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What Really Matters
November 27th, 2012

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.

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This post was originally published in November of 2010.  With Thanksgiving falling early this year I have the same extra week between our annual holiday party and actual Christmas.  So this post is ringing as true to me today as it did two years ago and I thought it worth reposting.

3 Responses to “What Really Matters”

  1. Lindsey Says:

    I remember liking this the first time I read it, and I do again today. For some reason I’ve just refused a lot of the holiday stuff, and the pressure – I’m not sure why, but it is probably just part and parcel of my wholesale turning inward. Whatever the reason, it’s meant that this month feels mostly calm to me. Now and then people come to me and ask for advice on simplifying the holidays, and then they list what they have to do, and if I gently question one of those to-dos (gifts for 30 children you know? how about no? cookies for all of your kids’ teachers? why?) I get pushback, and the clear sense that these are all things that the person is not yet willing to release. So I just stop asking, and realize that until they are, well, the holidays will feel stressful. I feel bad in those moments for all the things I don’t do (we only give presents in our families to children, and then I gift my godchildren, but that is it, and you won’t find me baking for teachers, or, really, anyone) … but I also know I don’t feel as crazed. It’s a trade-off I’m comfortable with, at least for now. xoxo

  2. Holly Says:

    I also think finding ways to make to-dos more fun helps. For example, I make cookies for my church’s Christmas caroling party every year. We like to take them to the houses in the neighborhood where we carol to leave the folks with something (besides our magical singing of course). I had started doing this the night before at 10 p.m., waking up grouchy and sleepy. I’d thought about just quitting and telling them to find someone else, but my sense of obligation wouldn’t let me. Last year, a friend volunteered to help and we invited over two other friends and drank wine and listened to Christmas carols and made the cookies and bagged them. Admittedly, we stayed up too late, so I woke up sleepy. But I wasn’t grouchy! And we’re planning to do it again this year but also wrap our presents after and watch Charlie Brown Christmas — sharing paper so everyone has a mix. I think there are simple ways to make “must do” items into “get to do” items, and I haven’t always been the best at recognizing them, especially when it’s hustly and bustly during the holiday season.

  3. anne Says:

    Like those above, I’ve chosen to do the things that make me happy or give me satisfaction. I make Church a priority. I shop online or at small local stores. Only one trip to Toys R’ Us this year, and I chose to go at 11:00 on a Monday (a luxury of being a stay-at-home Mom). We franctically decorated over Thanksgiving weekend so I could wake up early for hte rest of the month and enjoy the lights on my tree. I make a point to buy a gift for a family in need through our Church.

    Now, I say all this, but I know the day will come as my kids get older that this will change. They’ll actually start to care what I buy them. There will be more parties. There will be more obligations. And I won’t be so calm. So for now I’m savoring this period of time when Christmas (aside from travel) feels relatively calm.

    Also…I wrap presents while watching Love Actually. Try it.