A million and one ways (at least!) to simplify the holidays
Aw man, I’m touched. Really. A couple of weeks back, I asked for ideas for making this the best Christmas ever for my wife and two young daughters — this, after telling a national television audience that I wasn’t going to buy my kids any presents, and asking my friends and family to refrain as well.
I just spent half a day reading through all the comments and tweets. The good news? You’re full of great ideas. The bad news? I now have no excuses. This has to be the most memorable, non-materialistic Christmas on record, or I will forever be known as the Grinch.
So what did you all tell me? Here’s a taste:
The blogger who calls herself CelloMom brought some pretty jaw-dropping statistics to my attention:
- The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend $586.1 billion on gifts this holiday season.
- An online survey conducted for eBay in Nov. 2008 found that of U.S. adults who receive gifts during the holidays, 83 percent receive unwanted items.
The good people at CSRWire multiplied those numbers together and concluded that this equates to $486.5 billion in unwanted gifts, but that’s an overstatement; 83 percent said they received unwanted items — not that every present they received was unwanted. Still, that’s a lot of bad sweaters cluttering America’s closets.
“Oh, but think of the kids,” you say. “There’s nothing like the magic of opening presents on Christmas day!”
Consider this: Researchers affiliated with UCLA recently found that while the U.S. is home to 3.1 percent of the world’s kids, we have 40 percent of its toys. Each new child in a household leads to a 30 percent increase in a family’s inventory of possessions — and that’s just during the kid’s preschool years. As a result, three out of four garages are too full to hold cars, and in many homes, managing all the junk is so burdensome that it elevates levels of stress hormones for mothers.
“With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world,” Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in The New Yorker in July.
I’m pretty sure the kids are gonna be fine. And apparently I’m not alone in wanting to scale back. The Center for a New American Dream reports that more than three-quarters of Americans want the holidays to be less materialistic. And more good news: Less can, in fact, be more.
Here are a few thoughts you sent via Twitter:
What’s the best non-material gift you ever got?
What non-material gifts are you giving this year?
Ashley Whittenberger, aka @CosmicChica, said her “creatively kooky” mother always does a themed holiday dinner. Kooky indeed, but I love it. Costumes are big in my house. I’m sure we could put something together.
And here’s a wacky one I had never considered. Reader Jason Anthony Tetro suggested that people “give the gift of germs” and help citizen science while you’re at it. A company called uBiome is collecting bacteria samples from people’s orifices in an attempt to map the human “microbiome.” Cool! And disgusting! (Tetro wrote about the project for HuffPo.)
The comment sections on my columns are a treasure trove of ideas. One reader, Vivi, wrote an entire arts and crafts book under my piece “Married father of two seeks Best Christmas Ever. No gifts allowed.”
A college freshman writing under the name UMWstudent had this to say: “When I think about the best gift I have received, it was by far horseback riding lessons as a 4th grader. I continued on to win national championships in endurance riding in the junior division. From this one gift I learned lessons such as responsibility, perseverance, etc.”
My favorite suggestion of all came from Sara W Peterson: “You might want to try finding a boat of some flavor and having [your kids] stay up all night to watch the night sky … and watch the sun come up … the first time they stay up all night and watch the sun come up is something that will stay with them for their entire lives.”
Ooh, I’m going to steal that idea — maybe not an all-nighter just yet, but some day.
Then there was this story, from a commenter calling herself Jen_I_Am:
The last holiday we went all-out was the 2005 season following Katrina. We and just about everybody we knew lost everything and most were living in FEMA-supplied travel trailers, some with relatives, and still others were living in the least damaged room of their gutted homes or had left the area entirely.
Our decision to stop the madness came when filling out the contents portion of our flood claim. It was a very rude awakening to see just how much unnecessary crap we had and how little importance it had when everyone became equals in a disaster landscape. It’s been an awesome relief to step away from the holiday pressures and frenzy, and we have found that in doing so, we have cut out an enormous amount of waste and frivolity from the rest of our lives.
Nothing like a major tragedy to put everything into perspective. That’s the way I was feeling this past weekend, following the news that 26 people, including 20 children, had been gunned down in a Connecticut elementary school. I’ve never been happier to be able to push the pressures of mainstream America (only 10 shopping days left until Christmas!) aside and just spend some quality time with my kids.
Saturday night, we went to a Celtic Yuletide concert in downtown Seattle. Chloe, my 4-year-old, was entranced with the Irish dancing. Saturday, I convinced the girls to go bike riding in the pouring rain, then we wrapped ourselves in blankets and they sipped hot chocolate while I read a chapter from The Hobbit.
My plans for a non-material Christmas are shaping up, thanks to all of you, but I’m afraid there are a couple of presents I need to give this year. During our Twitter chat last week, it came to my attention that our social media maestra, Hanna Welch, has never tried wassail — something that must be remedied. Also, the good people at 20/20 have something coming to them. Their final gag during their TV interview with me was to present me with a dancing Santa doll. Well, two can play that game.
Looking to simplify your holiday? Here are a few more resources:
- The Center for a New American Dream’s “Simplify the Holidays” pledge includes a bunch of great suggestions.
- Also from New Dream, a nice piece from Jenny Blair about meeting the holiday madness with “creative resistance” and ideas for “helping your kids give back.”
- Reader Kitty Overton pointed me to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s list of “gifts that change lives.”
- Treehugger recently published a list of “10 Offbeat Charity Gifts that Do the World Good,” which includes dung, a butterfly, a camel, and a song to save children.
- Interfaith Power & Light, a religious group that is addressing climate change, has more thoughtful ideas for a low-impact holiday.
- If you’re feeling crafty, reader Kyle Keener pointed me to the Instructables website.
- Alison Wiley, who blogs at Diamond Cut Life, has some good tips for how to break the rules at Christmas.
- Finally, reader Chandana Sapparapu provided a link to a blog post she wrote about why she requests that people not bring presents to her young child Dhatri’s birthday parties.