It’s the beginning of November, which means two things: beautiful autumn weather has finally arrived and the planning of Christmas gifts has begun. Normally we would be worrying about lists, scouring Amazon for good deals, hoarding B&N coupons, and thinking up until Christmas Eve how we can give the best presents. This year, however, I am doing it differently. After working to live more intentionally the past few months, I realized how materialistic Christmas had become for me, thinking mostly of what the best purchases were, how to stretch my money to but the most gifts, and how to impress people with what I gave them. I didn’t like that one bit. A lot of my focus and stress involving the holiday revolved around purchasing gifts and the financials associated with that process when many times I was taking a guess at what I thought was a good gift. The season had become very centered on tangible numbers, and that felt wrong in so many ways.
When I was around 10 years old, my mother altered our normal Christmas routine. Usually we had a theme for the year, be it Barbies, Disney, or whatever was popular or interesting that year. Some years we bought all new Christmas tree ornament; others, we reused a previous theme. This created several boxes of just tree decorations that had to be stored throughout the other eleven months of the year. And my mother recognized that I was expecting this physical symbolism of the holiday. To change my paradigm, she kept the tree decorations boxed up and brought home several items instead: whole, dried cranberries; needles and thread; a box of popcorn; a bundle of jute; and a package of butcher paper. This year, she explained, we were making our own decorations.
The strongest memory from that year is using my sore thumbs that I had for days after stringing dried cranberries to make garland for the tree, but I do remember how simple and beautiful our tree was with strings of cranberries and popcorn. The picture was complete with all of our presents, regardless of size, wrapped in simple brown paper and tied with jute. I remember my mother telling me that as a child her family didn’t have a lot of money and buying new decorations every year wasn’t an option. Rather than letting me think that all families were like ours, she taught me that some people don’t have as many opportunities and have to be resourceful. Incidentally she also taught me that sometimes simple is the best way to go.
This memory came back to me while I was considering how I wanted to approach the holiday season this year, and I was inspired to recreate that simpler paradigm. We’re not going to make our own decorations this year, mostly because we only have a few decorations in our apartment anyway. Instead, I have decided to try to give as many handmade or homemade gifts as possible this year. When I made this decision in early August, I was full of inspiration and energy. After waiting two months and realizing how little time I have left, I am searching for the best use of my abilities that will create the most appropriate gifts efficiently.
The first activity I looked to for inspiration was knitting. I’ve mentioned briefly before that I do not know how to knit but have been trying to teach myself on and off for the past three years. I’ve never made it past a few rows, but I am determined this year to finish a few pot holders or maybe even a scarf. I like this idea because my mother’s family has always been one to pass down handmade gifts of the kitchen sort. My great-grandmother and grandmother both have embroidered tea towels (cup towels to some) for me and my mother, and we both have a full set in the kitchen as well as ten or twenty packed away in our hope chests for when a new one is needed to replace a torn towel. Embroidery is colorful and fancy at times, but it’s not something I need to learn at the moment. Instead, knitting seems more relevant. I am still going slowly but I have fourteen or fifteen rows going strong on my first pot holder, so there is hope!
Painting is a stress-relief for me as well, so I usually look for something creative I can do for someone for the holidays that involves painting decor or something useful. This year I have at least two gifts that I can make that require only a few supplies. We already own the paints and brushes that we need, so the rest is simply a matter of being creative and making the gifts personal! My mom is also on this boat when it comes to painting personalized gifts. Last year I painted her a very eclectic, bright owl for her spare bedroom; a friend of hers visited this summer and loved it so much that Mom has asked me to paint a similar one for her friend for Christmas!
Lastly, because we have been on such a kick about making more of our food from scratch, I’m taking a step in that direction as well. My parents used to make their own salsa when I was younger. I remember the smell of jalapenos, tomatoes, and onions cooking down to a spicy sauce before being canned. It’s a simple gift, but it’s a perfect representation of what minimalist giving is about: simple, personalized, and functional. I can change the batches slightly for spicier versions for those that prefer that style, and it’s not an item that is going to sit on shelf and never be used (hopefully). Instead, it’s a consumable; it has a purpose. And people can enjoy it as well as have a reusable jar when they are finished. I have several other homemade food products up my sleeve to try this year, but I won’t post those until after the holiday season so I don’t ruin any surprises for my readers who are on my Christmas list!
My hope is to keep the holiday season simpler this year so that we can focus on family and love more than financials and consumerism. My gifts won’t be perfect because nothing handmade ever is, but I hope those who receive them will appreciate the thoughtfulness and enjoy the experience I want them to have. If anything, I’ll feel better knowing that I put thought into my gifts this year and that my partner and I celebrated the holiday season how we want to live our lives: more intentionally, with less waste, and in a way that shows others how much we care for them.
Are you making any changes to your holiday routine this year? Have you tried to simplify any aspect of Christmas?