Sunday, December 7, 2014

Changing Holiday Woes into a Wonderful Holiday!

Well, it seems that the holiday season is upon us.   The stores are filled with all the usual holiday stuff that they have calculated we want and need to make our season "merry and bright".    I've already heard the usual complaint about how commercial this time of year has become and many people vowed to stay away from the infamous Black Friday sales held annually after Thanksgiving.   The thing that we need to remember about that is that if people show up for these staged events, they will continue to occur and the time frame will get pushed back and back until we're having our Labor Day picnics right after we go to Black Friday sales.    Already Halloween is only a tiny blip on the radar and Thanksgiving has nearly gotten trampled in the stampede of shoppers eager to be the first in line at the biggest shopping extravaganza of the year.    

It has been many years since Larry and I participated in the almost mandated shopping orgy that happens every year because at some point in the past we came to our senses and realized we were all spending way too much money (for our financial well-being) and it consumed too much energy and created way too much stress.   We phased out the bloated buying first by drawing names so that each family bought a one for one gift.   For each family member, they bought one gift and received one gift.     As time went on and our inspiration ran out for the adults, we started limiting our gift buying to only the children.   That worked for a few years and then we finally declared that even that was not necessary since it seemed that the kids were soon to get a sleigh full of toys and goodies from old Santa.  And what we really wanted was to spend time with our loved ones over a meal of much loved and carefully made traditional foods.   Hot ham, potato salad, turkey and dressing, Big Mama's Heavenly Hash.    It was simply not a family feast without some of those things.     

It took several years for us to come to that conclusion and thinking about that reminded me of one of our first Christmases as a married couple.   We were young, had very limited resources and weren't very smart when it came to finances.    So in our misguided attempt to buy "nice presents", we headed off to a local loan company.   They were only too happy to loan us the $100 dollars we were there to borrow.    Yes, you read that right!  Only $100 bucks but back then you could budget that much and still manage to get pretty nice gifts for everyone on your list.    Never mind that it took us the whole next year to pay back that measly 100 dollars, we had gifts for the family and that was all that mattered at the time.    

Soon enough we quit going to loan companies but that was after we discovered Spiegel Catalog.    What a Christmas we had that year!    I think we bought a small stereo for ourselves and "nice" gifts for the rest of the family.    Again, it took a long time to pay off those purchases.    But sometimes we're slow learners when it comes to finances.    Eventually, we caught on and realized we were not helping ourselves when it came to how we spent our money.    Plus, it started to dawn on us that we were being manipulated by the stores, advertising on TV and just peer pressure because everyone else did the same thing we did.    We went in debt every year --- it was the expected thing --- in order to buy gifts for people who were going in debt to buy things for US!    It made no sense whatsoever, but since everyone else was doing it and it seemed like we had no choice, we continued on that path for far too long.   

Now if anyone thinks I am being a Scrooge here and that I'm anti-gift giving, that is far from what I am saying.    My point is that we all need to take a step back and look at what we're doing and maybe more importantly, what is being done TO US.     Let's face it, we (and our children/grandchildren) are bombarded with advertisements that are anything but subtle.     The industry has gotten it down to a fine art to create buzz for the must have Toy of the Year.    They tell us we deserve to reward ourselves.    Listen to the messages that are aimed squarely at our emotions and deeply held wishes/wants and pretty soon, you are agreeing with the guy on TV who says you should have a luxury car (with a big red bow on it!!) or a trip to the islands while your friends shiver back at home. Your kids really want and NEED that Xbox system that is going to make their holiday the biggest and best ever.  And they wrap it all up with talk of "magic of the season" and other heart tugging sentiments.    Don't fool yourself.   They have studied us forty ways to Sunday and they know every buzz word, every technique and manipulative image to make us join the herd, head to the mall or Best Buy and Wal- Mart or flip open your laptop and go straight to Amazon for the deal of the day.  The truth is that for many (most) retailers if they don't meet or exceed huge sales goals during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, they will not reach their profit goals for the entire year!  So there is a lot of pressure from them to make us buy, buy, buy.  

If all of this makes you uncomfortable or even angry, it's time to take stock of what you want for this holiday season.    It's time to think about what the season means to you and the truth is that it usually is not one thing for most of us.   Yes, it's a high, holy religious time of the year for some religions.    But it has been overtaken by the secular, commercial side of the season, too.     So we have a blended event that is part religious, part secular and a whole lot of buying and feasting.     Many of us have favorite foods and treats that we only have one time in the year.     The decorations that we put in and on our homes and yards only are displayed during this season.   Obviously, it is an important time of the year to many people for a variety of reasons.     

It should be a happy, joyous time of the year, no matter what your reasons for participating in the celebration.    If it's not, it's time to rethink what you're doing and not just go on automatic pilot doing the same things, the same way for the same dumb reasons.   What makes you stressed out?   Is it the overspending or the debt you'll be facing in January?    Is it trying to do too much and not enjoying any of it a whole lot?     Are you festooning your home from top to bottom but there is no joy in it for you?     Are you spending too much time standing at a hot stove, cooking a meal that is expensive, not appreciated and makes your back and feet hurt?    

I urge you, while there is still time to make a change,  to think about what the season means to you.   It is a complicated holiday for many of us.    It brings back many memories of holidays past.    Some of those will be happy and pleasant.   For others, however, it may remind them of family strife and squabbles.      You are the only one who knows what you want from this time of the year.    Change to new traditions away from what you've always done is not easy and may have to come in stages.    Just like it took us a while to realize we were spending too much money and from the wrong sources, it may take you a while to come up with a plan to make the holidays less stressful and more meaningful.   And remember a lot of other people struggle with this every year so you are not alone in trying to get control of things and make them more to your liking.   A simple online search for ideas to simplify your holidays will produce more good articles on getting to your goal without turning into Scrooge or abandoning all the traditions you enjoy.    The key is to figure out which ones you enjoy and which ones you do out of habit or that you've been manipulated into doing year after year.  

Our wish for all who read this blog post is that  you have a wonderful holiday season filled with love, laughter, light and joy.    We hope you'll stop and make an assessment of what is meaningful to you and your family and then make a promise to yourself that you will start weeding out things that don't add to your enjoyment.    Trade out things that are too much trouble for what they are worth for things that you actually like and look forward to doing.   Start now and you can make this year's celebrations better for you and your loved ones.  If you do this each year, you'll tweak what you include in your traditions into something that fits your reasons for celebrating the holidays!    

Happy Holidays and Joyous Wishes for a Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

Happy Trails,