Turning the Holiday Bulldozer Around

Do you feel that? Do you hear that? It is the sound of a stampede of retailers preparing to ruin the next two months for you. But it’s not just the retailers – it’s your office holiday planners, it’s your mediocre pop and country singers, your great Aunt Marge’s sewing circle, your children’s classmates. Everyone is gearing up for the holiday season. Scheduling parties, making commercials, making homemade gifts, talking about what they’re going to get, to give, to make, to take.

I’ve already been asked by relatives what we want to do for Christmas. It’s an easy answer – we do nothing on that day. We have our old beaten down artificial tree with its ratty homemade ornaments and our time worn traditions of pretending there’s a Santa Claus. It’s just our little family of three, in our pajamas, hanging out, playing games. We don’t go anywhere, we have a nice, but not extravagant meal. We play favorite music, we watch old movies. Time stands still.

I dislike the full-on dumping of sentimentality at the holidays, as if we’ve been hoarding it all year long. We get to spend a lot of time with people we wouldn’t pick as friends. Small children, who have spent the year entertaining themselves with cardboard boxes and mud, now expect a 76 trombone parade to accompany the loads of cheap crap we give them. We, the adults, goad ourselves into overspending, telling ourselves “it’s for the kids”.  That’s bullshit – most of us are trying to resolve or replicate our childhoods. Our kids are often bemused by our holiday craziness.

Our daughter has never believed in Santa Claus. She was an inquisitive child and her continued interrogation of me meant that I would have to recite one lie after another. I wasn’t comfortable with that, because someday, I’ll really need her to trust and believe me when I say “don’t drink and drive” or “people who love you don’t hit you”. After a discussion with my husband, we went with the truth. She’s a smart kid and I think parental integrity is going to be a necessary tool in our arsenal for the future.

When we discussed this issue in one of my parenting groups years ago, I was chastised for taking away my daughter’s holiday, taking away the magic that is Christmas. Really? The magic that is Christmas is an old white guy breaking into our house and leaving crap from his sweatshop staffed by little people? I asked my daughter what her favorite thing about the holiday season was. Her immediate answer was “cookies”.

Every year, we bake cookies and make up gift bags for friends and relatives, with Kleenex packs, hand lotion, lip balm, cough drops and hot cocoa packets. We spend an entire day baking cookies. The next day we decorate and package them up. We get punchy after so much decorating and burst into giggles as our cookies start looking more and more Picasso-esque. We have cyclops snowmen and gingerbread ladies with clown noses and googly eyes. We talk about where our charity money is going for the year. We spend time. Together. Doing something for someone else.

I didn’t start out with a plan for our family holidays. We would drag ourselves through various rituals imposed upon us, attending multiple celebrations to deal with shared custody situations in relatives’ families. I would get angrier and more exhausted. I began to hate the holidays. I hated the shopping. I hated the forced cheerfulness. I hated the constant stream of holiday music (and I LOVE music) and stupid commercials designed to make you feel like your family was the anti-Waltons or the dysfunctional Huxtables.

I put the brakes on about three years ago. It was hard at first. People would buy gifts for our family and I’d feel a little miserly giving them their bag of baked goodies with the winter wellness kit. I kept waiting for their gifts to taper off or for similar ideas to crop up from their side, but it never happened. Now I only have to make a couple of shopping trips to get supplies. And I like to believe that my daughter, who receives exactly two presents (one from Mom & Dad, one from “Santa”), understands the magic of the holidays – spending time together and the joy of giving to others. Plus, our cookies are REALLY good.

59 Comments on “Turning the Holiday Bulldozer Around

  1. I more than like this post. I LOVE it. I won’t go on a bender here (mainly because a backlog of comments awaits me on my own blog) suffice to say, what you say about how your feelings made you put the whole holiday hullabaloo in reverse is nothing short of a Christmas miracle and I LOVE it! What a tribute to your parenthood that you resisted the urge to fill your child’s head with crap for the sake of tradition. I made the same decision and was fully charged not to pile on what would surely be just one more thing for the therapist. BUT, the enormous pressure not to allow a little childhood fantasy eventually overpowered me and even though I refused to confirm the existence of santa clause, we did indulge in some of it. god I’ve headed round the bend….great post!!!

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    • The only problem was when she told one of her friends that her mom was lying to him about Santa! I got a call from his mom. We had to have a followup conversation with my daughter about other families and that she didn’t need to break their traditions for them! Congrats again on being Freshly Pressed – it will indeed keep you busy!

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      • Thanks. Yeah, just like Ralphie’s mom got the phone call in A Christmas Story about where her child heard the word fuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge!

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  2. I’ve only got one child (she’s almost 22) who still embraces Christmas, otherwise I think we’d just go out for Chinese food or fly to the Caribbean.

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        • When I see carts overloaded with stuff at the holidays, my stomach turns a bit, because it represents so much more than the holiday. It represents underpaid manufacturing workers, environmental impact, stuff instead of sentiment, money instead of time. I can get a little preachy on this and I have certainly been guilty of being a consumer of too much, but I’m trying very hard to change my ways!

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        • I live in an artist community. I try to buy as many unique gifts as I can – I don’t buy anything from the Mart of Wal of the Mall. I try to get something memorable and really personal. I hate the idea of obligatory giving.

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        • I love the idea of giving unique gifts from an artistic community. I, too, love finding things that are very personal, although after spending hours looking for the perfect gifts and getting no less than 3 sets of dish towels one year, I cut back on that as well. Apparently something about me says, I can never have too many dish towels. You can, believe me.

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  3. I didn’t like holidays as a child–too much feuding. Thanks for this honest post. We don’t do the holiday thing, but we have a family tradition of skiing at the local family resort and hanging out by the fire in the lodge.

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    • I think that’s key – not allowing representations of the holiday dictate how you spend the time. I like your family tradition – it sounds lovely!

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  4. How interesting. I just posted a rant on my blog about the Holiday thing and consumerism.

    My kids are grown with their own kids; they live far away from me. My partner and I spend the Holidays with just us. He might cook something special, but then we spend the day doing what we want; I watch football if one of my teams is playing; he watches movies or naps. (Although Thanksgiving Day I’m usually writing frantically trying to catch up with my word count!)

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    • And I think, too, about gratitude for what we do have, which should lead to charity for people who don’t “have”. Sometimes I can get somewhat insular in my thinking and need to remind myself that reaching out a helping hand, whether it be with money or time or items donated, needs to be part of a well-rounded life as well.

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  5. It’s been a few years too that we don’t make much of a fuss over it. Have a nice meal and a quiet time. As opposed to participating in Black Friday and trying to outdo each other and not paying the electric bill to buy each other the best presents! No more, thank God! 🙂

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      • We used to all buy gifts for each other (siblings/wives/inlaws) then we switched to a secret santa type thing that everyone cheated on (bought gifts for people on the side, then we switched to a “swap” type thing, buy one gift for $20 and you go around a circle but people were spending like $50 it all got to be too much haha now no one buys anyone anything really we give cards or homemade stuff or booze haha

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        • We got caught out too often – they’d have a drawing, we’d get the gift for the person we drew. Then everyone else would buy gifts for everyone. That was the year I vowed that we’d give what we wanted to give and they could just sod off. That’s the holiday spirit!

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        • It was kind of fun busting and gossiping about who was cheating though ahah (I honestly never did cause I am not much of a consumer anyway) 🙂

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  6. Nice. I’ve stopped planning this year. I don’t even have a tree yet hoping to find minmalist ways to have a more meaningful Christmas. It’s quite a challenge, especially when everyone around is so abuzz.

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    • I think it startled me a little bit when my relative asked about Christmas. I’d barely gotten through Halloween here and of course, Thanksgiving is coming up this week. I hope to eventually work in more active volunteer opportunities for our family, once my child gets older, but until then, we’re working on simplifying our home traditions.

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  7. MICHELLE! I was going to commend you on your observations of what’s happening to our holidays, but you said something MUCH MORE IMPORTANT:

    “…I would have to recite one lie after another. I wasn’t comfortable with that, because someday, I’ll really need her to trust and believe me when I say “don’t drink and drive” or “people who love you don’t hit you”. After a discussion with my husband, we went with the truth. She’s a smart kid and I think parental integrity is going to be a necessary tool in our arsenal for the future.”

    YES! YES YES YES!!

    I am not a parent, but I was a kid once, and I actually remember it. When I was six, my mother died suddenly. My Dad woke me up from a sound sleep (I still recall the dream I was having) and said:

    “Mommy is dead, and you and your brother will be spending the night at the neighbor’s house.”

    Years later Dad said he had been criticized for breaking the news to us so bluntly, but what do you say? “Mommy’s sleeping”? So when will she wake up? “Mommy’s gone on a long trip”? So when will she be back? “Mommy’s sick”? So when will she be better? Any comfortable lie you tell only builds up false hopes and expectations which will inevitably crash, and your child’s trust along with it. Truth is always, always best. And kids ain’t stupid.

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    • I’m sorry you lost your mom when you were so young. Kids are very literal at that age, so euphemisms and half-truths are not useful. It is only when we can talk openly about things that the mystery/fear factor can evaporate. It’s much more frightening for them to sense something is wrong, but no one will tell them.

      I remember thinking about the Santa thing and wondering how we’d juxtapose this with conversations about safety and security. It’s just too much of a web to weave and we already deliver so many other mixed messages to kids.

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      • You are a wiser Mom than you know.

        No one wants their kids to have to deal with terrible dark things, but the world is full of them, and as you say, having the facts is far better than sitting in the dark, knowing something is amiss.

        “Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.” – Shakespeare

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  8. The Santa thing is a hard one around here. I get, support and love your reasoning, but since I was never allowed to have Santa in my world as a kid, due to crazy realigious reasons ( Santa shares the same letters as Satan you know). We chose to go with it, if only for the magical part of it (much like other magical worlds my kids love). I have one hard facts kid, and one dreamer. The hard facts kid figured it out but still loves to “play along” (and get the presents) and the dreamer I think still has a few more years in her (unless her brother in a moment of frustration lets the cat out of the bag). When we explained we talked more of how it’s a fun story to play a part in for a bit, vs lying to them.
    On another note for our advent calendar we have done daily activities vs. small crap gifts or candy, this year now that the kids are older we have one service project a week in it, to start even more showing the giving more than the getting.
    I do grow weary of how it seems to get earlier and earlier…

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    • Well, after answering 200 questions about how Santa got in the house, where he lived, etc., it was hard to look her in the face. Now it’s kind of our holiday joke and still part of our tradition.

      I was at Michael’s (the craft store) before Halloween and I about choked walking past aisles loaded with Christmas stuff. I am going to live in denial a few weeks longer!

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  9. Seeing family is what is most important to me about Christmas. I’m already exhausted by the holiday music playing in EVERY store. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!

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    • I actually love the traditional holiday music, but only in small increments. I ran across a radio station that was playing nothing but holiday music today. It’s crazy- and not in a fun way!

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      • I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but in the last three states and towns in which I’ve lived, the endless holiday (not Christmas! Oh, my goodness, no) music has seemed so endless because the playlist is so limited–because none of the Christian songs are ever played any longer: Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, Good King Wenceslas, Away In a Manger–

        None of the music that is most melodious and touching is played, because, apparently, it is too controversial–too Christian. There are only so many times one can hear “Frosty” or “Rudoph”, or even the more adult remaining secular songs, before losing one’s mind.

        A believer in God, I am not Christian, but miss that music awfully, and feel we have shorted three generations of children due to Christian-o-phobia.

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  10. What lovely thoughts on holidays. I think it’s all about being in the moment with the people you love. The older I get, the more I understand that there is never enough time. Time to capture with your family, friends, or to just be by yourself. We live in a world where we are often so worried about getting the picture on our cell phone, or posting it on Facebook that we don’t see the world in front of us. My holidays will be much like yours. My hope is to leave my boys with memories that will last long after any present could possibly last. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

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    • Happy Thanksgiving to you as well! Time is such a limited commodity, that I find the thought of spending any of it brushing up against other harried and unhappy shoppers really wasteful. And you’re right about this penchant for recording moments instead of living in them!

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  11. I totally agree with you. Last year we made a family pact to limit what we “buy” and just focus spending time together. Best Christmas we’ve had a long time.

    Great post.

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    • It’s amazing how little it really takes for us to be happy. It’s the opposite of addiction, when the more you use/do, the more you need. You can cut back and cut back and be continually surprised by what you don’t need.

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  12. Awesome! Perhaps you’ll write another post about this before the holidays, because I want to remember the sentiment. A lovely post it is! You could also share your cookie recipe 🙂

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    • Thanks. Considering how much I tend to blather on, I wouldn’t be surprised if the topic comes up again! We bought a magazine/book called Holiday Cookies by Cuisine at Home several years ago. I’m sure they didn’t reinvent the wheel, but we love their sugar cookies, super spicy gingerbread and crunchy chocolate chip. We usually do those 3 recipes and then my daughter will pick a new one we haven’t tried before.

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  13. My daughter is only 3, so I can’t testify to an extensive tradition just yet. But I have tried to do the same minimizing. We do indulge in the food, but thats because I love cooking old-style holiday meals. However, my partner and I are very picky about our possessions. Admittedly, we like our material wealth, but we only like it if it has a purpose. I spend months and weeks listening prior to the holiday, making a private list for everyone by myself. My partner recently complained about the disappearance of black socks (blaming), and one day I found a sticky-note from when he went to the library looking for a certain book. So I’ll be stuffing stockings with socks, and I’m not ashamed to buy that book second-hand from Amazon for $1.06. Then I might buy something that I know he buys regularly, like protein drinks or beef jerky. The point is not that I lavish him with gifts, but showing that I listen. And I honestly enjoy that surprised and shocked look, like HOW DID YOU KNOW??! Gah, love it.
    We don’t do Santa Clause. We don’t really have the money to imitate him either. I do spoil my daughter. However, I spoil her with thoughtful gifts that are often from Goodwill stores via Amazon.com again: like films of ballet (she loves to imitate them and they usually sell for $0.01), consignment legos, old audible books and board games, materials for making crafts (Dollar Store). All totally awesome thrifty things. Yes, I’m cheap, but so are all those toys made in China that people pay triple for.

    I do Christmas. I’m proud to say I do it big without being much of a consumer. I consider it quite the accomplishment. I would like to shout out the possibility from the rooftops.

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    • When my daughter was 3, one of her favorite things to do was to climb into a paper grocery bag and pop up. The more you look surprised, the more she’d laugh. I keep that example in my head when thinking about gifts. My husband is impossible to shop for – he’s a techie, so he gets a lot of needed items – socks, t-shirts, etc. He likes little notepads and can never find a pencil, so they make great stocking stuffers.

      All the things you mention really imbues gift giving with meaning and thoughtfulness – so much more preferable than lavish gifts, I think!

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  14. Bravo!! I’d say you’re keeping the real spirit of Christmas. A day of time standing still really rung (Christmas) chimes–ours was similar.

    My parents never did the Santa or Easter Bunny thing with me or my sister. I’ve never believed in Santa Claus, except as a symbol of Christmas. I actually find it vaguely weird (if not alarming) how parents foist this weird huge lie on their children. Which, of course, sets them up for that inevitable day when they discover that it all is a lie.

    (Hee, hee… might make a funny post: How the Santa Lie is Destroying Civilization!)

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    • Plus, if you want to teach your child to be a critical thinker, there are just too many bizarre aspects to the Santa Claus tale – flying reindeer? Breaking and entering without a key? Seeing you when you sleep? Just downright creepy.

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      • One of my favorite pieces (in fact, I’ll post is sometime this month) is a bit that assumes Santa can, in fact, deliver toys to all the children of the world in one night. Then it breaks down and analyzes the physical implications of pulling that off (how much all the toys would weigh, how long he can spend at each house, etc.).

        Of course the piece misses the point! Santa is magical and not limited to mere physics! 😀

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  15. You have taken a bold step to turn the bulldozer away. I think with time more will adopt your tack, but for now my kids are young and we are caught in the tidal wave!

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    • I’d throw you life rope, but we’re really cutting back on those as well! Sometimes it’s a challenge to turn things around and sometimes it’s okay and easier to go along for the ride. Enjoy it if you can!

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  17. Your Christmas traditions sound like what Jesus would do.
    🙂
    What a wonderful way for children to grow up and think of Christmas.

    I don’t have a problem with Santa traditions, but think parents should be careful leading children on too far. If a child asks a question, perhaps let the child answer it: “What do YOU think?” I also think we’ve now learned it’s important to somehow make young children aware that not ALL well-behaved children get toys from Santa. Let them think about why, and what each family may wish to do about it.

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