The original title of this post was "It's the Holiday (Complaining) Season." I have been reading way too many blog posts and Facebook statuses complaining about the holidays. You know the rants: My kids want too much stuff, I eat too many treats and gain weight, Christmas is too commercialized, I have all these obligation gifts to buy...
Then I read Permission to Breathe over at Inspired to Action and was, well, inspired by that more positive approach.
I do see a lot of frantic people, unhappy with life during the holidays. I used to get frantic too, trying to create the perfect Christmas for my family and friends. I am still learning how to stop doing some of the unnecessary shopping, cooking, and fretting. There is a lot to say on this topic so I'm going to focus on one area of stress for now: gifts!
I used to hate shopping for gifts. So much of my gift-shopping seemed to be about obligation and reciprocation rather than love. So, I changed my focus. It was hard, but I stopped worrying so much about obligation and reciprocation gifts.
Gifts are supposed to be given out of love or at least friendship, not obligation. We shouldn't give a gift because someone bought one for us. Christmas advice to keep a stash of wrapped presents around to give people who show up with a gift is misguided and just sets up more gift-buying obligation. The proper response to an unexpected gift is to say "thank you," not to run to the closet for an impersonal gift that could be for anyone. It makes life easier for me not to try to anticipate who might bring a gift over and try to buy, and then not lose, something for them, just in case.
If I want to take a hostess gift to someone, I stick with consumables: wine, chocolate, a vase of flowers (not a bouquet that the hostess has to deal with immediately), or a little potted plant she can put on a table and then throw out at the end of the season (or when I go home, if she is so inclined). Every grocery store seems to have some seasonal arrangements in baskets or little pots; they can be inexpensive and just show the person that you were thinking of them on the way over to their party. Or maybe even beforehand!
Of course there are some people we need to give a little something to: the piano teacher, boss, secretary... I keep those gifts simple and don't go crazy trying to figure out the perfect thing. My hostess gift list usually suffices. But sometimes it can be more personal: the church secretary likes to cook, so we're getting her a small collection of spices. Sometimes we just get gift cards, which many people disdain as too impersonal but you can personalize it by the store. Crafty friends would most likely love some mad money at the local Michael's or Hobby Lobby, right? I like gift cards for Wawa, a regional convenience store chain with great sandwiches and a coffee bar to die for. I give them to the mail carrier and to my kids, because everyone has to to go Wawa sometime.
Homemade gifts are wonderful, but I've found that if I don't start in August, my plans won't come to fruition and I'll be frantic around Thanksgiving. This year I made the conscious decision not to make any gifts, except (possibly) some fudge for a family member who loves the stuff. I felt guilty for maybe about a minute, and then it was over. No pressure to knit or sew or do any of the crafts I enjoy except when I'm on deadline! Maybe another year...
I won't get into shopping for the children now. That is a huge area of Christmas angst for parents, and it should not be.
What gift-giving strategies do you employ to keep your stress level down?