My family has been weird about Christmas since my mom left my dad immediately after Christmas a few years ago (it wasn't related to the holiday directly and had been a long time coming). Donald and I will be with them this year (we switch between families each year) and we have no idea what to expect. It has nothing to do with the gifts – we’re trying to recreate our own family traditions now that things have changed so much.
However, since gift giving (and receiving) tends to be such a big part of this country's celebration of Christmas, I've been paying particular attention to the emerging online discussion about giving fewer/less expensive/no gifts this year.
I don't know if it's just because of the tough economy and the unemployment rate, certainly things Donald and I can identify with, but it seems like there is a developing trend over thinking more about the gifts we give, or deciding not to give any gifts at all. I think this is a wonderful development. For example:
- The Unclutterer has posted quite a few holiday gift guides, including Gifts the Unclutterers are giving.
- Mindy at The Suburban Life wrote about how she is balancing gifts with the spirit of the season.
- Jeffry Tang at The Art of Great Things blogged about "free" things not actually being free and included an interesting section about why people give and our expectations of receiving something in return.
- Leo at Zen Habits provides a list of books that might make perfect "frugal and green" gifts.
As for our changing holiday traditions, gift giving is a small part of the way we have spent Christmas in the past, yet there are elements of the overall scene at Christmas that are related. For example, if you're not going to exhange gifts, do you still get a tree? What do you put under it? Do you do stockings? How do we accommodate those members of my family who are uncomfortable about giving and receiving gifts and still allow those of us who want to give thoughtful gifts to do so?
When Donald and I arrive in California next week, we know that we will be picked up from the airport by at least one member of my family. We have no idea whether there will be a tree or whether it will be decorated or whether there will be Christmas lights on the house. We're bringing stockings (replacement ones - our real ones are packed somewhere) and we have no idea whether we'll need them or not. We're bringing a gift for each other that may end up being opened on Christmas morning in our bedroom without including anyone else. We're sending gifts ahead for other members in my family and we have no idea when they will be opened or whether they will be appreciated.
I'm mourning a little for the loss of the routines and traditions we used to have, despite the fact that I agree with reducing the materialistic feeling many Christmases have had. I'm also aware that my reaction to these changes is likely related to the circumstances through which they have taken place (my parents separation).
I can, however, likely count on our traditional Christmas morning breakfast. I'm planning a day trip for all of us to get outside and enjoy the amazing resources California has to offer. We'll play games and go out to eat and cook and take walks. The most important things will happen - spending time with family and sharing meals and appreciating what we have.
This will definitely be a test for me to see how able I am to let go of the things I cannot control and to focus on the most important aspects of the holiday season. I'll let you know how it goes.
Happy Holidays to you and yours!