Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Holiday Simplicity: Not an Oxymoron

To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the
world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.
–Robert Louis Stevenson


  • -Earmark one day as sacred this holiday season. Example: a day of no traveling, no shopping, no obligatory phone calls or household tasks. Just rest, reflection, attention to dreams. If you feel you can’t afford a whole day, consider a sacred morning or afternoon.
  • -Going postal over holiday card post office deadlines? Consider taking a break from sending cards this year. If this thought seems too radical, try a compromise. Make your postholiday thank you cards double as belated holiday/New Year’s greetings. Use the extra, less frenetic time to pen a more personal note.
  • -Adopt Boxing Day (Dec 26), New Year’s Day, or Three Kings Day (Jan 6) as a more interesting (and more forgiving!) delivery goal.
  • -Feeling pressured to buy yet another scarf, candle, or gift card? Conspire with a friend to pool your gift money for charity instead. Make donating more personal and fun through charities like World Vision or Heifer International, where you can contribute funds for vaccinations, school books, clean water, or even a share of a dairy cow!
  • -Opt out of the New Year’s Eve party and choose a family night at home. Share a living room picnic (takeout can make this even more of a cinch!). Give everyone a turn at playing their favorite music. Spread out the year’s shoebox contents and reminisce as you update your photo albums/scrapbooks. Too tired for even these scaled-down plans? Rent an epic movie and fall asleep way before the ball drops!


In Lieu of

Americans talk a good talk, especially at the holidays. How many times have you heard yourself, your friends say: ‘I just want this year’s holiday to be more simple, more laid back’? Yet every year the spending, the feeling more frenzied than planned seems to happen inevitably, as if we were haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Trashed.

Each year I inch closer to the holiday I really want. My sister and I and our husbands have favored charity in lieu of gifts 3 years running now, and I await the World Vision catalogue more eagerly than all of the LL Beans, Eddie Bauers, Brookstones, and Plow and Hearths combined. I decided that Christmas at my house did not need one more ham, so I am layering (baste-free!) lasagna and eggplant parmesan ahead of time, all ready to warm up on Christmas Day.

One of the keys for me in simplifying Christmas, and life in general, is the in lieu of approach. Taking gifts or traditions away, especially with so much abundance on every side, can feel like deprivation. I take great pleasure in substituting a more fulfilling tradition or event for one that's purely habit. I think often of how I see the expression in lieu of only in obituaries: In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Red Cross. I want my own in lieu of efforts to be gestures that belong to a thoughtful life, not just an endnote to my demise.

I grew up with abundant Christmases. I remember building “forts” out of my gifts; surrounded on all sides by material blessings. But I have my mom to thank for both the gifts and a nice sense of balance. New Year’s Eve was a welcome simplicity: finger food picnic, an equal opportunity music party where Mom and all three kids got to play their favorite (yes, still vinyl) albums.

My purest holiday memory is a New Year’s Day walk alone to the church across the street. The modest Garden Club plot was coated with snow, but one mahogany rose had bloomed, just like in the Christmas song, Lo, how a rose ‘ere blooming. Snow and quiet fell over me, just around the corner from busy, suburban Merrick Avenue. I sighed, full of satisfaction and reflection, and walked home to share my miracle with family.

The best holiday for me has always been one of balance: my own time to reflect, then coming together with those I love. I wish you both of these gifts this holiday season.


At 12/18/2006 6:09 PM, Anonymous said...

Nicely written, insightful and poignant thoughts, well defined and presented.

I'm somewhat of a kindred spirit with your musings, albeit a generation or two removed. My own
preoccupation at Christmas revolve solely around family, and close friends. The world at large is a bit too cosmic for my attention span at this age. Being a child of the depression, those Christmas times were glorious in my memory, and I was never aware of the reality of our own deprivation. We centered our activites mainly about our deep felt love of God, and our
faith. Christmas, Noel,
Silent Night, all really meant something- the aroma of Christmas
trees was a large part of the mystique...along with Santa of course. I wish you a most joyous holiday season and hope that you and your family enjoy it to it's utmost.
(Pam's father in law Francis. (Bud)

At 1/03/2007 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Winnie from New Zealand writes:
On perfection, one is tempted to heed the directions of Christ: "Be ye therefore perfect" (yet I have always loved others more for their flaws). You write well with little "fat", yet if I do sense something about your personal life, it is ironically that of disappointment.


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