A Merry Minimalist Christmas

Christmas has always been my closet-favorite holiday. I say that because for most of my life I would say to anyone who cared to listen that Halloween was my favorite.  I did enjoy dressing up, I enjoyed all the candy, and in my Goth and Wiccan years I enjoyed the perceived historical importance.  But the truth was it was Christmas, and it was—I wont lie—very much about the getting stuff.

Of course, that was back when I was younger, and when the things I wanted were simpler, easier to wrap, and relatively inexpensive.  Now I am an adult. I had a sudden slap in the face the other day when I made a comment to my friend that I was dreading Christmas. It hit me like a ton of bricks in a cement truck being dropped on me out of an airplane. I was not looking forward to Christmas at all, in fact I was—and still am—dreading the very thought of it.

I took a step back and I questioned myself as to why.

Since moving down south I am a part of a massive family. Christmas day is packing almost 20 people into my grandparents house to spend the entire day opening gifts. Where I used to just have to get presents for my parents and my 2 sisters, now I have 20 people to shop (or sculpt/craft/paint/create) for.

There is also the prospect of receiving gifts, and for the first time since I was old enough to understand what the pretty paper-wrapped boxes were I don’t want any.  I can’t think of a single thing I want for myself that I can’t just get for myself. So having to come up with a bunch of gift ideas when my family asks me what I want is almost as stressful as trying to find presents for all the new family members that I hardly know.

At my grandparents it literally takes all day to open gifts. We each have a stocking stuffed with stuff to go through that we do at our leisure while drinking coffee and eating breakfast pastries. Then the gift opening begins, directed by my grandmother, in which everyone must open each gift, exclaim over it, hold it up so pictures can be taken, give profuse thanks, crack jokes about how many times the wrapping paper had been re-used, then move on to the next person, while my youngest cousin, the only child at Christmas, runs around trying to open everyone’s presents and crying when they are taken away because they aren’t for her.

We make a huge mess of my grandparents house, eat and laugh and joke all day, then everyone leaves, leaving behind a huge mess for grandma to clean up (with my and my mother’s help).

It is a stressful day, and while it was exciting and new the first year I move down here, each subsequent year has just been a strain and a drain on me, and I get the sense it is so on my parents as well, who—like me—are used to the smaller more intimate Christmases.

This year is the first Christmas since my decision to build a Tiny House. It will still be a couple years before I build, but I’ve already started paring down my things and I still have more to go. I don’t want a whole pile of gifts this year.

I read this blog post from SmartLiving365 about a minimalist Christmas.

It lists out ten things to minimize your Christmas, the top one being to stop giving gifts. I read this article and did a lot of thinking about what Christmas means to me. I’m atheist, I don’t believe in God, or Jesus, or the religions meaning of the Holiday. But I do appreciate it’s meanings of love, of giving, of caring.

If I could have it my way, instead of giving gifts on Christmas, my family would save up their money they would have spent on presents, and instead use it for some kind of charitable venture.  Perhaps instead of giving gifts, we would give to charities. And instead of exchanging gifts, we would exchange envelopes, and in each envelope would be a note that said something along the lines of “I gave $20 to Wounded Warrior Project in your name.” And everyone would go around and read the charitable donation that was given in their name for Christmas.

Or perhaps we would go on a shopping spree, not for ourselves or each other but for a family in need. Perhaps instead of physical gifts we could write poems, or stories, or give gifts of promised acts, such as my friend used to make, little coupon books handmade, “this coupon awards the barer one spa day with me” or “this coupon is good for one gutter-cleaning” or lawn mowing, or something like that.

I hear a lot of people this time of year saying that Christmas has become to commercialized. That it is too much about buying stuff, and it has lost it’s true meaning. I feel like I too am of that mind.

But alas, my family would hear none of it. I know for a fact, without saying a word, that if I were to go to them and say, as the article suggests, that I don’t want any gifts from them this year, and that I would not be giving gifts, that I would come Christmas morning to a pile of presents regardless, and then I would feel awful for not getting them anything in return.

I am not ungrateful. When I take time to consider it I will be glad if Christmas continues the way it is for many years. Because I know that the year Christmas becomes quiet, and uneventful, will be the year my Grandparents are not around for it, because they are the glue that holds the massive family of 20 together, and that when they are gone the individual families will drift a bit a part, doing Christmas separately. So a quiet and calm Christmas when it comes to me will be a bitter-sweet thing.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Christmas is so hard! I did what you mentioned one year (pre-minimalist days), and gave to a specific charity that reminded me of each person. For our extended family we have moved to a Dirty Santa style gift giving. We are all adults (no children) and it makes a fun event without being excessive. For the first year, we are foregoing gifts with my parents. My husband’s parents are still wanting to give gifts though they expect none in return. We will give gifts to them anyway. Here’s a blog post I’ve enjoyed about being a Minimalist during the holidays: http://www.becomingminimalist.com/unwrap-clutterfree/

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