Do you remember the TV show “Supermarket Sweep”? Contestants had several minutes to fill grocery carts with as much stuff as possible. But the winner wasn’t determined by the quantity of stuff jammed into the cart but by the total monetary value at checkout. The contestant with the biggest tab won the game.
The strategy is simple: Pass up the low-value stuff and load up on what’s going to pay off big at the checkout. Smart contestants had a plan of action and knew exactly where to head the minute that clock started ticking.
Christmas is like that. Once the season begins, we start filling our “shopping carts.” We have lots of choices. What we choose will either pay off in terms of happiness, satisfaction, and pleasant holiday memories, or we’ll get negative results of dissatisfaction and disappointment fueled by guilt, obligation, and trying to meet others’ expectations. What we end up with when it’s all put away for another year will depend on the choices we make between now and then.
In their book “Unplug the Christmas Machine,” authors Jo Robinson and Jean C. Staeheli tell us that while children may be quick to tell their parents they want designer clothes, the latest electronic gear, and brand-name toys for Christmas, here’s what they really want:
Relaxed and loving time with family.
Realistic expectations about gifts.
An evenly paced holiday season.
Reliable family traditions.
Underneath, I think that’s what adults want, too.
Just imagine how the holidays might look this year if we have the courage to hold each of our choices and holiday decisions against the measuring stick of the four things we really do want for Christmas.
Relaxed and Loving Time With Family
If you’re looking for a big payoff in terms of happiness this holiday season, this is where you want to concentrate your efforts. That’s because experts tell us that happiness is the process of enjoying what you’re doing. Happiness is found in our relationships, our free time, our family, and our lives.
The secret here is to schedule those blocks of family time in the same way you would an important meeting with a client or lunch with a friend. Write it on the calendar. Find at least four places on your December calendar to enter something such as “Family Time” or whatever makes sense to you. Do it now and do it in ink. It’s that important.
Realistic Gift Expectations
No one can determine what this means for your specific situation. But it’s safe to say if your gift plans require you to go into debt, it’s not realistic. If it means 60 gifts per child, that’s not realistic. If it means feeling obligated to exchange gifts with all of your extended family, that too may be unrealistic for you this year.
Now is the right time to decide what is right for you and your family. Set boundaries when it comes to both giving and receiving gifts. Realistic gifts for you might be simple handmade gifts from your kitchen.
If you have very young children, arrange with other families to swap toys instead of everyone buying new ones this year. Clean them up and wrap them up, and the kids will be none the wiser.
Some families include service to others as part of their holiday gift-giving. Make coupon books that family members can redeem for services such as car washing, making a favorite meal, or cleaning the garage. Physical labor never goes out of style.
Evenly Paced Holiday Season
I know this is probably the last thing you want to hear right now, but it’s true: You’ve got to get organized. No matter how simple or complex your holidays, organization is the only way to keep things evenly paced.
Make meals ahead and freeze them. On those very busy days in mid-December, you’ll stay relaxed and stress-free knowing that dinner will be on the table just like usual. Your family is used to that, right?
You’re going to laugh because this idea is going to sound way too simple, but it’s so useful that it bears repeating: Get one envelope for each person on your gift list. Write that person’s name and the amount you plan to spend on the front. Put the cash in the envelope (or, if shopping online, purchase gift cards, then treat them as cash to make online purchases). When an envelope empties, stop shopping.
Reliable Family Traditions
Traditions give families assurance that even in an uncertain and changing world, there are some things they can count on to be the same. Anything you do in the same way at the same time, year after year, counts as a tradition. Whatever it is, even if you’ve done it once but plan to do it again, it counts as a tradition.
Make a list of your family’s best traditions. Talk about them, treat them with a sense of respect and joy, and add to them. Repeat often and, in time, they will become trusted anchors in your lives.
Here’s the bottom line: What we really want for Christmas—kids and adults—can’t be bought in a store. Sure, the gifts are fun and exciting, but they will soon fade. It’s the memories of times together and the family traditions we experience that will last a lifetime.