freedom · home · Step 4: Cutting Costs

Most Strategic Christmas Ever

I’m not into it, this Christmas thing. After childhood, I gleefully quit. For many years, the opt-in to simplicity thrilled me to no end! Then I had a kid. It seems he enjoys the festivities, wha?? So, resume Christmas I did.

I try to honour both our needs: mine for quiet and simplicity; his for sensory infusion and people.

As with most matters material, boundaries help. This year, no indoor tree. (We live in a campground!) And, unlike the previous three years, no travel: It’s my turn to choose our location, and I choose home. I began to wonder, though, if this year’s approach was really going to fill my kid’s bucket. Have I misplanned? Are we going to be alone, isolated, and depressed?

And then the Christmas magic began.

First, we were invited to a friend’s gorgeous home for a Christmas evening feast. Wow! They said our easy yes and excitement inspired them to invite more. Now we’re feasting in a small crowd. Love it!

Then they panicked: We’ll need activities for the guests! “I’m on it,” said I. “With just such opportunities in mind, my kid is receiving several games that morning which will work for all the people, of all ages, all together.”

As we got closer to the big day, I started to worry that my kid—surrounded by extravagance in a spendy village—was going to be sorely disappointed upon opening his gifts. So I talked with him straight up:

When I was a kid, I often felt disappointed to devastated at Christmas, because rarely did a gift match my biggest hope. I was a very particular person, so it was natural that this happened. Plus, we were surrounded by families who spent enormous amounts at Christmas, getting their kids all the latest in super expensive stuff.

I want to tell you straight out, in advance…You’re going to be receiving gifts, and they are lovely and fun and I really believe you’ll like them a lot and will feel very happy. That’s why I’ve arranged them for you!

I don’t want you to feel devastated, though, so am telling you now there won’t be any of the big ticket items you’ve been fantasizing about. Those ones total $5000, and that’s not what Christmas is for. You can save up to buy those, in the order of your own priorities. But at Christmas, you’ll receive lots—like you prefer—of lovely small things.

“Got it,” he cheerfully noted. Now we’re both relaxed.

But then! We found out about Virtual Reality. I really wanted to get him a session of that. On the other hand, I’d done my shopping, felt I’d spent enough, and I was reluctant to spend more. I mean, where do we stop, right?? As it turns out, a grandchildless fellow in our community really wants to experience it too, so he is treating my son! That’s three really happy people instead of just one 🙂

All that was left was gifts for others. Years ago, my family of origin committed to no more gift exchanges, so the pressure was off. No one else I know is in need of anything material, so I don’t shop for them, either.

This year, I decided the best things I could give within my community were (1) connection, and (2) that gorgeous black Steilman dress I found a while ago. The dress has now gone to a women’s outreach program, where one person will receive it free of charge. For connection, I’ve organized eight one-on-one teas and community activities, with special focus on people experiencing fresh grief, an anniversary of a difficult event, or unwanted solitude.

There are ad hoc opportunities, too. When a stranger was—in her own words into her cell phone—”about to lose it” with her kids due to Christmas shopping, I empathized until she was recovered to the point of laughing hard. It doesn’t take much to relieve a person of most day-to-day burdens. Four minutes of listening—of sharing our own similar moments—changes a stressed stranger’s experience from shame and embarrassment to peace, joy, and renewed strength. Good. I’m aware I’m merely “paying forward” what so many have done and do for me.

And get this: Every time I plan a visit with one person, another happens to give me a treat! Homemade cookies or preserves; an ornament; a fancy tea. I keep some, and take others to my next stop. Again, multiple people are infused with joy as the sweet gift changes hands one, twice, three times. I tell the newest recipient where it came from, and connections are built.

My kid accompanies me on most visits, such that his own community builds, too. And we take plenty of hours off, doing some of his favourite things: sledding; curling up together and watching a movie; decorating a gingerbread house; reading long books near each other; pointing out our favourite nature scenes and sets of Christmas lights as we drive to and from town; me recording odd concerts for him and his stuffies on the equipment the disability office recently provided.

We’re seven days from Christmas 2016. In a sense, it really doesn’t feel like it, just because our home continues to be so relaxed, mellow, and happy!

6 thoughts on “Most Strategic Christmas Ever

  1. Oh you are awesome! I started really hating Christmas a few years ago. My kids get really awful and so do I. I also get so bitter towards my spouse because he doesn’t really do or buy much. Today I am considering whether I should adopt his approach! I know I usually end up with too much stuff for the kids but I can’t seem to help it. I know I am not really helping them appreciate what they have by getting them more than I should. I really need to figure this one out for myself and find peace with Christmas! Anyway I wish you and your son a great Christmas! What sorts of things will you do on your school break?


    1. Hi Lisa! Well, that was a very nice Christmas present you just gave ME, telling me I’m awesome 🙂 Thanks!

      For most people, shifting from a mainstream experience to a simple one really does involve a transition. In the book, I suggest a specific, slow, methodical approach, for the sake of loved ones that the idea is new to.

      Frankly, my kid does balk at some of my crazy ideas. For example, after 11 years I just didn’t feel like doing the shopping and work and expense of decorations this year, so I didn’t. He doesn’t like that. But he does like all the parties, goodies, rest, play, board games…and he will surely like finding the gifts! And, I told him he was free to spend his money, time, and energy doing whatever he wanted to the house 🙂

      The whole “all things to all people” schtick can be really hard on the person doing all the work to provide it. When we don’t do that, some people may feel disappointed. But, I think that’s really okay. It’s really fine if some people feel some disappointment that other people aren’t *actually* their personal magical Santa Claus. And, better that than multiple people resentful, exhausted, crabby, financially strapped, and so on!

      I really liked this, too: YES to kids shifting their attention to caring for others!


      What we’re up to instead? Community gatherings (singing, meditating, crafting), playing board games, designating donations to people short on food and other essentials, walking in the snow, reading, playing with the neighbour kids, volunteering, playing our musical instruments, looking at other people’s Christmas lights… Lots of fun!

      What are the things you love to do? What would be YOUR dream Christmas (or other relevant family holiday/event)?


  2. I love your conversation with your son! I’m a fan of our Christmas traditions which are food and fun filled though I need to cut myself some gift giving slack 🙂

    Merry Christmas!


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