Monday, November 28, 2011

A Simple Holiday

When I was about ten years old, I recall asking a girl in my neighborhood what she got for Christmas.

"A tape recorder and a book," she said.

"And what else?" I asked.

"That's it."

"What about dinner?" I asked. "What did you have for Christmas dinner?"

"My mother cooked chicken, potatoes, peas. Apple pie for dessert." she replied.

"That's it?" I was in shock.

I went home and cried my eyes out. "She must be very poor." I told my mom. "She only got two gifts for Christmas. Who only gets two gifts? And for dinner-- a chicken? One pie?"

I didn't know this girl very well. She was older than me.  I knew where she lived because we traveled to school on the same bus. I was so upset over her meager Christmas, that nothing would bring me peace. We had to do something for her and her family. What if they didn't have enough food to eat? Or lights and heat? I cried and cried until my mother finally told me to get in the car and show her where this poor family lived. A few minutes later we parked in front a well kept, two-story home. The house was tastefully decorated with Christmas lights.  A plastic Frosty-the-Snowman stood guard on the front lawn, broom in hand.  Two nice cars were parked in the paved driveway.

 "Are you sure this is it?" my mom asked.

I nodded. "This is the house she comes out of every morning to catch the bus."

My mom smiled. "Honey, this looks like a very nice, comfortable home. The lights are on inside, so they have electricity. I believe this family is okay."

"But they had such an awful Christmas!" I cried. "You have to go knock on the door. They might be starving!"

My mother refused. "This is a very close community," she said. "We would know if there was a poor and starving family in this neighborhood. Maybe they're just happier with a simple Christmas."

"Or maybe her parents don't really love her," I mumbled to myself as we drove away.

It's so funny now when I look back on that experience and how I measured love and affluence with lots Christmas gifts and tables overflowing with food.

My parents didn't often buy toys or gifts for me and my brother but at Christmas-time, they pulled out all the stops! Each year the gifts got better and better and the piles of beautifully wrapped boxes grew bigger and bigger. My mother shopped, wrapped, and cooked. She cooked up a storm for weeks before the big day: lasagna, turkey, fish, potatoes, vegetables, cookies, cake, pies. It's a wonder our table didn't collapse with all that food. And every Christmas, she was exhausted, aggravated, and in a sour mood. This is the way it was with just about all my friends and family. And as kids, we couldn't figure out why our mothers were not as thrilled as we were about the holidays.

I didn't figure it out until I grew up. This was when I realized what really is involved in pulling off a Happy Holiday.  I dragged myself through store after store, spending ridiculous amounts of money on gifts. Every year the gifts got bigger and better and the piles of presents beneath the tree grew higher and higher. I battled crowds, sleet, snow and ice. I decorated. I wrapped. I cooked. I began to despise Christmas. I didn't want it to come and when it did, I wanted it to end. Christmas was just one big chore and the responsibility of making it happen rested on me. I hated who I became during the holidays- a nagging, unhappy, tired person. I was making everyone around me miserable and robbing them of the joy of the season.

Over the years, I've learned to simplify Christmas.  Everything doesn't have to be so elaborate. It's not necessary to go into debt buying dozens and dozens of gifts. One really nice present per person is more than enough. Something from the heart, made with love is perfect. Gifts from the kitchen are alway nice. I've ditched all the expensive wrapping paper, ribbons and bows in exchange for recycled brown paper, raffia, pinecones and a few sprigs of fresh pine. It's not unforgiveable to buy holiday cookies instead of making them from scratch or to serve a spiral ham and packaged dinner rolls for Christmas dinner instead of all that cooking, baking and frying.

Piles of presents beneath the tree and an abundance of food and treats have nothing to do with love or wealth.  If you're wearing yourself out trying to keep up with everything, if you'd rather sleep through the holidays or can't wait for them to be over, if your angry and nagging and less than joyful--you are doing too much. And you probably don't realize it, but you are making everyone around you stressed and miserable as well.  Simplify! Simplify! Simplify! 

"I am a better person when I have less on my plate.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert.

I will never forget my mother's words to me on that day so long ago. "Maybe they're just happier with a simple Christmas."  I am  beginning to think perhaps that particular family had the right idea and were very, very rich indeed.

Simple is always best.  We sometimes have a tendency to over-give and over-do to make up for what we can't give.  And that is more of OURSELVES.

Take a good look at everything on your plate this holiday season and then remove a few of those stressful things- all that shopping, cooking, cleaning. Not necessary! Really. It isn't.  What really matters is your love, time, tenderness. First for yourself and then poured out on others......

And this is my Daily Cyn......

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