What Really Matters
November 29th, 2010

This is a tricky time of year when it comes to the word “meaningful.”  For many of us, Thanksgiving serves as the gateway holiday into a six-week period of major ambivalence.  We think Rockwellian thoughts of hearth, home, and family.  And yet we run down our metaphorical batteries with errands and obligations that make us anything but happy.  We have idealized visions of what this time of year should be, but somehow our very attempts to realize those visions dismantle them, one ironic piece at a time. 

What is it about the pursuit of “what really matters” that causes us to sacrifice everything that really matters?  Why, in the name of family and togetherness, do we spend most of December fighting traffic in mall parking lots?  Why, in the name of homemade baked goods, do I sacrifice multiple leisurely evenings with my husband?  Why are we so prone to let the holiday season – which is marketed with rosy cheeks and roaring fires – turn into stress and drudgery?

As we sit down to make our list of New Year’s resolutions at some point during the upcoming month we inevitably take stock of ourselves – strengths and weaknesses alike – and earmark for improvement those things we wish were different.  And while I am a believer in this exercise, I think the timing is a bit inopportune.  On the one hand it allows us to indulge in the holiday season’s guilty pleasures with reckless abandon.  But on the other hand it also enables us to adopt the mindset of “just getting through” the holidays and thereby let them devolve into an empty shell of their actual purpose and potential. 

This year I’ve found myself with a rare and unexpected gift – some extra time.  Every December since we were married, GAP and I have thrown a Christmas party.  It has traditionally been the Saturday after GAP’s company party, and usually ends up being the week before Christmas.  But this year everything is shifted up a week, leaving me two full weeks before Christmas but after our party circuit winds down.  When I realized that this was the case I was initially flustered at the short turnaround time, but ultimately embraced it when I realized that two full weeks of decidedly lower-key holiday merriment would follow.

And so, in an effort not to destroy those two weeks of quietude with the side effects of procrastination, I am making some Holiday Resolutions for myself:

  1. I know what I need to get most of my recipients, and will take advantage of that fact by shopping now.
  2. I will shop online as much as possible to prevent unnecessary trips into jungle-caliber malls and shopping centers.  I will consider shipping fees a reasonable price for sanity.
  3. I will wrap presents as I buy them, not in one marathon session on December 23rd.   I will not wrap late at night.  And I will not wrap without a mug of hot chocolate or glass of red wine nearby.  (I love wrapping, but it’s easy for it to become a chore if I procrastinate and don’t take any care in setting a pleasant ambiance.)
  4. I will not worry about mailing holiday cards until after our party has been thrown. 
  5. I will not obligate myself to cook 85 different varieties of cookies for coworkers.

As with any goal, I don’t know how successful I will be.  But experience has shown me that I’ll come much closer to my ideal by the mere act of identifying goals.  I want this Christmas season to leave me room for what really matters.

9 Responses to “What Really Matters”

  1. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    I have decided that I’m mailing New Year’s cards, not Christmas cards. Just putting that chore off for a couple of weeks has made me feel much more cheerful. And come wrap my gifts, pretty please? I’ll supply the wine.

  2. e Says:

    I think wine and wrapping sounds like the perfect combination. That was one of your resolutions that I absolutely will take on myself. I love this time of year!

  3. ayala Says:

    As E said I think wine and wrapping sounds like a perfect combination. I like the idea of wrapping the presents as you buy them, much better than the marathon :)

  4. Gale Says:

    Kitch – Last year, when I blew off cards altogether, my whole holiday season perked up. Sometimes we just have to set boundaries for ourselves. I know that if I try to do everything then it will all be miserable. By deciding on a place to draw the line (or a few lines…) it all becomes much more manageable and enjoyable. As for your giftwrap/wine swap? Count me in! ;)

    E and ayala – Glad I could supply you with a good idea! Happy wrapping!

  5. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    An important post, one that asks some very good questions. I adore this time of year, but I agree that it drains those “metaphorical batteries.” (Love that image.) Love your resolutions. I tend to avoid resolutions because there is a little rebel in me and the moment I make an explicit promise (particularly to myself), I tend to seek out ways to break it… (Hope Thanksgiving was great! xo)

  6. Eva @ EvaEvolving Says:

    Yes, yes, yes. Every year I have the best intentions to ENJOY the season instead of survive it. But it does take some very specific goals like you have laid out here. Very wise, Gail. I’m doing a lot of online shopping too, which is such a convenience. And most sites have free shipping promos – yay! Also, instead of baking a smorgasbord of cookies, I’ve chosen 3 of my favorites. I love baking, but only when there is ample time to enjoy the process.

  7. anne Says:

    I agree…the images of the season that pull on our nostalgic heartstrings are not often that reflective of reality for a lot of people. since we’re traveling so much this December, we’re not doing our own tree, and in a way it’s made me less stressed. Trying to embrace that feeling, and do the things that make me happy this season.

  8. Shawna Says:

    I love your resolutions! It fits with my lowering the bar and giving ourselves a break philosophy. I ditched Christmas cards last year too, it was totally freeing. I sent them this year and it didn’t feel like the chore it had in the last few years. Happy Holidays, Gale!

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