Be a Holiday Connoisseur

simple white lights

I am a glutton.

As long as I can remember, I have felt rewarded by eating.  Perhaps I learned the pattern in childhood, when I got dessert if I cleaned my plate.  But it really doesn't matter how I acquired the habit.  The result is that given the choice, I'll take a large serving of adequate quality over a small but exceptional meal.  To some extent, I'm not truly satisfied unless I'm a step beyond comfortably full.

No one is going to argue that gluttony is a good thing.  A glutton has an excessive desire for food, drink, work, sex, TV, luxury or other things.  She doesn't just eat or shop – she binges.  A glutton is rarely satisfied for long, and is always looking for the next meal, the next drink, the next purchase, the next trip or experience.  A glutton is easily bored.  A glutton rarely says, "That's too much."

I think our culture encourages gluttony in many ways.  That might explain our response to quarantine and other pandemic protocols.  How quickly we complain of being stuck at home without our usual crazy schedules and constant amusements.  Some of us become so desperate we pick up a book, return to crochet or chess, garden with our kids, or start taking evening bike rides.  These are pastimes we all enjoyed decades ago, but they're rather simple and slow-paced for modern tastes.

As COVID-19 infections surge once again, we need to face the fact that our usual holiday gatherings and travel plans, shopping sprees and restaurant meals, entertainments and even religious services may have to be fewer and smaller this year.

Perhaps you think I'm a Grinch, but I am far from suggesting that we shouldn't celebrate the holidays.  I've been a holiday glutton.  I've planned and eaten feasts, visited relatives far away, attended (and performed in) concerts and plays, tree lightings and holiday parades, cookie exchanges and Christmas teas, caroling parties and midnight church services.  I've shopped for wear-it-one-time holiday clothes, bought yet another decoration just to fill an empty space, wrapped presents in the wee hours, sipped "one more" glass of eggnog, eaten "one last" piece of fudge.

Instead of cramming as much as possible into our homes, schedules, and bodies, trying to fill our lives with all the treats, I'm suggesting that we become holiday connoisseurs.  

We should identify the highest-quality experiences, pay attention to the details, appreciate each nuance, and get the most from the least.

You know, the lives of people in ads or TV shows aren't real.  The "special holiday" issues of magazines aren't real.  They're put together by teams of professionals, and designed to make us want to buy a product.  They aim to create a fear of missing out or of not fitting in.  They push our emotional buttons in order to sell us something – the fantasy of the "perfect" celebration.

And the lives of people we see on social media are a highlight reel.  We see a happy family having fun away from home, or dressed to the nines for a special event.  We don't see everyday life, the imperfect moments, or the struggles that everyone goes through.  But the edited version can make us feel that our lives are falling short.

It isn't true.  We're looking at family life without messes and misunderstandings.  We see the glossy magazine, not the hundreds of hours put in by a large staff.  We see the slick ad, not the psychology employed to make us want something.

It's possible to enjoy a wonderful holiday while doing, buying, eating, drinking, traveling, and consuming less.  The real trick this year is to overcome a slowed economy and social isolation while maintaining healthy behaviors so that we and our loved ones don't wind up sick and miserable.  But how?

6 Essentials for a High-Quality Holiday

1.  Stick to a budget.

A goal without a plan is just a wish.  Take a few minutes now to set your priorities, decide what you can spend, and plan gifts and menus.  You'll insure a more peaceful Christmas and a happier new year.

2.  Be generous.

You may not be as well off as you were last year, but if you're reading this I'm guessing you have a home, food, clothing, light and heat.  You may be economizing, but you still have so much.  Your kids have so much.  Do you want to celebrate the season?  Put the focus on giving rather than getting.  Volunteer to ring a bell for the Salvation Army, clear snow for your elderly neighbor, take your kids shopping for gifts for the local Angel Tree, or donate to the food bank.  There are many opportunities to share.

3.  Connect with loved ones.

You say you miss getting together with people?  Be sure to pay attention to the people in your own home  It's common today for family members to inhabit separate little worlds with their own phones, computers, or TVs.  Unplug and be together.  Go on a hike, bake cookies, craft tree ornaments, play games, address Christmas cards, sing along with holiday music, build a snowman.  Laugh and cuddle.  Meet your need for physical contact with the people who are already there.

4.  Create new traditions.

Let's make new kinds of memories.  Use technology such as FaceTime and Zoom to reach out to loved ones who live elsewhere.  Make a date for lunch or coffee together, each in your own kitchen.  Invite them to visit on your TV or computer screen as you relax in your own living room.  Use your phone to make a video of your kids singing a carol and text it to the grandparents.

5.  Go outside.

There's more than one good reason to spend time outdoors.  Not only do sunlight and fresh air help prevent depression and fatigue, but COVID-19 protocols are easier to observe as well.  Bundle up and meet a friend for a walk, play catch or Frisbee, picnic in a sunny spot, or help each other with yard chores.  Come on – get off the couch and go outside for just 15 minutes!

6.  Shine your light.

Holiday lights raise spirits – it's that simple.  You don't have to cover every square inch, and you don't need energy-gobbling inflatables.  But it's amazing what a string of lights hung on the eaves, along the shrubberies, around the porch, and/or on a tree or menorah in a window can do to make your house look merry.  I guarantee that every person who goes by will appreciate it!  And be sure to enjoy the seasonal displays around your community.

Be a holiday connoisseur, won't you?  Savor what you really value about the holidays, and let the rest go.  It will be just enough and just right.

P.S.  For more inspiration for a simpler, more meaningful holiday, please check out the revised and expanded version of my book, Minimalism for the Holidays (paid link).

Photo by Mourad Saadi on Unsplash


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