Is it getting harder to feel the Christmas spirit?
In 2019 there were devastating fires not far from where I live, and one of my husband’s students was struck and killed by a drunk driver while he was walking to school shortly before Thanksgiving. In 2020 we were under quarantine, and dealing with restrictions, shortages, joblessness, and a constantly-spreading disease against which most of us could not yet be vaccinated. This year we’ve added vicious public discourse, multiple COVID variants, inflation, and more.
It’s hard not to feel fearful and burdened by these difficulties. They seem to have dragged on forever, but it also feels like time is speeding past. It’s already December, and Christmas will be here so soon.
Frankly, I’m tired of my house. I put up some Christmas lights, but feel no anticipation about other décor. The thought of going shopping holds absolutely no joy at all. Really, who needs more stuff? And for the first time in more than 40 years as a singer, I’ve had no concerts to prepare for. I listen to music constantly, but I’m not making it.
Thankfully, and unlike last year, I will be able to physically be with a few loved ones this holiday.
Minimalism tells us that less is more, and that having time and space to savor the moments, rather than being rushed and stressed by owning and doing too much, is the secret to contentment. I was actively looking for those moments that bring joy.
Here are the results of my search.
1. I remember happiness.
At least some of my holiday melancholy is related to nostalgia. Time passes, things change, there are losses. We legitimately miss people and events of the past.
When I took time to think about my happiest holiday moments as a child and as a parent, I remembered:
• sitting at a table with my mom and siblings, crafting simple Christmas ornaments and listening to holiday music on the hi-fi
• my tall skinny father in a Santa Claus outfit that fooled no one
• writing some Christmas stories and poems for a school project
• rehearsing and performing a concert of renaissance Christmas carols with some friends in college
• searching for a Christmas tree with my husband and kids at McBurney’s farm in the mountains
• going to our church on Christmas Eve, guided by hundreds of luminarias lining the walkways
• walking in the woods after Christmas dinner at the home of my parents-in-law
• listening to Handel’s Messiah in the living room lit only by the tree and some candles
• playing cards with a large happy group of extended family on Christmas evening
• a holiday trip to the beach
I can’t do all of these things this year, but I can do some of them. And simply remembering and thinking about them brings happiness.
2. I give presents to people who need them.
I’m not against giving gifts, but I know there is nothing I can buy to show someone how much I love them. Love doesn’t come in a box.
However, a gift that meets a true need is actually fun to give. It feels useful and purposeful, which bolsters feelings of self-worth. And when I take my eyes off myself and think about those who have less than me, it’s hard to be depressed.
• Last Christmas my son and his roommate received a washing machine. Neither had been able to work full time because of COVID restrictions, so when their old washer died, they couldn’t replace it. My husband Jon and I were happy to be able to fill this need, and they were delighted to accept.
• It’s easy to drop off a bag or two of canned goods at the local food closet, donate extra outerwear to a Salvation Army coat drive or a homeless shelter, or go caroling at a care home or hospital.
• Several of our family members will be receiving goats and chickens for Christmas – that is, we’re giving gifts in their honor to needy families through World Vision.
• We love Toys for Tots! Run by the U.S. Marines, Toys for Tots has been delivering a little bit of Christmas to less fortunate children since 1947. 97% of any gift provides toys, books, and other gifts to children who would otherwise not have any.
3. I focus on the good.
Jon and I have a habit of complaining about bad drivers we see on the road. Speeders, lane switchers, tailgaters – we moan about all of them. It makes us crabby and stressed. But there are always bad drivers, and our carping won’t change that. We can continue to make ourselves unhappy by focusing on the bad, or we can drive as safely as possible and withhold comments on others.
It’s our choice.
We all have fantasies about a cozy, happy family, but that might not be our situation. Accept your reality and don’t expect perfection. I choose to focus on what’s good – my son-in-law who brings his easy-going intelligence to every gathering, my niece’s sweet new baby, my energetic, talkative grandsons, the funny stories my husband tells about his childhood.
The news and social media can sap every bit of optimism and hope that I have, but I can choose to limit my exposure during the holidays.
I know the crowds and the impatience will hurt my spirit, so I can choose to shop less, shop online, or shop in small locally-owned businesses.
Shorter, colder days may bother some of us, but we can choose to enjoy the crisp clarity of winter and find comfort in firelight, candlelight, Christmas lights, and hot cocoa.
Finding Christmas spirit might be as simple (and as challenging) as choosing it.
About the Author: Karen Trefzger is a writer, singer, teacher, wife, mother, and grandmother who has been choosing a simpler life for over 20 years. She is the author of Minimalism A to Z, and blogs at MaximumGratitudeMinimalStuff.