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Redefining The Holidays To Focus On What Matters Most

Sage flowering in the snow, Seattle, Washington by Wonderlane on Flickr


I wrote about Redefining The Holidays For The Current Economy on Thursday. Stephanie called me on the fact that while I was writing about redefining the holidays, I focussed mostly on frugal gifts and saving money. It’s a very good point, and I realized that this post needed a second part: Redefining The Holidays To Focus On What Matters Most. …


As many of you know, we had a recent call to reality here in our household. Matt lost half his blood volume due to an ulcer, was in the hospital ICU for several days, and is still recovering his red blood cells. I had a relative that died this way, so I certainly thought about the frailty of our own mortality. And how lucky we are to have our lives.


In my previous post I wrote:


Above all else, remember that the true spirit of the holidays is the celebration of all that we have – our families, our friends, and our dreams.  I hope that you are good to yourselves this holiday season, and allow yourselves to set economic and physical limits as you nurture yourself and those around you – in mind, body, and spirit.  


But there is more to say about this, isn’t there?


On Gift Giving…


I don’t want to completely discourage you from giving gifts. The reason is this: some of us truly enjoy giving gifts. We like to show our appreciation for others, to find the perfect and most thoughtful present for a loved one. But I do want to encourage us all to rethink our gift-giving.    


Please think long and hard about one single gift that will put a smile on someone’s face, and touch their heart.  It is not necessarily an expensive gift (for surely it would not make a person happy if they knew you went into debt to give them a gift), it is a thoughtful gift.  


What do you share with that person?  What good memories can you remind them about?  What matters to them most in the world, and how can you find a way to show that you understand and support it?  


Can you do this without spending money?  I bet you could find a way.


For me, gift giving isn’t inherently bad.  What is bad is going into debt to give people things that they don’t need or want.  Gift giving should come from the heart, from the depths of our souls.  It is not about things, it is about showing the people we love that we care about them deeply.  Truly, it should be the thought – and the heart – that counts.


Luminarias - Ski By Candlelight uploaded by santheo on Flickr


On More Than Simple Gifts…


Holidays are about more than giving and receiving things, aren’t they?  They are about coming together, sharing our love, being thankful for our hopes and dreams, learning more about one another, taking a break from our everyday lives, and warming our tummies, too.


The holidays are not a time to throw our values to the wind – in fact this is a time to reinvigorate our values, to remember what matters to us most, and to come together to share those values.  So I ask that you remember what matters to you, and infuse your holiday celebration with these beliefs.


This goes far beyond traditional gift giving.  How can you create a meal that makes you proud (for instance, it’s local, organic, seasonal, nutritious, from scratch)?  How can you bring your family and friends closer (many of you gave excellent suggestions in Thursday’s comments)? How can you show the world you care about our future?  How can you make a difference in the lives of people and creatures whose causes you advocate?  How can you remember the important issues in your life, and positively contribute to those issues during the holidays?


Again, it is more than money – it is time, it is your heart, it is your soul.  For these, you must give thought.  These are your gifts to the world.  And these are your gifts to yourself – for these are what matter to you most.


Deb G wrote, “I think one of the things I like best about this time of year is it challenges my creativity.”  Indeed, these gifts to your loved ones, your planet, and yourself require much creative thought.  Especially during these economic times, it is important to stretch those creative muscles and find ways to give of yourself that don’t require money.  And to redefine what we think of as gifts.  We can give gifts of time, of patience, of gratitude, of beauty, of love, of nurturing, of companionship, and of our whole selves.


So I Throw This Out To You All:  How Can We Give Gifts Without Spending Money?


Remember, we are talking about giving to our loved ones, our futures, and peoples, creatures, and issues we care about. How can we give our time, our hearts, our souls?


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11 comments to Redefining The Holidays To Focus On What Matters Most

  • I’ve been enjoying visiting with family and friends as I deliver trays of cookies. Everyone gets excited about the goodies, and it gives me a wonderful opportunity to spend to time with loved ones, as well as get to know our neighbors better.

  • I’m working to set my ego and desire for perfection aside to teach my boys the joy of the holiday and the importance and reward of giving. Just posted about the latter today. That’s what Christmas is all about, right? Giving – time, patience, enjoyment. Nice follow up post. :)

  • N.

    I started making care packages of baked goods a couple years ago and people really love it. I can bake it all at once, divide it up among my friends so they get a couple of each thing. It’s not overwhelming, instead its a really fun way to get my holiday baking done and not add ten pounds to my own backside :)

    Another idea I did was picture frames with a special picture (some special memory we shared). I decorated the matting to really highlight the memory and people loved it.

    This year I’ve been selling stuff on Craigslist as a way to raise money and I met a lady who lost her job and is giving coupons for dessert and homecooked meals to her family and friends. So in essence she is giving the gift of time and an experience which are both more precious than things.

    This year we were very careful with choosing gifts that would be well used or completely consumed, it also cost us less money but I know our family and friends will be happier than cutting an expensive item they may never need or use.

  • katecontinued

    I don’t celebrate Christmas and haven’t exchanged gifts for many years. I do believe it is a time of being within. But, beginning last March I started planning gatherings in my mobile home community based on the 4 seasons. We had a vernal equinox get together with introducing the spring idea of our community gardens and compost bins. The summer solstice was notable for a few dishes from our garden. Sadly, the autumn equinox only had banana leaves from our own soil that I made Conkies (steamed sweet potato, pumpkin in banana leaf recipe from Barbados), but that one was a really popular get together. Excitement and participation has grown incredibly. What our community lacks in gardening, volunteering, reducing ‘stuff’ – it gains in its appreciation for a good cookout.

    Next Saturday we will celebrate the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, with another cookout. Our resident main cook (who has had a broken arm since the Oct. 31- yes we also got together 4th of July and Halloween) is fixing chili. I am baking bread bowls this week. And we will have chili con queso to dip the hollowed out bread – along with some local vegetables for dipping.

    Although I don’t practice any organized religion, the pagan holidays are simply undeniable for honoring the reality of nature going on around us. IMHO, this connection is the most important to stimulate, in my neighbors. In order for us all to begin to reawaken to what is vital all around us – I, myself, vote for these really obvious things.

    I have gradually acquired a desire to make my contribution to each gathering an item that is ideally, from our own gardens or property. I also try to introduce a different culture or taste combination for a really ethnocentric population. And finally, I pick something that feeds the eye or imagination above all else. Labor intensive dishes that cost very little like the black bean burritos wrapped in 3 different kinds of tortillas like a gift package with a blanched leek leaf ribbon or the bread bowls coming next week – are a way to show love through spending some time. (This was said in so many of the above comments and Melissa’s post.) The theatrical effect just helps underline that giving, sharing isn’t about money. It is about deciding to choose to spend some time to show I care.

  • Why we give gifts is an important question. Sometimes I think the hang up is that we think to only give gifts at certain times of the year and then they become a habit rather than something meaningful.

    An important gift in my immediate family that doesn’t cost money and that we often give each other is acceptance. Because of our own family crisis, time spent together was really important this year too. And really, any tangible gift that I’ll give this month is based on time spent for that person-to show them that I love them and want them to be comfortable as they go about their lives.

  • [...] Redefining The Holidays, I wrote that my family has some traditions that we’ve kept through the years, even as my [...]

  • Apologies for my belated response, everyone – thank you so much for your thoughtful comments!

    Heather, Great idea – I’m going to do this this year as well!! I have loads of cousins and we just don’t have the money to give them all gifts this year, so this is a perfect idea.

    GB, Very interesting point about putting ego and perfection aside… and wonderful post about Second Hand Santa – love it!! What a great way of looking at it, GB.

    N, I’m stealing this idea – as I told Heather, we have too many cousins and a package of various yummy goodies is the perfect gift! Picture frames are great – last year I rummaged thrift stores for beautiful frames to give my sister and her new husband, so they had a bunch of new frames for their wedding photos. The coupons idea is fabulous.

    katecontinued, You never cease to amaze me with all that you are doing in your community. I love the 4 seasons idea!! It sounds like a wonderful way to unify everyone around the natural changes around you. I love it.

    Deb G, This is a very interesting question. I agree that it becomes a habit, and an expectation, rather than being meaningful. Acceptance is a wonderful, wonderful gift. Beautiful thoughts.

  • Thanks for the followup post! I really appreciate it. I wrote a bit about redefining the holidays on my own blog, and a commenter responded about how she had never had a Christmas focused on presents. I was pretty awed by her description of her Christmas traditions. Sounds like something I’d like.

    Also, Deb G – I completely agree with you that the gifts are habit rather than anything meaningful. That’s probably why I dislike the gift-giving tradition so much. Why not get people gifts as you think of them, throughout the year? I bet it would make them feel loved any time of the year.

  • One of my favourite things to give this year was a dressform I gave to my mother, she had one before she married but on returning from her honeymoon had found it had been thrown away.

    I rescued this one at my work, they were about to be thrown out and I got permission to take 2 home. Both were soiled and damaged. A hose down took care of the soiling but with DH’s help we were able to repair it and replace missing parts. A new neck plug was turned from wood we already had, an unfinished painting was cut to fit the broken base and an old stainless steel wardrobe rod replaced the missing rod that went into the stand. The wood for the neck originally cost $6 probably 5 years ago, it still had it’s price on it . It turned out to be a lovely item and Mum really loved it.

    I also make Gingerbread Houses each year, everyone loves them so much. They don’t cost much to make, much, much less than buying one and everyone loves getting them.

  • Cheryl, what a wonderful story – such a thoughtful and heartfelt gift! I also love the idea of giving gingerbread houses – Matt and I thought about doing it this year, but with the snow and illness, we just didn’t get to it. I’m looking forward to it next year!!

  • [...] Redefining The Holidays, I wrote that my family has some traditions that we’ve kept through the years, even as my [...]

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