Warning: This post contains unseasonable encouragement to step back from purchasing during this highly-consuming month.
Permission to Make a Switch
Perhaps I have given myself particular permission to do less this year with the preparation for a December baby. Not that we need to have an expanding family for this invitation to apply to us, but the entire season of preparation has taken on a different spin as my family literally prepares for the arrival of a child—and everything else has taken a back seat. It has been heartening to realize that the arrival of this little one has taken precedence over the other excitement of the season, especially for our kids!
Often we can find ourselves in the mindset that changing the norm or adjusting our expectations would just be too much for the kids/for mom and dad/for Aunt Myrtle, but when we actually ask, we might be surprised to find that isn’t the case at all.
You know your family best, and for those who need some inspiration, the internet abounds with helpful brainstorming activities to move away from stuff and toward preparation and celebration.
For years, like clockwork, the exchange of Christmas gifts inevitably brings me to tears. I have just come to expect it: one big, ugly cry. Not for any sentimental reason, but there has been and continues to be this sense of emptiness around gift exchanging for me when all is said and done. Not because I am not doing my best to offer thoughtful gifts to others, and certainly not because others are not generous and kind toward me. It is simply my least favorite part of the season, and when it is all over ... stick a fork in me, I am done.
Given that the calendar currently reads December, it is likely that you are already in the gifting frame of mind. And this is not a bad thing! It is a valuable time of the year to ask ourselves, why?
- What is at the heart of our purchasing?
- Is it a long-awaited surprise or desperate shopping in order to have something to wrap?
- To keep things even?
Particularly in a time when jobs and finances are anything but dependable, it’s worth consideration and conversation.
I know that I am not alone in experiencing deeply the pressure to think of all of the things: to match the generosity, to remember the less fortunate, to decorate festively, to acknowledge all of the people, to write the cards, to take the photos, to shop local, to wait in joyful hope, to keep Christ in Christmas...
Certainly I can appreciate the connection to the Magi, offering the deeply symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ Child. And yet rarely can I equate my own gifting with this level of significance. This is probably why I have been captivated by the impulse to intentionally do less at this time and beyond. While also capitalizing on opportunities to give meaningfully when possible.
Because of the particular difficulties in supply chain and gift ordering this year, trying out the idea of simplifying might not be something we opt into as much as it is an opportunity to necessarily try on. The challenge may be to see it for what it is: an opportunity to enter into the holiday season with a smaller emphasis on the physical things we add to it.
Hopefully this seasonal experiment will prove fruitful in unexpected ways.
The Real Freedom of Simplifying
The true hope of simplifying is not keeping score of who does it best, but whether or not we are free with our time and our resources to make this season a celebratory one for ourselves and others. Do we have the headspace to quiet ourselves to prepare for the Lord’s coming? Do we have margin in our schedule or our budgets to go out of our way for those who weren’t penciled in?
- What if we focused our attention on those whose needs are unmet, instead of lavishing upon those who have everything they need?
- What if we let the gift of the season be Christ’s presence in our lives, and share that with others?
- What if our homes were places of hospitality and cookie baking gathering spaces for more than one month of the year?
- What if food banks and charities had what they needed in March, April, and August out of consistent commitment rather than a once a year gift?
- What if we committed to doing less so that all of those in our community could thrive as well?
I can’t help but feel that doing less meaningless gifting would free us up to be on the watch for the modern-day Christ Child that is being born at this time as well:
The incarnation began with Jesus and it has never stopped . . . God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink become a sacrament. God's many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him. // Ronald Rolheiser, OMI
Owning Things, Rather than Being Owned by Them
For all that minimalism is and is not, it comes down to a response to materialism: choosing to own (rather than be owned) by our things. Using what we have so that we might be available to respond to the promptings and invitations of our particular circumstances rather than the obligation to expend energy on maintaining, collecting, insuring, or curating the things we own.
It is foolish to think that we will enter heaven without entering into ourselves.
Thank God for the things that I do not own. // Saint Teresa of Avila
Have you considered adopting a simpler lifestyle during the holiday or in everyday life? What appeal does it hold for you? Where have you found success living more simply?