Now, don't get me wrong I like Christmas. I love the shared feeling of excitement and expectation, especially amongst children. I love the simplicity of the story of the first Christmas and its deeper religious meaning. I enjoy seeing twinkling lights as I walk darkened streets. Being with family and friends, eating traditional food, having time to chill and just be... is what makes Christmas special.
BUT, there is for me, a huge downside: the excess; the consumerism; the tat; the pressure people feel under; the time spent searching for the perfect gift when we really have no idea what someone wants; the second rate service at Christmas functions.
It all starts in mid October with adverts on TV for new sofas and builds relentlessly until late on Christmas Eve when, after a brief respite, it re-appears for Boxing Day sales, Easter egg adverts and slimming tips. And so it goes on. We feel under pressure socially; the expectation that every social group you are in should celebrate by eating a microwaved poor quality meal with free crackers and hats for stupid amounts of money. We feel under financial pressure to conform.
So you want to simplify Christmas? I've got a few suggestions.
Set limits - plan your spending budget and the amount of time you want to allocate on Christmas preparations.
Ask people what they want, don't guess.
Buy consumables. If you want to buy someone a small token get them something consumable: food, drink or everyday toiletries like soap or hand cream.
Buy experiences. Buy cinema vouchers or theatre tickets instead of stuff.
Buy ethically. Check out the ethical values of where you plan to spend your money.
Shop on line. Avoid impulse buys and temptation by keeping away from the shops.
Support charities. Many charities sell gifts as well as cards. Check them out on line. If you get unwanted gifts donate them to local charities. At Christmas some high street stores donate money from their festive sandwich sales to charity.
Plan for relaxation. Don't over-schedule your time off. Plan time for yourself, family time and time just to savour the season.
Don't strive for perfection - so what if you forget the sprouts?
Focus on people: listen, be kind, be tolerant, help those less fortunate. Consider donating food to a church, school or business that collects food for food banks. See here for details.
Buy local - support local businesses at craft fairs and markets. Shop at smaller local retail outlets.
Learn to recognise the difference between a need and a want. Try and teach your children this skill too. Will they really want that latest fad in six months time?
Have a pre Christmas clear out. Spending more time at home with more people and with more stuff can make you feel overwhelmed. Decluttering can make your home feel more calm and spacious. If you have young children get them involved in donating to local charities and teach them the joy of giving. Consider charities that support children such as children of prisoners or children living in war torn countries.
Spend less and avoid debt. Christmas gifts can become competitive in certain circles. Opt out of this mindset by buying simpler, low cost presents.
Give home made gifts. We aren't all able to sew, knit or crochet but could you make something simple like chocolate truffles or marzipan fruits?
Don't over commit socially. Consider saying no to an invitation if you've got too many outings close together. Arrange to go out in the new year.
Keep your TV viewing under control. This way you can avoid the relentless advertising.
Shop at quiet times. If you have to hit the shops, go early or book a day off work to go on a quieter weekday.
Resist the pressure of competitive Christmas decorating. Decorate your home with a few simple touches like candles or a door wreath. Use natural materials or make simple decorations out of paper or salt dough. Whatever you put up before Christmas will need to come down again in a matter of weeks.
Take some time for personal reflection. You don't have to be religious to light a few candles, sit quietly and reflect on what Christmas means to you. Having some quiet contemplative time can recharge you.
Have fun. Time spent with your family and friends is more memorable than most presents. Watch your favourite Christmas film, go to a carol concert or play old fashioned party games.
Finally, remember most of us have a CHOICE over how much we spend at Christmas. Some people don't have any spare cash and don't even have basic human requirements like food, love and shelter. I loved what Vappu wrote on this subject so eloquently this weekend.
Hope you all have a great week.