The End of 2016

I’m not the type of blogger to just open a window, type a post, and publish it. Usually I write in Word, save it, read it a few days later, edit it, and then finally publish it. That’s not what I’m doing now. I decided to see what would happen if I just wrote, without much in the way of self-editing. So here goes.

I’ve never much cared for the winter holidays. I hate the cold, I hate the snow, and most of all, I hate the mandatory giving and receiving of presents. In general, I try not to buy into it. There is only one adult family member I exchange presents with. My husband and I either go out to a concert or show and a nice dinner, and consider that our gift to each other. For my two children, ages six and two, I buy one present each. And not an expensive gift either. The elder got a limited edition Pokemon tin with cards ($24) and the younger got an erasable drawing board (also $24). I also got them stockings (from Santa) with dental hygiene products and some candy. They both played with their presents a good portion of the day (they also got a present each from my aunt).

While the younger was napping, the elder and I colored, and he said, “This is what I love best–when we’re together and it’s nice and quiet.” He also had drawn us each a really thoughtful card. It was pleasant, calm, and a far cry from the first year we celebrated the holidays in our house, and got him about five gifts, and also had more gifts from other relatives, and these resulted in him being overstimulated, not able to nap (he was two then) and crying himself to bed at night because he didn’t get exactly what he wanted.

Saying all that, it seems like it was the perfect Christmas for me. And yet I had a lingering thought of how I should have done more for them. Bought them more. Or somehow been more. Then of course I was also disappointed in myself for feeling that way, so that just added to it.

As the years pass, I am trying to start other holiday traditions that don’t center around the giving of presents. One thing I love is to make a gingerbread house (see above). We always go to have brunch with Santa. Usually I like to bake cookies, but this year we didn’t get to it. Maybe next year, when the younger is a bit older, we’ll start going to visit the tree. My family didn’t have that many holiday traditions (we were mostly a Chinese food and movie family), so I don’t have much to draw on.

And now, as we go into the darkest time of the year for me (both emotionally and actual light-wise), I have to concentrate on the fact that some day it will be warm again.

The gift of meaningful experiences

Before I get to the point of this post, I just want to note that I do intend to tie this concept of minimalism to what this blog is primarily about, writing. But seeing as next week is Christmas, I did want to write about that, or at least one aspect of that.

Although my family was never religious, we did celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, which of course means buying a lot of stuff. When I turned maybe 20-ish, we basically stopped celebrating it (no tree, no presents). My parents and I did spend the day together, however. We would usually go out to the movies, and then go to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The point was that we were together, and we always had a good time. And no one missed the gifts.

After my parents both died (about a dozen years ago), I stopped celebrating entirely, because I didn’t really see the point. My husband and I used to go out with friends and drink on Christmas, because that’s what married couples do before they have kids. Now that we have two kids, my perspective has changed a bit.

I want to give my children holidays that are meaningful and memorable. Does this have anything to do with getting stuff? Absolutely not. Do I remember anything anyone ever gave me for Christmas? No, not one thing. When I look back on this holiday, and holidays in general, from when I was a child, I remember is tons of relatives coming over to visit, and sitting down to share a meal with them. That’s what I remember, not the gifts.

In fact, the only gift I remember ever was when I was in my mid-20s and bought my mom a spa weekend. We stayed over for two nights and had massages and swam in the pool, and generally had a great time together. That’s why I generally prefer the gift of time and experience rather than material gifts. Instead of taking up space in your house, they add something of value to your life.

I always highly appreciate offers to take me out to dinner or a movie, or offers to take me and the kids to the park or zoo. This year, my husband and I bought tickets each other tickets to a show we wanted to see (Ghost Quartet, for those interested). We are taking our older son to see How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Madison Square Garden. I know these are events we will be able to look back on and remember for years to come.

Did I buy the kids other gifts as well? Yes, because they are very young and of course have not yet learned to not compare themselves to others. But did I buy them expensive gifts? No, I spent about $15 a child (excluding tickets to the show). And in addition to the show we’re going to this Sunday, I also have some activities planned, like having friends over to decorate ornaments and bake cookies. To me, minimalism is not about the absence of things (although a less cluttered house is always a bonus), but rather the presence of people who matter in my life.