Thanks to a Christmas Elf named Joanna, I was able to find the post she requested me reprinting from last year. I hadn't looked early enough in the November archives for it yesterday. As I looked through the archives from last year, I realized I'd written a lot about celebrating Christmas while going through difficult times. I'll reprint this one today and a couple of others in the next few days.
How I Learned to Enjoy the Holidays... Regardless
I was going to write today about celebrating the Holidays on a budget. The more I tried to think through what I wanted to write, I realized it wouldn't make sense unless you came with me to the year I had one of those life changing eureka moments that changed my thinking forever.
It's amazing to me how one book, article, sermon, etc. can work to change a life. In this case, it was a suggestion by an author writing about Christmas traditions that brought about the change. The author had written how most people are depressed during the Holidays regardless of the amount of money spent, and often find themselves unhappy at the end of each year. Their suggestion...write out on paper what your idea of a perfect Holiday season would look like. It was that simple but the results for me were profound...honest.
When I had a quiet moment, I wrote down everything that I would love to do during the Holidays and those things I did but I didn't enjoy. What I found was that money had little to do with it.
For instance, at the top of my list was decorating the house for Christmas. At the risk of sounding nonspiritual or something, the lights and decorations of Christmas make it such a magical time for me (good magic, Narnia magic). When I put up a tree and bring out our favorite ornaments, purchased or made over 30+ years, it never fails to bring tears to my eyes as I remember who gave the ornament to us, where we were living, what age a child was who made it, etc.
I love to get up early and have my quiet time and a cup of coffee by the light of the tree. I enjoy my snowman collection, my dishes I use only at that time of the year, the vintage decorations I either inherited or purchased at garage sales, etc. I love...sparkle.
Since then, I have compromised to save money each year by having an artificial tree rather than purchasing a new tree every year. I also either make my ornaments or add to my collection (of ornaments and accessories for the home) at the after Christmas clearances. There are a few stores in the area that have great clearance prices. I also shop places like Michael's at the end of the previous season (for instance, they will already be having clearance sales for autumn/Thanksgiving decorations even now). I have enough Christmas accessories that I now only purchase an item on clearance if it is something wonderful, no matter how inexpensive it has become.
When we had a large house and we could afford it, I put an artificial tree in the family room and decorated it with my country and homemade ornaments. I had a real tree in the formal living room and decorated it with elegant ornaments. When my daughter married, most of the elegant ornaments went with her because...they were hers. I guess that tells you my style (cottage-English country) and hers (cottage-elegant). Hmmm...perhaps it would be a good idea to go on to something else now.
Anyway, I can decorate the house beautifully now for no additional money. I even have a few silk poinsettias which can be reused each year, always looking beautiful (all purchased at garage sales during Summers) so I don't have to purchase them each year. I give up freshness but I can always purchase a fresh evergreen wreath for just the aroma in my non-lean financial years.
Second on my list was the music of Christmas. Even on secular channels, we hear Christ being adored for one month each year. I like all kinds, from the Chipmunks to Classical. I find a great place to purchase Christmas music is Goodwill throughout the year, usually no more than $1.99 in our area. Also, Target had Classical Christmas CDs for $1.00 each last year. I bought some for me and for my daughter's family. For another $1.00, I purchased a CD holder to keep them in during the year. One of my favorite CDs is the Time-Life Christmas collection I purchased a few years ago. (Some people feel the same about Holiday books, having books about Thanksgiving and Christmas in a special place this time of year.)
Third would be the baking, although the year I wrote this out I still had a very young child at home and a teenager. When I thought of baking with kids, I always thought of sugar cookie dough cut with cute cookie cutters and decorated. I'm not sure why because I really do make excellent baked goods but I never got the hang of sugar cookie dough (at least cutting it out with cookie cutters). It was not a relaxing or fun experience, making these cookies with kids.
When I wrote that out as one of the things I didn't like about Christmas, it really was one of the biggest eureka moments. Why, just because that is what all the magazines show when mommy and children are baking together, must I make this cookie? Many years and about a gazillion baked goods later, I have loads of fun with Holiday baking and I have made very few cut out cookies (even then, it is usually gingerbread which is easier for me to work with).
I now give baked gifts to most of the people on my list and baking is one of my joys of the season. I just had to get past that hurdle of thinking it always had to be a certain kind of cookie. (Perhaps for you it is fruitcake you feel you must make each year, or fudge that never turns out!)
To go along with this, I'd add the joy I feel in having people over during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Over the years, I've had lunches, dinners, parties, cookie exhanges, etc., especially in December. I have never had a Christmas tea, that is something I'd like to do. I'm not sure what I'm going to do this year but I've started thinking about it at least (especially since we're in our own house again).
Another Christmas "to do" I would put off each year because I hated to do it...sending out Christmas cards. Some people love this and look forward to it every year...not me. As it became more expensive, anyway, my husband and I decided to send cards only to those people we didn't see during the year and especially to our elderly relatives. Another source of stress out of the way and we saved money.
I also wrote down that I wanted to grow spiritually each Advent season. Now I think ahead of time and find a good devotional related to Advent to read every morning at the appropriate time. You can do a Google search and find something online or check the Christian online book sellers and the local Christian bookstore.
I wrote down that I wanted to attend Christmas concerts whenever possible. When we have had a lot extra financially, I loved to attend the Christmas concert at the University. It is so expensive now, we haven't attended for a long time. I just can't, in good conscious, pay that much for tickets right now (living on Social Security Disability). However, there are free concerts in our community and those that cost very little. I read the Entertainment section of our newspaper to find these. I take the time to look for them.
When we attended a different church, I enjoyed a lot of the Christmas festivities there. The church we attend now doesn't have a lot extra going on but I do look forward to the music and the Christmas choir every year. My son and I would like to attend either a Catholic Christmas mass or a service in a more liturgical church during the season, just to experience the difference in worship.
There are some things I can't change but I have to look past and enjoy what I can. I love having little children around at Christmas and right now, the only small children in my life are in New England. I told my daughter from the time she was expecting he first child, to not even attempt to come here at Christmas. Travelling all this way would be miserable for small children. We always stayed home for Christmas for that reason when my kids were growing up (except for at least one time there was a family member in the hospital in my hometown and we had to make the trip). We live too far away to make an easy trip, especially with Winter weather being hard to predict in both our areas of the country.
For Thanksgiving, I always made sure we had a nice dinner, even in times of illness when we had no income. With the sale on turkeys during that time of the year, it can be one of the least expensive Holiday meals. When there is just the three of us, I don't try to make as much as I would if we had more people here. There was a time, when our daughter was in college, that we would host a few International students. We enjoyed that very much. Perhaps we'll do that when my son is in college. Seasons of life change and right now, there will be three of us at the table for Thanksgiving. My daughter married into a large, extended family where there will be most likely, a lot of food and a lot of noise...good memories.
This is already getting long and if I think of anything else, I'll write about it later in the week. Tomorrow I'll write more about how we "do gifts" and celebrating the Holidays on a budget. In the meantime, when you can get alone with a cup of tea and some paper, write down what would make a perfect Holiday season for you. Don't try to get too spiritual. Don't think of what your present financial situation is. Use some of my examples above but go from there with your own ideas. See if you get a eureka moment in your own life for this coming Holiday season.