'How Difficult it is to be Simple' Vincent Van Gogh
For years and years I think I just got swept away in the craziness of Christmas. As someone who has always loved the occasion and would get so ridiculously over excited about it as a child, enough even to make myself sick, it was all too easy when I had children of my own to really throw myself into the festivities. Which, of course, we absolutely loved, but felt the strain and worry financially. Having five young children and only one of us earning, the thought of Christmas approaching was often bittersweet. The spirit of Christmas, the traditions and all the additional family time was wonderful but keeping up with the growing expense of it all was also a burden. For years we would ask ‘How can we scale this back but still keep the magic of it for the children? How can we simplify?’
I grew up in a large family, there was me and my six siblings and my parents, so there was always a house full at Christmas. Plenty of noise, fun and laughter! Looking back, I really don’t think Christmas was a hugely expensive time for my parents, we didn’t get terribly expensive gifts. But we put out our pillowcases on Christmas Eve and came down the next morning super excited to find them full. I had no idea at the time but many would have been secondhand and because my mum was very talented with her hands, many of my gifts would have been handmade. I remember clearly an empty Family Circle biscuit tin that my mum had beautifully transformed into a beautiful luxury sewing box, filled with all the cotton, needles and scissors a budding little seamstress would need. Sadly I never turned into that seamstress but I have fond memories of that beautiful box. I couldn’t tell you one other gift I received that year but that memory always stays with me.
I wish we had started off small with our first child and only bought a few specific gifts. But when you only have one and baby toys are relatively inexpensive, it’s so easy to start a tradition that gets harder and harder to maintain. But as the child grows and the gifts become more expensive, suddenly they don’t look very much when trying to fill the same sack! And then trying to fill 5 sacks, and gifts for friends and family, let alone all the new Christmas party outfits required for all occasions. Were we looking forward to Christmas or starting to dread it?
Over the last few years we’ve started to simplify and we implemented the ‘four gift rule’ which had really transformed our Christmas.* We now just buy something they WANT, something they NEED, something to WEAR and something to READ. I know it’s far easier for us as our family is now that much older. But I do wish we’d started this from the beginning and not got into bad habits. I think we may have enjoyed the true Christmas season without the huge financial burden that we felt obliged to buy into.
*Disclaimer: I’m not always perfect at sticking to this rule, but that’s okay too!
I have realised that I don’t need the perfect Christmas tree, or beautifully dressed Christmas table, or half a ton of luxury food in the cupboard. I don’t need to write a hundred Christmas cards or even wrap each gift with ribbons and a bow. I can do these things if it brings me joy and in different seasons of my life it might. But I don’t have to do all these things to create a memorable Christmas for my family! Some years the cake can be bought along with the mince pies and that’s okay.
Christmas still remains the most special time of the year for our family, we’ve built so many traditions that we love and keep adding to. We still give and receive and find great joy in being together. We’re trying to shop more locally, buy independently, make gifts and reuse second hand.
I guess our Christmases like everything else will grow and evolve but I hope in a way that we can all enjoy and not feel burdened or overwhelmed.
Happy December All!