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The New Way I’m Taming Christmas Mayhem

The New Way I’m Taming Christmas Mayhem

Taming Christmas Mayhem

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Ahhh…the time of year when the stores start pushing Christmas and we resist with all our might, grumbling about how we can’t find the cranberry sauce because the Christmas decorations are in the way.  A few days before Halloween, I thought I heard the opening notes to “Last Christmas” come on a store’s radio and I swore I would yell at someone.  (It wasn’t.  It was just another song by “Wham!”  Apparently they all sound the same.)  Judging by the number of Facebook and Twitter conversations, I know others are feeling the frustration, too.  We all love Christmas, of course we do.  Still, we have a natural inclination to not see it pushed back into October.

Xmas post before December

I think this comes from a few things:

  1. Time moves quickly enough without us hurrying it along.     Just because we love Christmas doesn’t mean that we want to skip over October and November.  We love those months, too, even if they aren’t as shiny and sparkly.  For me, October is one month where I really get to pull back and celebrate the holy ordinary: the fall leaves, the crisp weather, the gentle rhythm that sets in when the days get shorter.  Plus, many of us who love Christmas love all the other holidays.  Halloween brings back the forbidden thrill of going house to house after dark, and the fun of imagining who we’re going to be.  And Thanksgiving…an entire holiday devoted to nothing but gratitude and that first silky, spicy bite of pumpkin pie.  Love Christmas as we do, we’re not quite willing to skip over the other things to get there.
  2. We’re leery of being marketed at. There’s one reason and one reason only that Christmas decorations start appearing in stores mid-October.  It sells stuff.  This year, my dollar store had cookie tins for sale in August.  And I bought them.  Why?  Because if I wait, I will be searching high and low for them come cookie exchange time.  Still, I hated caving into the pressure, like I was being duped into participating in an evil consumerist plot.  I was certain that some marketing genius was sitting in the store, eyeing me with derision and cackling, “our little plan worked.  Cookie tins in August…we shall rule the world. Hahaha”
  3. We’re trying to overcome some of the pressure to have the “perfect Christmas.” Christmas was not always celebrated for a month.  People used to put their trees up on December 24.  They might observe the traditional twelve days of Christmas, until Epiphany on January 6.  They’d give a simple gift or two and Santa might drop off an orange and a penny.  This wasn’t that long ago.  When I compare that to our frantic push to create Rockwell-worthy moments of cookie baking, ginger-bread house building and cocktail parties for at least a month, I’m overwhelmed, as many of us are.  Resisting the urge to start Christmas earlier and earlier is one way that we’re trying to simplify the whole experience.  With this small act, we’re resist the push toward a perfectionism that would take months of planning.

With every bit of pressure we feel to push Christmas into fall, we lean in with equal resistance. 

This year’s $3.00 cookie tin purchase was the first time I can ever remember buying something Christmas-y before Thanksgiving.  I close my eyes to the lure of sparkling ornaments until the day after Thanksgiving, when I launch into all-Christmas, all-the-time, until January.  So it’s with a certain amount of trepidation that I announce a complete switch in attitude.  This year, I’m doing my Christmas shopping this week.  Yes, right after Halloween.  Oddly enough, I’m doing it for all the reasons that I used to avoid shopping early.  I want to enjoy the season, simplify the holidays, relish every minute of the fall holidays and resist the urge to have “the perfect Christmas.”  I want my dance through the season to be a gentle waltz, not a frantic macarena with hands and legs barely keeping up to the frenzy of the music.

A member of my incredible moms’ group shared this article from Catholic Sistas a couple weeks ago.  The author shares her strategy for Christmas shopping, including her timeline.  She gets it done before Advent.  (If you’re not a church person, or not part of a tradition that celebrates Advent, it almost always starts the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  For all practical purposes, this means finishing shopping before leaving for that Thanksgiving trip.)  By tackling her shopping early, this mom writes, she’s freed up to focus on the religious celebrations of the season rather than feeling overwhelmed by the combination of extra shopping, extra school events, extra church events and extra family events.  And, I might add, the extra pressure to stay spiritually grounded/non-consumerist/family focused in the midst of all that!

I’ve been playing with her idea.  I was initially resistant because:

  1. I don’t want to cave to the consumeristic pressures and start shopping early. (See #2 above.)
  2. I actually enjoy the bustle of Christmas shopping. I can hear the chorus to “Silver Bells in my head as I type this.  I like to park the car in a cute little downtown area and wander from store to store with a peppermint mocha in my hand.  It it’s snowing just slightly, that’s even better.  I enjoy the cheer, the lights, the decorations and the Salvation Army Santa’s cheery “Merry Christmas!”
  3. I like to let things get a little closer to Christmas so that I can see what people want/need. This is the main reason I don’t shop throughout the year, as many highly organized people recommend.

Gradually, though, the appeal of starting the holiday season with my shopping done won me over.  When I sat down with my husband to talk about Christmas present ideas, before Halloween, he was surprisingly enthusiastic about the idea of getting the shopping done sooner rather than later.  Some points he made:

  1. The Christmas shopping experience isn’t always a fun stroll from store to store. Most of the time it’s a high-paced hustle around the mall.  The mocha gets spilled, children are crying in aisle 5, the strain of saying “Merry Christmas” 500 times an hour is wearing on the Salvation Army Santas and “Last Christmas” will be played by every artist who ever covered it.  (True story: one of the first songs my daughter knew by heart was “Last Christmas.”  She was 3.  That’s how often this song comes on the radio.)
  2. I can still enjoy the Hallmark movie shopping experience. Some day during the Christmas season, I can get dressed in an adorable hat and boots, hit the coffee shop and then take a lovely stroll.  Even better, I can do this without worrying about carrying shopping bags.
  3. I’m more likely to enjoy the hunt. Taking the time to shop now, instead of in December, means I can make a thoughtful choice for even the hard-to-shop-for people (ahem, all the men in my family) instead of a muttering about how hard they are to shop for and wishing I could settle for a bottle of perfume.
  4. I love packages under the tree. I have a standing rule that anything purchased after Thanksgiving gets wrapped and put under the tree.    I’ve also been known to wrap empty boxes when we put our tree up, just to get the sparkly present effect sooner.  Now I can have actual presents, which cuts down on the January clean-up.
  5. I’d really like to get to mid-December without wondering “what happened?”

There is one concern that is still valid: I’ll have to resist buying additional presents as Christmas gets closer.  That happens often enough as it is.  It usually goes like this, “Oh, I know I already have a present for so-and-so but this is perfect for her!  She can have both.”  Repeat that for a couple members of our huge family, add in a friend or two, and it’s a recipe for starting 2016 completely broke.  That’s just going to have to come down to willpower.  So I’m making a public commitment that once shopping is done, it’s done.  Those extra wonderful things I find along the way will have to wait for birthday presents in 2016.  🙂

Reaching Across the Edges (at The Mudroom)

Reaching Across the Edges (at The Mudroom)

It was the heartbreak I was after when I called a local hospice on a crisp winter day and asked if they needed volunteers…

There is sometimes a sense of unease that finds it’s way into our hearts. It’s a vague unsettling, a feeling that something is missing. This is puzzling when a quick life inventory reveals that things are really pretty awesome. I know I’m not alone in this. I hear so many men and women looking for something more. Not more money, more status, or more possessions but more danger, more risk, more giving, more love. Today I’m thrilled to be over at The Mudroom blog talking about this. Come by and say hi, I’d love to see some familiar faces!

While we might seek out rest and quiet, carefully grooming our lives to be as painless as possible, the places of unrest–the edges–are the ones in which we grow. Those painful, heartbreaking places are the ones in which we discover ourselves and, if we’re lucky, discover others. It seems that our connections to each other become stronger when we’re forced to hold on through the uncertainties of life–to make space for quiet in the disquiet, rest in the unrest, relationship in the isolation.

Book Review Friday! The Year Without a Purchase

Book Review Friday! The Year Without a Purchase

“Dude, I vote patio.”

This was the subject of an email I sent to my husband this week. I went on. “The concrete guy was just here to give an estimate. We’ll have to take a huge chunk from savings but I think it’s worth it. It’s really a quality of life issue.”

Wait, a quality of life issue?

Now, here’s what I meant by that:

  1. Our current patio is miserable. It is flagstone in gravel, clearly a DIY job by the previous owners.
    1. The weeds grow faster there than they do anywhere else. I weed whipped our patio several times this summer.
    2. The unevenness of the gravel/flagstone combination has led to more than one chair nearly tipping over backwards when someone tries to stand up.
    3. The step from the door to the patio is 18 inches.  Height that steps are supposed to be?  7 inches.
  2. Due to all these factors, we do not ever sit on our patio.
  3. We like to sit outside. We have a lovely view of the mountains in one direction and the prairie dogs in the other.
  4. Our neighbors and friends all have lovely patios and I feel ashamed of ours.
  5. We do not have a backyard tiki bar, which would be awesome.

But quality of life issue? I quickly amended my email to say, “obviously this is a first world problem,” because I felt ashamed of myself for using the words “new patio, savings, and quality of life issue” in the same sentence.

This is the kind of thinking that author Scott Dannemiller draws our attention to in his book “The Year Without a Purchase: One Family’s Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting.” The title is true to the book. Dannemiller takes us through the ups and downs of this challenge, which he and his wife embarked on after feeling disillusioned and discontent with a life that is largely driven by acquiring things.


Perhaps the most compelling part of Dannemiller’s story is the combination of revolutionary thinking and typical American living. I love the stories of people who cast off all materialistic concerns and live off-grid. I browse tiny houses on Pinterest and imagine buying 30 acres in the middle of nowhere where I can spend my days happily producing my own food. I cannot live that life, nor is it practical for most people.   (Cities and towns exist for a sociological purpose, after all.) Still, I do want to live an intentional life and this gives me a way to think about being revolutionary in my own suburban American setting.

Tiny House
You see yourself in that chair, right?

Dannemiller expertly blends his personal stories with research and theology. He talks about the challenges of raising children with real attention to the decisions we have to make. Obviously, we know that a new backpack isn’t a “quality of life” issue—or is it? We all want children who aren’t materialistic brats but we also want children who aren’t bullied, taunted and excluded due to their cast-off clothing. What’s a parent to do?

Jockstraps and underwear come up more than once in this book, reminding us that the political can be very, very personal. Dannemiller doesn’t shy away from the stories but tells them with all the grace possible when discussing undergarments. I was reminded as I read that many people do not have underwear, hygiene items or other things that make up the very basic part of our household. Solving problems of poverty and inequality are amazingly complicated, coming down to the most basic and unsexy things making a tremendous difference.

Most importantly, the book is inspiring, not scolding. I was two chapters in before I was ready to take on my own year without a purchase—almost. I might start with a month. (I did a week several years ago.  It was harder than you think.)  But the real point is that my commitment to being less materialistic was renewed and stretched.  I will definitely start by implementing some of the less drastic ideas that Dannemiller suggests, and some of the solutions that they find along the way. (Heads-up, family, you’re all getting experience gifts for Christmas this year!)

Want a quick peak right now? You can also find Dannemiller over at his blog.  Seriously, though..this book is worth reading.

As for Book Review Fridays–I don’t know whether that will become a thing here at Barefoot Family but I like the idea.  I’d actually like the idea even more if other people wanted to read and write along.  Any takers?  Message me here or find me on Facebook if you’re up for writing about a book you loved.

Happy long weekend!