One way of taking back the holidays, or your sanity during same, is to divert the focus from the commercialism and "we've always done it this way, the family expects it" to trying to understand and meet the needs of others.
I give my nieces and nephews inexpensive bound unlined books with crayons, colored pencils, or paints, depending on their ages--I often personalize the covers so they can tell them apart. Janine's children and their cousins prepare and videotape a skit every year as a gift to their parents and grandparents--2 years ago, inspired by the TLC program "While you were out" they gathered to redecorate their grandparents enclosed back porch and videotaped the event. Its become a holiday tradition that they watch some of the older tapes as well as the new and admire how the kids have grown. Children also give the priceless gift of chore coupons. Grandparents that are reluctant to ask for help find it easier to cash them in for various projects around the house. One Sharon's large immediate family selects names from a hat, so each person is responsible for only one gift; the other Sharon's immediate family makes donations in each other's name to favorite charities. They distribute the names of their top three choices, and siblings choose amongst the three. She notes that the contributions can add up, but they significantly reduce the stress of selecting just the right thing. And there really is no shame in asking: my father-in-law distributes his letter to Santa with a list of inexpensive tools that he could use if received.
Further gift thoughts from Jo Anne:
A "muchness" of something is impressive and often isn't expensive. My mother-in-law mentioned recently that she wanted to replace her spices, which pre-dated the move to her current apt. 5 years ago. A trip to Northway Discount Foods and a dollar store (including a buck for a wastebasket to pack them in) did the trick for her recent birthday, and she was delighted.
In past years, I've given her assortments of canned soups (upscale brands or unusual flavors she probably would never buy for herself), a variety of flavors of spaghetti sauce and different flavors/shapes of pasta, a basket of one-pot packs of flavored coffee, etc. (Can you tell I hate malls?? I can do most of my shopping at the grocery store!) Gift shops are a great place to get ideas for basket assortments--then look at the price tags and buy your own goodies! Assortments are easy to replicate too, if you need a lot of presents--gift bags are the easiest way to stuff them, if you're arrangement-impaired like me.
And a timely reminder from the Employee Assistance Program (12/15/2006):
It’s that time of year again – when we have to give ourselves permission to be imperfect – in advance. We aren’t going to have the Better Homes & Gardens Christmas no matter how hard we try – so let’s accept it right now and not feel guilty of “Failing” later on.
Some suggestions for a hassle-free holiday season:
1. Lower your expectations. Learn to live and laugh with broken cookies, lopsided trees and cards received that weren’t sent.
2. Lower your housekeeping standards. Closets exist to hide clutter replaced by seasonal paraphernalia. Let’s use them. Learn to live with the messier bathrooms that accompany returning college students and visiting family.
3. Do away with money worries. Rule of thumb: either enjoy spending it or don’t spend it. Don’t fall into that trap of over-spending and then resenting it.
4. Don’t worry about spending the exact amount on every child. They only complain when they sense you’re feeling guilty. If they do complain, give them ‘The Look”. If that doesn’t work, give them the “The Talk” about giving.
5. Don’t – repeat – DON’T feel guilty about not having a gift for an unexpected giver. Send them a Valentine cake.
6. Eat what you cook or don’t cook it. Why make others feel guilty by baking rich foods and then watching them with incriminating eyes as they enjoy it while you munch celery? If you’re going to feel guilty because of holiday eating, go ahead and eat because you’re going to feel guilty anyway.
7. Enjoy – don’t endure – the holidays. Anything that infringes on enjoyment should be questioned. Pray, laugh, and share good times together – including memories of pleasant hassle-free time in the family.
EAP Committee: Leslie Rutknowski (Coordinator), Tom Slocum (Chair), Mark Hill, Teri, Frese,Linda Stubbs, Dave Soderberg, Barb Nelson,Shirley Wilbur, Al Wilczek, Pete DeMola