General ramblings

My Christmas Conundrum

I had every intention of a series of blog posts all about a Simple, or Slow Christmas, with ideas for homemade gifts, and stockings, and even homemade trees.

POmpom tree framed
But then it occurred to me, that making your own gifts, and stockings, and trees, isn’t in any way Simple, or Slow, and is in fact, hard bloody work, and far more stressful than sitting at home one evening on the laptop and hitting Amazon.
The more I started to think about Christmas, to really give some proper thought to it, to how I feel about it, and what it means to me, the more conflicted I started to feel.

I like Christmas. Or at least I think I do.
Especially with the kids at 4 and 7, the perfect ages for Christmas.
I love seeing Christmas through their eyes-the excitement, the sheer magic of it all.
I love the build up, the festive tunes, the Christmas cake making, and all of that. In fact, I love the build up possibly more than the big day itself (which always feels to me to be something of an anti-climax).

But I also struggle with Christmas. In much the same way that I struggle with birthdays.
Actually, that’s not true. It’s not Christmas I struggle with. It’s the Stuff that comes with it.
And this is where the conflict lies.

This will be the third Christmas without my mum, and it’s always a poignant time of year for those who are missing loved ones.
I don’t think my mum especially loved (or even liked Christmas), but she used to go all out for presents. All out. Huge. Massive. Soooo many presents.
When we were kids, my memories are of big bulging stockings, and a tree stacked up with presents around the base.
I’m not sure if she saw it as an expression of love (another one of those conversations we never got round to having), or quite why she used to go so bonkers, but she did.
So somewhere deep in my psyche, Christmas is all about presents.
And that really jars with the values that I have developed ever since we started our Make Do and Mend Year.

Prompted by a course I was on last week, where we had a workshop all about our values, and living authentically, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what my values are, and to whether my actions, and how I live my life, matches up to these values.
And I’ve realised that the bits of my life that make me feel uncomfortable, are the bits where my values, and my actions, don’t add up.
Christmas (and in fact, gift giving generally) is one of those areas.
My values, my actions, my perception of societal expectations, and my perception of other people’s expectations, are all at odds with each other. And it leaves me feeling really scrunched up inside.

I’ve been giving this a LOT of thought (Over thinker? Me…?!) to my values over the last few days. To the things that make me tick, make me angry, the things I feel really strongly about.
I’ve managed to narrow it down to five:

:: making a difference
:: taking responsibility for my actions and the impact that they have
:: happiness. Not the momentary fleeting ‘exterior’ happiness, that comes with some good news, or a new purchase. But the real ‘interior’ happiness. Being ‘ok’ with myself. Knowing that feelings and emotions will come and go, but at the core of everything is an inner peace and contentment, and happiness. I’m working on this one.
:: living intentionally (I need do a LOT of work on this one!)
:: treading lightly-thrift, re-use, make do and mend etc etc.

They really don’t sit well with my inner child’s expectations of Christmas as a towering mountain of gaudily wrapped gifts.
And they don’t sit well with my assumptions that:
– everyone else wants lots of gifts too
– people will expect you to have spent the same amount (ish) of money on their gifts, as they have spent on yours
– any attempt to gift small tokens of handmade gifts, will be viewed as mean, or somehow ‘unloving’

I have this utopian ideal of spending a quiet afternoon or two, with the radio on, pottering round the kitchen, whipping up batches of fudge, and bath bombs, and gaily ticking names off my gift list.
But what really happens is that I have all these plans, and great ideas, and then I never start early enough, and my attempts at handmade never really match up to the Pinterest ideals I am aiming for. They often turn out a bit, well, crap, if I’m being brutally honest.
I once made my brother a cricket ball hat, and still wince now as I imagine his reaction on opening it.
I made the boys dino hats one year, and they were too small, even after about three attempts, and never got worn.
And I made my sister in law a hat/mitten/scarf combo from an old jumper, that I am fairly certain has never seen the light of day.

Dino makes71

My intentions are good, but my making skills (and my time management) always seem to let me down.

So I don’t know.
I want to have a Simple Christmas. A Slow Christmas.
A Christmas where I make simple, thoughtful presents, and gift them with no guilt or worry, and am able to think that they will be received in the manner they were gifted. That people will be touched at the time and effort that went into them. A Christmas where the boys are delighted at a couple of chocolate coins and a satsuma in their stockings (going too far..?).
A Christmas where the focus is on the things we do together, rather than the stuff we get.

But there is also a part of me that wants the kids to have that magic of overflowing stockings appearing at their bedsides, and the pile of presents under the tree. That expression of love.
There is part of me that knows that my attempts at homemade gifts are sometimes rubbish, despite my best efforts, and that sometimes, the thought really isn’t enough.

So there’s my conundrum, laid our bare for all to see.
I wanted to be this font of wisdom this Christmas here on the blog. Providing inspirational posts about how to have this amazing Simple Christmas, that somehow managed to neatly side step consumerism, and create some kind of wonderful rose-tinted 1950’s Christmas idyll, with no stress, and perfectly crafted everything. Where the family all happily donate to charity, and we sit down all together and eat a lovely meal, and spend the afternoon playing charades by the fire…
Instead, there is angst.
But I figured that I can’t be the only one feeling like this. Can I?
And I guess I’m kind of hoping that some of you out there will have THE answer.
Or if not THE answer, then maybe some answers. Or some suggestions of how you cope with Christmas, and the clash of your values, with your perhaps deeply rooted expectations?



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  • Reply Sarah Watts December 6, 2015 at 9:54 am

    It is such a tough dilemma, harder every year. So I am trying to get as much ‘stuff’ as possible secondhand, from charity shops, also Freegle and ebay, and concentrating on things that might be useful but (hopefully!) exciting for the kids (12 and 16) – so new duvet covers, mad slippers, socks and tights. Home made food and books for other rellies. And I was going to make all my friends a little something (all that stress, it’s true!) but reading this blog has inspired me to commit to taking each and everyone one of them out for tea and cake in the New Year, I never have enough time to see them so that would be a real treat for me and hopefully for them too!

    • Reply Jen December 8, 2015 at 11:01 pm

      I so love this idea Sarah!

  • Reply Beth (Madame B) December 1, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    I know what you mean, I find the whole present-buying thing really stressful. I don’t think there is any such thing as the perfect Christmas. When it comes to presents, if I know I’m not going to have time to make them I will buy from other crafters and small businesses because I like to support other creative people and I know that no one else will have given the same gift. With little kids, it’s harder, for sure – I did find this great list on A Mighty Girl (there’s stuff on there that’s good for all genders, though):

    • Reply Jen December 1, 2015 at 8:38 pm

      Hey Beth
      Yes, totally agree about supporting other makers and crafters. If I’m spending my money I want to give it to an individual, not a faceless corporation 🙂
      And wow, that’s a super comprehensive list-thanks for the link!

  • Reply Karen Nolan December 1, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Oh…I feel your conflict! Our family have a Christmas-no-pressie policy which has been in place for a no. of years and does save a lot of heart ache. Like you I tend to make stuff but I often wonder if all the labour is worth it….Last year I made soap for friends and family, other years – chutney/jam/preserves/cookies. But is all the effort appreciated? I’m not sure…The tricky folk are the small family members that don’t understand the concept of over consumption. We want to keep the magic alive for them, not lecture them on the needless gathering of plastic tat that will end up in landfill…for zillions of years… The bio-degrable, ethically-produced, modest gifts are not necessarily what the kids want- it’s a tough one…. Personally I love to give books (and receive them!) My latest blog post talks about it. It was great to read your thoughts on the subject 🙂

    • Reply Jen December 1, 2015 at 8:39 pm

      Hi Karen
      I love the sound of your soaps and chutneys!
      I think I need to stop worrying what others think, and worry more about what I think!
      I have a bit of a book habit too…

  • Reply December 1, 2015 at 7:43 am

    Oh, what a beautiful post Jen. Thank you. My vision of Christmas is like yours – giving some simple-but-exquisite home-made gifts that my friends and family adore and appreciate, a nice meal and some good conversation. But the thought of making everything is a source of stress, and adds to the craziness of the season. I have decided to be gentle with myself – make things when I can, and buy when the stress levels get too high. Wishing you a peaceful Christmas.

    • Reply Jen December 1, 2015 at 8:40 pm

      Hi Angela
      You’re so right, we all need to be more gentle on ourselves. I’m so all or nothing about everything-there is time for grey, even at Christmas (or especially at Christmas?!)

  • Reply Cjh December 1, 2015 at 1:58 am

    Hello again. I did re-read, and appreciate your thinking and well worded post. In my experience, Christmas has only become more stressful as the years go by. I don’t remember feeling that way when my children were young. I spent a lot of time choosing fun and educational gifts for them, made and sewed many, including clothes, toys, pillows, and accessories for them, my siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews. The tree was always crowded with packages wrapped with extra ribbons, bows and decorations. I made cookies for all the neighbors, and shopped and wrapped for adopted families, helped with church programs and charity events. Wow, I could really impress myself.

    What happened to all that? My girls got older and trickier to buy for, I went to work and had less time at home, but the real turning point was the year both my parents died. I came home in mid December from my father’s home in another state, after spending many days taking care of estate arrangements, and had to prepare for Christmas. I spent hours at the mall, crying and sad because it struck me hard that nothing I could find or buy as a gift would ever say how much I loved the recipient. That truth has never left.

    Some years went better, but a more stressful job and adding two sons in law and several grandchildren over the years made the preparation less fun and created more pressure, as much as I love them all. Something has to give… This year we are blessed to have our out-of-state daughter and family coming home, but we’ll celebrate December 6! My job is piling on stress, and I have a conference to attend this week!

    So… A few weeks ago, I made the decision to have one present per person and informed the girls. The little grandkids will also get a toy made by my DH. I THINK MY GIRLS WERE A LITTLE SHOCKED. But the kids receive gifts from other grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends, so are fairly inundated. I must say, to make the long story a bit shorter, that as soon as I decided that, my stress over Christmas decreased by at least 150%. I am really happy. Among the perks I’ve found so far, less wrapping, less need to shop, less pressure to “even out” the piles, less agony over whether I’ve chosen right, and on and on.

    I hope that our time together will be more about playing, doing some new games, working on puzzles, or just talking rather than opening presents and stuffing the used wrapping in big bags all afternoon. Merry Christmas, and I wish you peace and a contented heart however you end up following your ideals.

    • Reply Jen December 1, 2015 at 8:41 pm

      Wow, how did you ever find the time for the making and the cookies etc?!
      I think a one gift policy is a really sensible middle ground-well done!

  • Reply Anne November 30, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    Yes Christmas can be challenging. I’m working on living a slow and eco friendly life, reducing needless buying and plastic particularly, so try to fit Christmas within my ideals. Last year I made presents (peppermint candy sugar scrub, cushions, food items) which were well received. Also Santa’s eco-elf slipped some things into the stockings (our girls were 13, and two young adults), like bamboo toothbrushes, natural shampoos and deodorants etc. This year I have found a Christmas tree in a pot, which although much smaller and less lush than the usual purchase of a farmed tree from a charity, is going to be much less work…and it will hopefully be alive and bigger next year if I repot it. For a change this year nearly everyone is getting tickets to experiences – a local festival, the heated pools complex, dinner at a restaurant for two, a music concert. All done well ahead of time, no wrapping required.

    • Reply Jen December 1, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      I love the experieces thing-we’ve started taking our kids to a panto with another family, rather than buy each others kids yet more presents. It’s a fab day out and the kids love it!

  • Reply LOVINGLY MADE LTD November 30, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Oh what an incredibly open and honest piece – and one which I think will resonate with lots of us. As a child, my parents had little money and we really didn’t ‘do’ presents, and our treat was going to my Grandparents who had more disposable income so we were spoilt a little then. I know I have overindulged my own children as they grew up, because I wanted to give them something I hadn’t had. Now, they are a little bit older, both working and both organising their own finances. We are all this year, having a ‘Secret Santa’ – one present from one of us, very simple, and not overly expensive but a gesture of what a gift of Christmas can be. It is an all consuming world out there, but as a family, it is important to us to share what Christmas is about, share a little religion and faith, and to show each other a little love and I don’t think that there is too much guilt there. It is a balance between over giving with stuff we don’t need and a little kind thought and saying, I love you, with a gift from a loved one. I love Christmas, the celebration of Christmas, I love getting together, sharing valuable time together and we want to continue that family bond and love between us; Christmas can be for giving, just a little…x (posted as my personal view point).

    • Reply Jen December 1, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      That sounds pretty much perfect to me! xx

  • Reply STH November 30, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    I’m a big believer in doing holidays in a way that actually makes you happy without stressing you out, regardless of convention. I like to give and get presents (and Xmas has that meaning for me, too), but everybody I know has too much stuff and feels burdened by it. So I give consumables–homemade Greek yogurt and granola to my mother, homemade seasoning mixes and salad dressing to my perpetually-on-a-diet sister, etc. I’m also a big fan of putting money into experiences, rather than stuff, so what about giving experiences as gifts? Concert tickets, classes, whale-watching trips, restaurant gift certificates, or plane tickets would all be wonderful gifts without adding to the recipient’s pile of stuff

    • Reply Jen December 1, 2015 at 8:43 pm

      Thankyou! Love these ideas, and love the experiences too 🙂

  • Reply Jan Martin November 30, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    Let me tell you a secret.. those ideal 1950s Christmases never really existed! Just because the media feeds us a vision of something doesn’t mean it’s real!
    Now, I know that I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know, but I think it’s worth repeating it.
    I used to have an expectation of Christmas that involved presents. The first year we gave up Christmas presents completely (and I do mean completely) was odd. But then I realised that I really enjoyed it and there was no stress, and nobody was offended. It did, however, take some preparation, because we made the decision early and pre-empted any present buying by writing a letter to everyone in September. We’re about 10 years down the line now and never even think about it – no one expects or receives presents from us at this time of year. Instead we send presents at random as a result of seeing or making something that a particular recipient would REALLY like. It’s much more fun receiving a random, unexpected parcel on 27 June than a whole heap of things you expect but don’t actually want on 25 December. It’s also much more fun making gifts throughout the year when not under pressure… and they turn out better then too.
    I know very few people who are really prepared to give up the nostalgia-fuelled vision of Christmas but, believe me, if you are willing to reinvent it to live up to your real desires in life and what really makes you happy, you will have a much better time.

    • Reply Jen December 1, 2015 at 8:45 pm

      Wow, what a great idea!
      In my head, the child in me perceives a Christmas without presents as somehow sad, and kind of grey. Does it still feel like a special time? Was there any awkwardness with family members that first year? And did you couch it in financial terms, or did you not even try to explain it? I’m intrigued, hence all the questions!

  • Reply Sarah Lennard-Brown November 30, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    Perhaps the best thing to do is aim for balance. The problem with Christmas is centred around ideas of perfection, perfect presents, perfect peace, perfect bank balance. None of us are perfect, we all muddle through. Perhaps your gifts weren’t worn but they were probably received with gladness. I for one much prefer home made. I bet the stuff you made was eaten with joy. So being kind to yourself and keeping your ideals need some compromises to be made. A tricky path to walk but one I hope you will share with us.

    • Reply Jen December 1, 2015 at 8:45 pm

      Ah, balance! I am not so good at balance 🙁 But these are very wise words, thankyou!

  • Reply Cjh November 30, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Very thoughtful for a Monday morning. I’ve got to come back later when I’m not pressed for time to get ready and go to work. Nicely written, thanks …

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