It's that time of year again — time for a round of blog posts, ebooks and magazine articles on how to simplify Christmas. "Simple" is a powerful word in our culture. There's a reason Real Simple magazine is called that, as opposed to Real Easy or Real Quick (though there is nothing simple about $400 linen pants, and other such things that have wound up in the Real Simple fashion pages). "Simple" taps into a narrative that we are all so busy and harried and starved for time that our fantasies require stripping life of all we can and thus achieving happiness through calm (and muted earth tones in our living room decor).
But here is why I will not be simplifying Christmas this year:
1. Simplifying Christmas implies you were doing too much before. Inherent in the "I'm so busy! I must scale back!" narrative is the humble brag that you have been filling every minute. The demand for your time is so high that you never get a respite! But…really? I’m pretty sure most of us are less busy than we think we are. Someone out there is filling all that Facebook real estate and streaming all those Netflix shows. And finding time to read this blog post and the articles on simplifying Christmas! As for me, I know I've never channeled Martha Stewart* through the holiday season. Most years I've done very little baking, crafting, decorating, or even extraneous shopping. I haven't been throwing elaborate parties, or attending all that many of them either. Since these are all enjoyable things to do on occasion, why not use the holiday excuse to give them a try?
2. Christmas comes once a year. Related to the above point. I don't feel like my life is crazy busy. This is true even though I will be traveling a fair amount in December. And I added another baby to the family since the first time this post ran! Since I don’t feel like the rest of my life is crazy busy, adding a little extra activity during December won't hurt anything. For the past few years, I've been making lists of holiday activities I'd like to try, and each year I update the list based on what was fun the year before or what we missed but want to try. And so, this year, I bought Nutcracker tickets for my three big kids. I booked some breakfast-with-Santa tickets, thankfully snagging them in the 5 minutes before they sold out. I emailed the church secretary in time to get my kids roles in the Christmas Eve service. I will be singing in a Christmas concert, and going to a Christmas party in NYC. There's plenty of time for not doing stuff in January.
3. I enjoy my children's enthusiasm. We're (still!) in that wonderful stage where we have little kids who are going to be so, so excited for Christmas. Eventually they'll become cynical teenagers, but right now they're still into the magic. Watching my almost-3-year-old put "ordaments" on the tree is good for all kinds of entertainment. We'll be baking cookies. We'll be reading Christmas stories. We'll even welcome that &*^% elf again. Yes, the stuffers that wind up in stockings are often silly, but it is so, so fun to see a bulging stocking and pull treasure after treasure out. What, exactly, am I saving my energy for?
4. I'm naturally cheap. Another theme running through "simplify Christmas" literature is that we all overspend in December, only to look upon our credit card bills in horror come January. Better to spend less on gifts and give fewer of them. But I have the opposite problem. I am a chronic underbuyer who on a good day is "frugal" and on a bad day is the woman whose 2-year-old shows up at church with holes in his pants and his shirt. Back when my now-10-year-old was in daycare, I asked the center director what I should get his teachers. She said they'd probably like cash, which warmed my rational economic heart. But when I brought the cards with cash in them on the last day before Christmas, I happened to see that one teacher had kept a list of what each family had given, so she could thank them specifically and I saw that what we would be giving was, by far, the lowest amount on there. I like the thought of being generous but have to consciously remind myself that what I consider generous is often way, way below what other people consider generous, and giving appropriate gifts is a social skill I need to learn much as I have learned to make small talk at parties.
5. I like going out. I work at home. Even with my travel, I'm often in my house more often than not. It's not like I have so many parties that don't involve bouncy houses that I'm going to the rest of the year. I have a few dressy occasions this December and I'm quite excited about them. Why would I not go just so I could watch TV?
Will you be "simplifying" the holidays? Why or why not?
*I want to give a shout out to the December issue of Martha Stewart Living, which was just incredible. I found myself really hoping she'd invite me to her Bedford Christmas party (featured in the issue) or that I might make that Montana family's acquaintance and be invited to their mid-winter bonfire under those big skies.