Regardless of which version of history you believe and what holiday(s) you do or do not celebrate, I think it’s worthwhile to have a “winding down” of the year during which we shift focus from frenzied work and socialization to calm time with family and friends–and with ourselves in quiet reflection.
For me, it goes kind of like this: work extra hard for weeks getting ready to be (mostly) out of the office; run like mad for a couple of days to get ready to go visit family; spend a day traveling; relax, unwind, and enjoy being with people I love for a day and a half; discover when I relax that I am exhausted and require frequent naps; spend a day traveling back home; collapse and relax (relatively) quietly until New Year’s Eve, reflecting on the past year and working on some sort of self-discovery that I optimistically believe will lead to life-improvement.
The time with family and the week “off” between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are the times that matter most to me. I’ve given up on massive consumerism in favor of minimizing the gifts and enjoying the visit. For gifts, I go with silly stocking stuffers and money for my college-aged nephews.
Tisen is the only one I go overboard on. I bought him a fleece that fits him like a dress, a bigger Lamb Chop, and some treats. He’s easy to buy for and he thinks every gift is perfect.
Oddly, now that Christmas is so much easier (stocking stuffers for 4 and money for 2; I don’t even do cards anymore), it’s less enjoyable. Having removed the majority of the consumerism from the holiday seems to have also removed much of the potential thrill.
After all, the best gift I ever got wasn’t a gift I received, it was the gift of having thought of the perfect gift for someone else. It truly is the thought that counts–but I want the thought to be “I know you; I see you; I love you as you are.” Not “you really need this thing you’ve never heard of because I think you do.” Or, “I have no idea what you would want, so thank you for making a list.”
Gone is the feeling of connectedness and belonging that comes along with knowing someone else so well or at least having paid close enough attention that you came up with that perfect gift for them.
On the flip side, after years of failing to think of the perfect gift for the people I love, I go in with realistic expectations and come out without disappointment.
Perhaps the secret is not tying the spiritual calming of year end reflection and time with loved ones to gift giving. Perhaps we could give gifts when the perfect idea presents itself instead of based on a date on the calendar. Then the only problem is if the perfect idea never comes.