This can be a tough time of year for many of us. My own experience has been that of wanting to crawl into a cave about Thanksgiving and not come out until early March. Since that didn’t work very well with family, friends, work, etc., I had to come up with some better ideas and wanted to offer a few things I have found helpful.
By the middle of December here in Seattle it’s dark by 4:00 pm. I realized a few years ago that I was leaving for work in the dark and returning from work in the dark, and saw almost no daylight at home except on Saturdays and Sundays for months on end. That’s a little depressing, especially for the nearly 20% of us who experience some degree of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Decorations with lights are no joke!
Several years ago I bought a “Happy Light” at Costco. It’s about the size of a makeup mirror with full-spectrum bulbs that simulate sunlight. Most of us know the good feeling of sun shining on our faces; sunlight on the skin generates production of Vitamin D which is then transported throughout the body. During hibernation season, I set my alarm for 30 minutes earlier than I need to get up, put that Happy Light right in front of my face, and snooze for half an hour. It helps boost my energy level and keeps me from crawling into a cave.
Being assaulted with holiday decorations and music in stores even before Hallowe’en is about as enjoyable as a 20-month presidential election campaign. Bleah. And there’s one more thing on my own list: I need to help myself counteract the sadness associated with the anniversary of my Dad’s death at the beginning of December. What to do?
- We don’t watch any broadcast TV, and that unplugs our household from one big source of relentless commercialism. I strongly recommend this in any case, and especially at this time of year. Kids who are not pumped full of advertising are a lot easier and more fun to be around. Adults who are not pumped full of campaign ads are a lot easier and more fun to be around.
- Observing the Advent season can help us strip away unnecessary distractions and clutter. I appreciate having an Advent calendar to follow and/or short readings for each day. Some church traditions call for fasting and penitence during Advent, in sharp contrast with our seasonal [over]emphasis on eating and shopping.
- It helps us to consider that many people around the time of Jesus’ birth were looking for a messiah who would come as king. They weren’t bargaining for a baby born in a stable (see Luci Shaw’s poem Mary’s Song). If the “first Christmas” had elements of disappointment attached to it, ours can, too. This is less about being a Scrooge and more about recalibrating our expectations for the holiday.
- I like having simple traditions I can follow every year. I do some baking, we get out to look at lights and decorations, we host a family brunch, we add a Christmas CD to our collection, we have Christmas dinner with a long-time friend and dessert and games with neighbors. We like going for walks. Writing and sending out an annual letter is great, but not if it’s going to be an undue cause of stress or guilt.
- We stock up on household items so we can avoid going into malls and bigger stores as it gets closer to Christmas.
- We’ve done a little more with making donations to organizations we support in the names of those with whom we have previously exchanged gifts. This can be a win-win option, especially when accompanied by a loving written explanation of why we’re giving this kind of gift.
- We enjoy a few international treats at the table, including Japanese satsuma oranges (from California); a splash of Irish cream to perk up a cup of coffee; Swedish Toast (something like this recipe, not the 11th-century Swedish practice of drinking ale from the skulls of defeated enemies); and Italian panettone.
- We long ago abandoned any attempt to have perfect decorations in a perfect house, exchange perfect gifts, or serve perfect meals. We want people to feel welcomed, loved, and comfortable in our home, and that does not require any of the above. Even if our house looked like a stable, would that be so bad?
- We light candles for dinner every night.
For those of us in a Christian tradition, the heart of the Christmas holiday is trying to grasp once again the wonder of God’s arrival on earth as a baby. Would that our celebrations were more of a reflection on him and less of an exhausting streak of shopping, cooking, hosting, and gift-giving. Here’s hoping that your holiday season is simpler and more enjoyable this year. Cheers!