When I was a kid, Christmas was my favourite time of the year. Everything about this event was so magical, so grounding, so nurturing. I felt how much attention my parents gave to it, and how much I was allowed to be carefree, and I was the entire time of this school holiday – there was no homework and I wouldn’t have to wake up early the next day. I could spend the whole day in my pyjamas, doing whatever the hell I wanted. On Christmas day, I would feel loved and accepted for doing just that. It was so much fun being in this kid’s body, as that day was made of only the best things: presents, lots of candy and homemade cakes, lots of activities and games, lots of funny conversations and jokes with different members of the family. So much attention. So much warmth. So much magic.
When I became an adult and gradually stopped seing Christmas through a kid’s eyes, my perspective of it inevitably started shifting, and opening to that bigger picture. The one we’re all exposed to as we grow up, but not all of us choose to acknowledge. Little by little, I started noticing the flaws. Not just the small ones, but the much larger building blocks it that Christmas is now based on in our society.
Consumerism. Ignorance. Negative emotions. Overwhelm. What happened? Is this just my mind doing tricks, or is it just the world in the harsh light of reality? What I used to love has become something that I find hard to feel any particular magic around.
The whole way our society behaves around this event has got me rolling my eyes. But I do believe I’m not the only one experiencing that. Anybody with a basic level of awakened consciousness can witness that and will share that same disillusioned perception with me. So what should we do about this? Should be keep despising it and feeling sorry about the way Christmas is? Or… should we allow ourselves to question it and find a way to make it magical again? As an optimist that I am, I prefer that second option. I mean, if you’ve been following us, you have probably noticed that our whole lives are based on questioning things and making them feel more true to us! In fact, because of that, David and I have allowed ourselves to experience Christmas in many different ways throughout these last years – that experiment alone made us realize what really matters and what makes it memorable.
One of the best experiences we’ve had? Escaping the stress bubble, to enjoy Christmas on our own, in the basement of a swiss chalet overlooking a lake, having a local cheese fondue for dinner and getting merry together. It was so deliciously homey & humble. And our Christmas gifts were too: we simply split ways for an hour with a budget of 10€ and bought each other ridiculously simple but meaningful things – David bought me a bunch of my favourite fruit (passionfruit) + I bought him a handcrafted mug for his coffee and a piece of banana candy. It was the best Christmas we’ve ever had, because it was so… uncomplicated, real & simple. A truly minimalist Christmas.
What if we were, like that time, to strip it off to the essentials? To narrow it down to exactly what used to make Christmas meaningful?
We’ve had that discussion with a few friends (who share our thoughts) recently, and we’ve questioned some things we do not like about the way Christmas has “become”. Through that, we’ve come to some interesting solutions and ideas that could be used to bring back the magic, or at least to inspire new simpler traditions.
Cooking together instead of burdening a host
The idea that somebody has to “host” this event, is exactly what makes it so stressful. Why do we have to deal with something like this? Letting somebody take such a huge responsibility and end up having to do these crazy grocery runs, endless lists and locking themselves up in the kitchen, for the sake of throwing together a perfect meal – and actually throwing his/her anxiety on everybody else to top that off, creating that crazy tense Christmas mood – is most definitely an act that resembles sado-masochism. I just don’t get it – it’s kind of shitty, really.
Why not just cook together instead? Now I know – you’re probably thinking “oh no, I could end up in the kitchen with my family“. But you don’t have to. What about a potluck?
David and I loved to throw potlucks when we would host brunches at our place. This was also an essentialist/minimalist approach as it meant we only had to spend a fraction of the time preparing by just cooking a few of our favourite things, then each person invited would be assigned to bring dessert, or appetizers, or a salad to complete it. Not only is it a great way to avoid stress but it’s also a great way to bond with each other as each person has an opportunity to share their favourite food or recipe. A lot of variety without too much hassle. What’s not to like about that?
Honest seasonal food as the “real” luxury
Yes, there is a tiny handful of people in this world that would crave champagne and caviar for breakfast, but for most of us …it’s really not the case. And most of the year we would always rather have homemade pizza & beer. Let’s just admit it. Yet, at Christmas, many of us put some kind of fancy mask on, to submit to the commercial dominance of what we call “luxury” food. Or what is “supposed” to be an exceptional thing, associated with celebration. It’s like a cult ritual – it doesn’t quite make sense, but it’s what’s expected, so we do it anyway. Even the most modest among us end up spending half their salary on something so trivial. And a lot of food goes to waste, too. Not so meaningful, not so minimal.
If you ask me what I crave for Christmas, I would tell you: seasonal honest food. Let’s glorify the bounty of the season, as this is the TRUE luxury that nature gives us: roasted parsnips, pumpkin soup, chestnuts… Or, how about using Christmas as an opportunity to travel back in time and eat things that remind us of our childhood?
How about trading that expensive champagne with homemade cider with freshly picked apples? How about not contributing to over-fishing our oceans (or over-draining your wallet) and switching the fancy seafood platter for a simple homemade pie? Yes. At Christmas, you do have the choice to eat what truly makes you happy, what brings you closer to your people, what is better for your wallet, and better for the planet. So… what do you crave?
Thoughtful instead of storebought
Many of us shop on autopilot when Christmas time comes. And unfortunately many folks apply that same behaviour to when the way they approach presents – heading to a mall at the last minute, buying a lot of things (that were probably made in third world countries) that their family members do not need, then wrapping that up as “look, I care about you!”. Yet, most of these things will end up in a landfill or at the back of a dusty cupboard a few years later. As you can tell from the tone of my writing, that does make me a little angry. But I do not intend to judge, because I’ve been that way too, a long time ago.
It’s time to put some thought and intention into each gift. One of the best ways to do so is to go DIY. I don’t think anyone in my family needs another haircurler or perfume set, but they could definitely enjoy some homemade cookies that I made according to their favourite ingredients. Somebody who travels in SE Asia could appreciate a custom tea blend with bits of mango in it. It’s so easy to do! Or someone who suffers with dry hands, would benefit from a gentle homemade lotion. All of these little ideas can feel special. They will touch a person’s heart – and on top of that, they will not go to waste or pollute the planet.
If you are truly short on time and cannot even share a little afternoon gone the handmade way – or if that’s just not your thing – then just put intention into your purchases. What is it that you really want to share with that family member? Maybe it’s a book you read that you think would open their eyes? Maybe it’s an experience that has benefited you this year (yoga, meditation, diving) and that you actually want to share with them? Offer your loved ones something that is little (and as far away from being extra clutter) as possible – but that will affect their lives positively and aid them with their personal growth and happiness.
Bonding instead of debates at the dinner table
I think we should all make it a rule to never, ever, ever talk about shitty subjects such as money, or politics, or work at the dinner table. And especially not at Christmas. Because Christmas isn’t made for debating, it’s made for bonding. That time together is meant for nurturing yourself and those close to you – and the conversations that you choose to have do play a big role in all of that. It’s not a great idea to fire up heavy, tense conversations about what you agree or disagree on, or bring up topics that you actually want to escape from during this holiday, like “How’s work? Is your boss still a pain in the ass?”. What is the point of that? Just not cool.
It doesn’t matter who close you really are with your family at this point. You are there with them on this special day, so try being vulnerable and open. Discuss things like how their year was. What were the things that made it special. What you are both grateful about. Talk about emotions. Feelings. Growth. Experiences. Dreams and ideas you have for the next year. You don’t need to be too cheesy about it, just observe what happens when the conversation turns towards something that matters. This is the real stuff of life. You have nothing to lose – it might just bring some amazing conversations.
Some more ideas
01) Bringing in natural seasonal props (branches, leaves) instead or storebought trinkets as festive decoration. It’s a great way to make sustainable choices that brighten the mood, and that will not clutter the home as you can dispose of them later!
02) Indulging in fun activities & games (like when we were kids) instead of being stuck on the couch in a food coma.
03) Donating instead of wasting food – and sharing the rest of this delicious meal with those who need it the most.
See, when I come to realize it, David and I don’t hate Christmas at all – we do love it. So we want to make it meaningful again. I could go on and on about this, because it makes me feel all warm & fuzzy inside. I can feel that things will be different this year, as it’s part of an ongoing journey of simplifying our lives and inspiring our loved ones to do so as well.
What are your thoughts on this? Have you also experienced a shift in how you experience it? And what do you do to make it feel more special and meaningful?
Would love to hear your thoughts on this. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas!!
All illustrations & lettering by me – Photo by David (check his botanical instagram account @davidonanisland) 🙂