your home you'll feel lighter and more carefree. You'll possibly have more time to say yes to taking the kids out for a walk, or standing in the garden watching the moon rise (rather than stressing that the food isn't cooked yet). If our large kitchen bench is piled up with things I wake up every morning feeling tight and wound up - when I remove the mess, and keep it clean I have a lighter head, and more likely to be a happier person to be around.
Don't buy into the consumerism, but don't be the Grinch - You can have a beautiful balance of the joys of Christmas, without the need to spend a fortune, or be the opposite and not spend anything. It's ok to find the balance that suits you and your family. Having an Advent Calendar filled with chocolates isn't the end of the world, buying a Barbie doll won't destroy your daughter's feminist ways, and the rest of us won't look at you with disdain. Take small steps towards the way to want to live, but do it with meaning and truth for yourself, not to be living a hashtag. But step back sometimes and remember to prioritise what you want. i.e. - don't go to the supermarket with hungry children because they're always going to ask you for things, and you're always going to be worn down to buying it. Be gentle with yourself, plan and prepare in advance. Start now, rather than a week before Christmas.
I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas. This is just a few from me. I think everyday we can make small changes, but also everyday we have to remember to be gentle with ourselves and not guilt too much that we've made mistakes.