Declare Your Independence from Holiday Hype
I occurred to me when I was proofreading my last blog post that the wonderful, simpler Christmas my family experienced the year I had pneumonia might not have happened if my husband had been the one to get sick. Why? Because the person who was always trying to create the lavish, "perfect" holiday was me, not him. If he had been ill and recovering, I would probably have gone ahead with my usual preparations.
Jon, left to himself, would have created roughly the holiday I described. He would not have felt guilty about not entertaining or baking a bunch of picture-perfect goodies. He definitely would not have worried about special clothes or a formal family photograph or Christmas cards. He probably would not have bothered with gifts except for the kids. He'd have written some checks to charity and made phone calls to loved ones on Christmas Day. He'd get the kids to church on Christmas Eve, but he would not have lamented that they weren't participating in a dance recital that year.
The pressure to create a special holiday came from me, not Jon. Or more accurately, it fell to me. The expectations placed by our culture on this time of year were laid on me, and without being conscious of it, I definitely felt that I had a standard to live up to. After all, it isn't the men's magazines that feature all the covers about "Your Best Holiday Ever."
Way back in 1991, Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli noticed that women were the ones who believed they had to be the "Christmas magicians." In their now-classic book, Unplug the Christmas Machine, they wrote about the common complaint of women ("Why can't I get my husband more involved and enthusiastic about Christmas?") as well as the common concern of men ("Why can't I get my wife to relax and enjoy the celebration?").
Those questions represent completely opposite points of view.
If there is any season of the year calculated to play on a woman's perfectionism and performance anxieties, Christmas (and I would guess Hanukkah as well) is it.
And why is that? I can't think of much that is intrinsic to the holiday itself that would put this kind of pressure on us. Maybe the need to prepare a "feast?" And certainly musicians have always had plenty of work to do to prepare for special holiday services. As someone who has often sung Handel's Messiah and Bach's Christmas Cantata, as well as plenty of other music both in church and out of it, I know how busy a musician can be during this season. Dancers too, with all of those Nutcracker performances.
But those are professional obligations, and non-professionals have a choice about such involvements. Let's face it... the Christmas Magic that is supposed to be produced – mostly by moms – has been largely created by retailers.
After all, it's a retailer's make-or-break season. From Black Friday (the biggest shopping day of the year) to December 26th (the third biggest shopping day – although in Canada it's #1), most retailers make a very large chunk of their annual profits.
I really, really want to stop serving the retailers. I really want my life to be determined by me and my family, not by the needs and demands of the profit-makers. And I really want these winter holidays, which are supposed to have spiritual significance, to remain focused on that. You don't even have to be religious to long for more peace, joy, goodwill, contemplation, and appreciation, and less shopping, competition, and stress. What we remember – long, long after the gifts, décor, and overeating – is the love and togetherness.
So ladies, I address you directly, because we tend to be the ones who try to outdo ourselves every year. Just stop it. Say no. Declare your independence from the overdone, materialistic holiday hyped by advertisers and the media. Stop letting your holiday be what the retailers are selling (maybe with a little dollop of spirituality on top).
Turn it on its head.
Make your holiday be all about the spiritual aspects (religious or not), all about spending quality time with people you love, and toss a little dollop of gifts and glitter on top of that solid foundation.
We can do this! We can push back against the Holiday Machine and promote peace and enjoyment, rather than some company's bottom line or yet another "perfect" post on Instagram.
Photo by Benigno Hoyuela on Unsplash