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‘Tis the Season for Social Dysfunction

Autumn Love Heart
(Photo courtesy of Louise Barr)

Barb:
I always look forward to the fall holidays starting with Halloween and the weeks that lead up to them. I love the cooler weather, the changing leaves, less daylight, fires in the fireplace at night. I love the idea of sharing loving time and space with friends and relatives in ways we don’t during the year. It is so much more satisfying now that I’ve taken the leap and given up the toxic relationships.

For years I moved through the motions of inviting everyone in my circles to gatherings, saying yes to all the family functions and parties to which I was invited. I felt busy and included and loved, but it was all dysfunctional. I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was spending time with people I didn’t like and didn’t like me, trying to fit in, wishing I wasn’t so different from others, pretending to be someone I wasn’t. One year, several years ago, I decided enough was enough. No one owes me anything and I don’t owe anyone anything. We are all on this planet as individuals to feel good, to move toward the people, places, ideas and things that allow us to come alive and move away from the people, places, ideas and things that take us away from that feeling.

Saying no I won’t be able to attend or choosing my guest list carefully feels effing good. I love the flow of holidays on my terms. My wish for everyone, everywhere, is celebration that feels like celebration, joy that feels like joy, love that really feels like love. I am learning all the time about what love feels like and won’t fake it anymore.

Sarah:
Not just good- effing good! Love it. Like the rest of my life, my view on holidays and our familial traditions continues to evolve. And, almost as a metaphor for my life, my feelings about holidays have transformed into a bold appreciation for what is really important to me and supports my personal growth. While it is magnified by the several frequent get togethers traditionally celebrated by gatherings of family and friends in the fall and winter months, this change really applies to my life all year round. But this has been a particularly difficult thing to rethink. The holiday season is so loaded with obligation and guilt that most of us couldn’t separate it out if we tried. It just is. Once again, it was my children that spurred me to reconsider obligatory holiday gatherings and relationships. I relish our moments together and it became painful to be doing anything that was ‘going through the motions.’ I am a mentor for choice, power, and joyful living. I want to embody that for all of us. Shift.

That said, the mindset of doing what was expected of us was virtually impossible for me to upgrade until we moved thousands of miles from family and friends and had the time and space to figure out what we would create on our own. That doesn’t mean distance is necessary, certainly. My experience is that, in the absence of time and energy to put toward a new version of tradition, we defaulted to expected familial tradition and interactions. We felt disempowered but it was our own doing. The space gave us breathing room- a new sense of power in our lives- choice in who we would engage and how we would spend our time, even the hallowed holidays. We also realized that they’re just days- an awakening. Why that particular day? This discussion touches so many other areas of life!

Barb:
The way the whole rethinking began for us was due to my sister’s courage and clarity. I was still in the dissonant throes of Christmas preparedness when she called and told me she really wanted to end gift giving. At first I took in personally and was offended. As time went on and I gave it eons of thought, it made so much sense and I was grateful she’d taken the first step. Gradually, one step at a time, we said the same words to each other, to relatives and friends. Now there are so many more enjoyable ways to share special time with others – without the stress and obligation. We can get much closer to REALLY enjoying ourselves now. Cooking special or elaborate meals together doesn’t feel like ‘one more thing’ but something we can plan for and really look forward to. We have genuine time to attend special musical or theatrical events without feeling worn out; eating out at no longer feels like stretching ourselves financially. There have been many upgrades associated with the elimination of Christmas gift giving but most important for us has been that we’ve learned how great it feels to give when we feel like giving and not withholding it as we await the ‘big day.’

Sarah:
And, guess what? I found that I really DO enjoy friend and family gatherings. I attend because I am excited and want to be an active participant in the lives of those people. I choose my partners in conversation and exchange energy and love. It was a matter of choosing how I spend my time, money, and heart energy. When I gave up thoughts of obligation and expectation and really focused on creating traditions and relationships that felt worthy, that’s when I got real clarity. I exercised my ‘no’ muscle with a clear heart- no guilt. I stopped using money and gifts as expected annual trade items or some kind of token to encapsulate an entire year of ‘I love you.” I opened to the joys of the seasons to share with my family- homemade gifts, decorations, evening drives to look at holiday lights, cuddling under blankets and reading books about holiday magic.

There has always been something extremely anti-climactic about the holiday season. So much preparation and expectation go into creating the perfect holidays. We attribute it to our children but I have found that my children don’t need or want that kind of burden. They are most fulfilled in presence, joy, and simplicity. We don’t wait all year to buy them presents so that needn’t be the focus.

I would encourage anyone feeling burdened by the upcoming holiday season to use the comments section of this post to discuss. ‘Peace’ and ‘Joy’ needn’t be reserved for the holiday cards we send (if we even send them!). We all deserve to seek and experience joy and preserve our health (and budget!) this holiday season.

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24 Comments Post a comment
  1. Carrie #

    When I quit working to be home with my children almost eight years ago now, I ‘had’ to change my own spending habits with regards to the holiday season. No longer bringing in an income of my own, I was challenged to creatively give gifts to those I love. Sometimes I made things, other times I found second-hand treasures. In the last few years, I have wished that my family would re-think with me (as they usually shower my girls with tons of things) A few days ago, though, I have come to that lovely place of acceptance. I get to make or give gifts and do what I am moved to do, just as they have the right to do the same. I have voiced my opinions and now I get to just let people live the way they want to, and that includes celebrating however they see fit. There is no one right way, and I love the freedom that that brings me.

    November 20, 2011
    • Yes, Carrie! Isn’t it wonderful that we are only in control of ourselves? So much acceptance and less stress! I have felt the same struggle and realized that everyone can (and should!) do what brings them joy. What I choose for me, may not be someone else’s choice. And my children are the better for experiencing it all. LOVE.

      November 20, 2011
    • mbh #

      Carrie,

      Perfect! I also completely agree. If we want to have the freedom to celebrate the holidays in our own way, we should extend that same freedom to everyone. I used to feel guilty when people would send me Christmas cards year after year, when I never sent any back. Now, I accept them with gratitude as gifts freely given.

      I really enjoy giving gifts, but most often I give them at random times because I feel moved to do so, not related to any particular event. This just seems more natural to me. I am sure I have offended others by not playing my part in their perfect holiday visions. I don’t like disappointing others. I deal with these situations by expressing my sincerest, most loving thoughts and by being fully present for the people in my life. That is my gift.

      November 20, 2011
    • Carrie,
      it sounds like you have a loving and respectful family! this sounds like a perfect world to me.

      November 20, 2011
  2. mbh #

    One of the most fun Christmas get-togethers I’ve had with my family (parents, siblings and spouses) was when we planned a “Junkin’ Christmas”. For the gift exchange, we each had to bring something that was free or found. Many of the items we exchanged were real jewels we found on the curb. I have to say, it was terrifically fun and we got some really nice stuff! I’m very blessed to have an adventurous and creative family.

    November 20, 2011
    • Oh my gosh. That sounds like so much fun. There are so many second hand treasures. I have often wondered about the general issue of ‘regifting’ or giving something that is second hand. From my upbringing, I have the impression that it’s perceived as a status thing – a symbol of economic issues – or a feeling that the giver doesn’t care enough to buy new. I wonder if there are other reasons/perceptions people have for being opposed and if that’s actually how it would be perceived or just a fear of judgment. Writing this, I’m thinking it’s probably very individual depending on personal baggage, huh?

      November 20, 2011
      • Jolee Burger #

        I have been thinking of this SAME issue – regifting. We drew a name for my nephew ( age 3), and we have an awesome set of Tinker Toys that I put into a jar… They are 30-year-old tinker toys, still in great condition, but my kids don’t play with them. Is that “acceptable”? I would love for my kids to receive this gift, but I am not sure who shares my acceptance. I might do this with friends, but I am reserved in doing it with my sister-in-law’s child because she is SO not a regift person… but is that her Issue and not mine? I think Yes, but the bottom line is to have a “comfortable” Christmas – I bought something new… it is a compromise I don’t think necessarily I feel that great about – I am hoping it is just a stop along my journey… and that next year I will be further in it.

        November 20, 2011
        • Jolee,

          I think you could actually ask the mother of the three year old whether her child might like these. She would appreciate your desire to give something that was exciting and you would appreciate knowing the truth of what they might like!

          November 20, 2011
          • Jolee Burger #

            Barb & mbh, those are both really good ideas – why didn’t I think of them? “30 years of loving energy” sounds like something I don’t want to pass up! I’ll send the mom a note. Glad for the exchange. Thank you!

            November 20, 2011
        • Jolee- It’s been on my mind alot. I love the idea of enclosing a note with the tinker toys. Of course the child will love them. The issue is the parents’. This would be an interesting thing to talk about as a family. What about doing a little of both (new and loved) and gauging the response? At this point, we really do all homemade (crafts, candies, etc.) holiday gifts. The kids and I work on them together and no one can deny that it’s sweet to receive a handmade gift (which are usually useful or consumable) from a child.

          I still stumble a little with gift anxiety but I really try to focus on being clear in my joy of giving versus my anxiety over the response of the recipient. My mother used to say, “It’s not your business what other people think of you.” I think this is right on when we’re true to ourselves.

          November 20, 2011
      • mbh #

        Jolee,

        I think that gifting a much loved object or toy is a wonderful idea. What might make it more “acceptable” is to include a note about the history of the toy and how it is filled with 30 years of loving energy and that with the gift of the toys, you with to share with your nephew a little bit of the joy of your experiece with the toy.

        November 20, 2011
    • we have done this too and it is a lot of fun… although I have found that 90% of winds up in the trash or in a charity box!!

      November 20, 2011
      • Why do the gifts wind up in the trash? More than other gifts bought new?

        November 20, 2011
        • the gifts, when collected from thrift stores or others’ trash wind up just really funny and not wanted or particularly useable. One year I remember there was a glass punchbowl with 20 cups and a 23 year old male got it. Very funny but out it went. The same thing tends to happen when we go through our own closets or belongings to turn into round robin gifts – some cool stuff, and very funny, but rarely a match for the person who winds up with the thing. Still, I would do it again in a group that wanted to do it… with no expectations!

          November 20, 2011
      • mbh #

        We didn’t really have that issue of throw-aways, but I guess it was because we had set an intention to bring thoughtful and appropriate gifts. For instance, I found a set of six clear glass plates and I used glass paint to decorate the underside. They ended up beautiful and my brother still uses them. My sister found a really nice potted plant that someone put by the curb and gave that as a gift. Sometimes we make art with materials we already have or with found objects. And sometimes we give away something that is very meaningful to us, like a special necklace. The thing I like about our “junkin’ christmas” is that because the spending limit is $0, you have to be very, very creative and mindful. I have found that the $0 limit party usually manifests more meaningful gifts than the $10 limit party, where you can pick up some cheap thing at Walgreens.

        November 20, 2011
        • I agree about the money limit thing, especially when it is THAT low. Homemade gifts are always my ideal too, although I have found that a lot of folks feel ill equipped to hand create anything! It is fun to reinvent and keep thinking on what you want, what’s important, what’s fun for all involved… and achieving a consensus can be challenging too! But this all assumes you are sharing time with people you genuinely wish to spend time with as well … in which case it doesn’t matter what you do because you are already enjoying yourself.

          November 20, 2011
  3. najimama #

    We have done our holidays in freedom since we moved thousands of miles from “home” 10 years ago. For the past few years we have managed to go through our house & fioud things that we love & know someone else in our family would love… packaged it up set it free. Best gift years๐Ÿ™‚

    November 20, 2011
    • So you’re gifting things in the house to family members outside the house or amongst each other? I’d love to hear some examples and responses from family members.

      November 20, 2011
  4. Crystal Cornette #

    I have been rethinking the whole season but since the gifts were what was touched on, I will comment on that. I have been, for the past 2 years, been telling everyone that they need not buy us a gift just because this holiday is upon us. I don’t need a holiday to bless someone I know with a gift, I just need love for that person. We are often blessed without a holiday to give that person a “reason” and we often bless without a holiday to give us a “reason”, that’s just spreading love.

    I have recently been told a couple of ideas I would very much like to implement into this holiday season. One of them is doing heart letters to one another in place of doing gifts. I love this idea. You could keep them all year long, even frame them if you like, and be reminded all the time of why that person loves you so. Also, I saw someone post on FB about not doing a “wish list” with their children but rather a “serve list”. I am completely in love with this idea as it is part of my heart to serve. I figured I would share in case someone else might be interested in these ideas. ๐Ÿ™‚

    December 2, 2011
    • Thanks, Crystal! I agree with gifting from the heart if at all. The idea of a letter is cool. I’m going to think about that one. Can you tell more about the “serve list”? I’m unclear on what you mean.

      December 2, 2011
      • Crystal Cornette #

        I didn’t come up with the serve list idea but I *think* that person meant come up w/a list of ways we can serve our communtiy around us. For instance, finding times/ways to serve at soup kitchens or maybe ways/things to donate to shelters. Not limited to my ideas listed there at all, I believe she just meant to serve the community in whatever way God was leading her to do so (or for those who aren’t spiritual, however your heart leads you to serve your community). You don’t even have to limit that to your community, you could find ways to serve your family members by maybe sending them love reminders all year long or anonomously sending them gift cards or whatever else you could think of. I consider one of the things I do already something able to list on my “serve list”, I send boxtops to a community that has schools damaged by tonadoes (found them on FB). I think the “serve list” could be as great as your imagination will take you. ๐Ÿ™‚

        December 5, 2011
        • I like the feeling of this… and the creativity!

          December 6, 2011
    • Nice ideas here Crystal… now if only all of those we (feel obligated to) gift are those we care enough about to write heart letters or service from the heart. How do we get to a place where we are in complete alignment with only those we deeply love and care about and can let the rest go?

      December 2, 2011
      • Crystal Cornette #

        Personally, I already give gifts to only those I deeply care for already. We haven’t even been able to buy gifts for those we deeply care about for over 2 years now so it’s very easy to not feel obligated to many when you’re broke all the time. LOL I know, that really didn’t give you an answer to your question. ๐Ÿ™‚

        December 5, 2011

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