Monday, December 1, 2008

Unplug the Christmas Machine, part 1

I explained the background of this series here in case you missed it. The title is that of the class and the book it was inspired by.

My facilitator for the afternoon, whom I'll call Kim, started me out with a set of worksheets to complete on my own. The first one was a list of dozens of traditional holiday preparation tasks (categories included gifts, baking/meals, decorations and hosting), and I was to cross out any that did not apply. Next to the items that are part of our Christmas celebrations, I was supposed to write either my initial or Eric's to indicate the primary person responsible.

Here are the things I learned from that exercise:

I crossed off a fourth of the tasks, relating to volunteer work, hosting relatives, and buying/disposing of a tree. (At this point, we don't do any extra service work at the holidays, we travel to our family for the holidays, and we have an artificial tree.)

Of the tasks remaining, I have an active or exclusive role in all of them. The thing is--I love the Christmas season, so all the gift-related tasks (and there were 7 of them involving the list, shopping, wrapping and mailing) are something I really enjoy. Kim suggested I ask Eric what is meaningful to him about these holiday preparations and to involve him more if he wants to be. As I said, I don't mind doing most of this stuff--it's fun for me! But it was a good conversation starter for me to ask him that question. I learned that overall he is glad I take care of most of the details, but there are certain responsibilities he said he would be more than willing to help with. Glad I asked! =)
Along that subject, there was an interesting quote from the book in which the authors responded to a man who asked how to help his wife slow down and enjoy Christmas. The writers suggested the couple sit down in early November to discuss their priorities for the holiday season. They said to the husband, "When she understands how important her company and peace of mind are to you, she will have more incentive to trim the 'To Do' list." They went on to recommend that the couple also discuss which tasks they considered to be essential to the enjoyment of the season. Essential is the key word. Many of us feel we need to do it "all," but we have to focus on what we and our families deem to be truly important. By interviewing men and children, the authors found that what is really desired at Christmas "is a house filled with love and acceptance, not a house decorated to perfection."

Back to the checklist of tasks, my last assignment was to make an "X" by any activity I do not value or enjoy. I was fascinated to see only one item with an X: "making or buying stockings." This may seem like a silly task to dread, but let me tell you this one issue has caused me much deliberation! My mom made personalized homemade stockings for us as kids, and Monica followed suit. I am not as gifted (or inclined) in the crafting department, but I definitely want special stockings, and preferably coordinated ones. Right now we're all mis-matched: Eric and I each have ours from childhood, and Nathan has a non-personalized but cute homespun stocking I commissioned my mom to make. I'm still not sure how to proceed with stockings, but it was helpful for me to realize it's the only Christmas task I don't enjoy. Kim offered a great suggestion that I ask my mom for help in this area--maybe even as a Christmas gift to us for next year. (So that's just a heads-up, Mom--I'll be talking with you about this soon!)
For those who feel overextended with holiday preparations, but who are unwilling to cut out many of the tasks, the authors suggest making a prioritized task list, placing the jobs you consider most important or most enjoyable at the top, and then working on the list in that order. That way you know you will at least get those things done, and can hopefully alleviate some of the pressure for the more optional or less enjoyable tasks.
One last quote I wanted to share from the book regarding how holiday magazine articles can make us feel pressured into doing more: "For women who can pick and choose wisely from all of the possibilities the magazines offer, they can be a valuable resource and a welcome incentive. Holiday craft and baking projects have their definite place in the celebration--they add beauty, originality, and excitement to the holiday. But they are not essential to a good family Christmas. In fact, they can draw energy away from more important matters. What many women need to hear from the magazines is they they can give their families an equally good or even better Christmas by doing less." I really connected with that, as sometimes I feel I need to make more gifts or more cookies, and I hope that these posts can be an encouragement to the idea mentioned at the end--sometimes less is more!

Your turn: Consider this checklist from the book, and note which tasks apply to your celebration, as well as the primary person responsible for completing the job. Then write down the tasks you don't value/enjoy. If you are married, you might also consider showing your spouse the list and discussing their role in the preparations, as well as their expectations and desires for the holidays. These are helpful exercises as we head into the Christmas season!

What are some of your favorite holiday jobs, and what do you dread each year? Are there tasks you could modify or eliminate from your list? As an example, Kim said that doing this exercise made her realize she did not enjoy the rush of getting Christmas cards out in December. So now she sends valentines instead!


mom said...

Great post, Carrie. When I started reading the paragraph about stockings, I thought maybe you would like for me to make some for your family -- and then I got to the part that told me you would! :)

I remember one Christmas season while you and Monica were still at home -- I was working full-time, you had basketball games and other after-school activities -- we took a horse-drawn carriage ride in Old Colorado City. Someone later asked me how we had time to do that -- my reply was that we made memories instead of cookies that day! (I wonder if you still remember that carriage ride??) Love you, Mom

mer@lifeat7000feet said...

GREAT ideas in this post, Carrie.

As I was reading the part about the magazine pressure, I thought it was just like reading fashion magazines for always creates feelings of discontent with my home, my simplicity, my body, etc.

We've simplified so much over the last few years, but I still feel a certain amount of pressure as a MOM to create something magical and beautiful for my family. That's my greatest source of stress.

Okay, jobs I don't like:
decorating (just don't have it in me!)

baking with my kids (they love it but it requires inordinate patience on my part.)

Jobs I LOVE:
Addressing, folding, sealing, and mailing our Christmas cards. I delegate the letter writing part to John because he's so GOOD at it!

PS--I gave your mom credit for the poem...I got lots of positive response to that. Please thank her for me!

Jenny said...

I really needed to read this. It comes at a time when I have started to work on what I really want from Christmas. I don't want to be over whelmed. Your talking of the stocking is what I have been feeling for years. Ours are all missed matched. My hubby and I have ours from childhood. As each child has come we have gotten them stockings. Last year a threw out a couple that were a mess. I let my yougest pick his new one. Although they are all missed matched. Each one represents each one of use as indviduals. My children love their stockings. This after noon I will be posting pictures of our decorating. I will post what our stockings look like. I think it is OK to do things different from what others do. I plan on checking out all the links you have given later when I get home from work. Your awesome for sharing. I that about you and your sister.

Wendi said...

Great post! The part about the magazines is so true. That can go for blogs too! It is so easy to get wrapped up in what you think Christmas should be instead of just enjoying it.

My favorite activities are:

*mailing & receiving Christmas cards
*decorating the tree
*baking cookies

My least favorite:

*shopping (too much pressure for the perfect gift)

Ewokgirl said...

Hey, I have that book! It's a good one.

Truth be told, I don't really enjoy decorating. I like having a decorated tree, but I don't necessarily enjoy the process of making it that way. My husband helps with this, though, so it's not like it's all my responsibility. And as his family didn't really celebrate Christmas when he was growing up, it's a very important ritual for us.

I don't really mind the Christmas card thing too much, but the past 2 years I stressed myself out by making our cards. I wisely bought cards on sale after Christmas last year, and I'm using those this time around.

I enjoy buying, making, and wrapping presents. That's the best part of the celebration for me, as I just love giving gifts.

We're good about not accepting every party invitation that comes our way, so we're already on the stress-free track in that regard. Also, I don't believe in giving gifts to everyone in our lives. We give regular presents to our families, and I bake bread for our closest friends. Everyone else just has to be happy with a card.

debra said...

Hi Carrie,
Perfect timing on this!
I like decorating (except for putting lights on the tree), baking and doing the cards.
I dislike putting lights on the tree & shopping. I like giving but not shopping - wonder how that happens.
Thanks for a great post!

Edi said...

I do enjoy getting ready for Christmas. My dh's family did not celebrate Christmas when he was growing up - so he has no "Christmas Memories" and doesn't care much about the holiday now - so whatever gets done, is primarily done by me.

I guess the only part I don't like about Christmas is the over-commercialization and the way that magazines/tv/etc. cause folks to get the idea that it won't be Christmas unless they spend a gazillion dollars and everyone is stressed out.

Our Christmases are simple and I pretty much enjoy doing whatever I need to do to get ready...I love to shop, I don't mind wrapping presents, I'm not good at decorating the house - so I don't do much of that.

kristin said...

Thanks for sharing, Carrie! It comes at a good time as I've been feeling overwhelmed with what I WANT to get done this month, but not quite sure how it will all fit in when I only have about 30-45 minutes a day without kids up. Yet I don't want the season to be remembered by being stressful trying to get it all done. I want to be more mindful of what will be fun/memorable, but not get stressed to make it happen and ruin the memory anyway!

I think I may try to do that worksheet and do it with Paul. I think that would be an interesting exercise since most of the Christmas stuff falls on me at this point.

Looking forward to the rest of the posts!


Emily said...

So simple and yet brilliant! Why do we all stress ourselves out for Christmas? Just because we've seen it in a magazine? I plan on talking this over with John to see which things he is really interested in. The irony of it is that since he is the pastor of our church, it only increases the Christmas activities. Last year, we didn't get much decorating done at all. This year, I'm planning ahead. I am looking forward to the rest of posts in this series.

Jamie said...

I always have to laugh at the things you write that just ring so true for me! I have the same issues with our stockings! Mark and I have matching stockings that his mom made us, but they bug me because they hang opposite directions...and I was intending to try to make us all matching stockings this year but it hasn't happened yet and I am only in the VERY beginning stages of sewing anything! So we will see! I am glad to get some perspective on it though. :-)

thehomespunheart said...

I didn't necessarily see anything on the list that I don't enjoy - but I think my struggle has more to do with having too many little helpers! :) Know what I mean?

As Mer mentioned in regards to cooking, my girls love helping but the amount of patience it requires on my part and the complete chaotic feeling that ensues are very hard for me.

In regards to stockings - I don't like filling them! I find that filling stockings for littles is hard (junky stuff you don't want around your house) or expensive. Yes, a few things I can think of are easy, useful and inexpensive. But, this is just my overall feeling from the past few years of doing it.

Mom - I remember the carriage ride! That was always a favorite thing of mine to go over to OCC and do that!

Mary said...

This all rings so true. I especially like the quote you mention
"When she understands how important her company and peace of mind are to you, she will have more incentive to trim the 'To Do' list." That is exactly what happened for us last year - when I realized that my husband really MEANT it when he said he'd rather have time with me than candy and decorations and Christmas cards sent out, I trimmed my list. I went to pick up a few cards while we were out yesterday, and saw his face fall. It really meant a lot to him that I gave that up last year - all the time and energy that I put into that instead of into making memories with our family. I miss making that connection, though, so I'm hoping to find a balance. Living so far from my very large family back in Ohio, I like sending out cards and little updates. We don't do Valentine's Day, but I think my husband and I will have to sit down to find another time. Maybe President's day! :)

aud1inok said...

Thank yo for doing this series. This book has been on my want to read/purchase list for two years. I can't wait to read and share this book with my family!