A Priceless Holiday Season

The music, the decorations, the sale ads—the holidays are already here.

Like a lot of people, I sometimes find this time of year to be hard. Between the loss of family gatherings due to time and distance, the rampant and unnecessary consumerism, no holiday break, a dash of deep depression and a partridge in a pear tree, I would much rather just skip to January 2.

While I wrote a rant about my seasonal societal annoyances a couple of years ago, this will not be that post’s sequel. (Summary if you don’t want to click over: Practice an “attitude of gratitude” on a daily basis, not just when people gather around a bird carcass stuffed with stale bread and the creepy uncle makes jokes about being either a breast man or a leg man.)

This year is going to be different.

There won’t be a big family meal, and come Christmas there won’t be many—if any—gifts. Times are tight and money is even tighter, regardless of the date on the calendar.

I’ve never been bitter because we don’t have money for things, but I do get annoyed that others are so obsessed with those things. However, I get it. It’s easy to feel pressured to buy useless stuff, eat things that don’t make you feel good and stress about spending time with people you might not enjoy all that much.

But when that’s no longer an option, you learn a valuable lesson—be better, not bitter, and be thankful for all that you have.


Or make foam turkeys and pretzel treats for the old people in the home.

It’s different when you’re a kid. The holidays are a magical time with no worries, only wonder. The fact that parents can take the time to create fun traditions and keep that magic alive is priceless, and something I keep with me now.

Growing up I was lucky enough to get those special gifts I asked for and the big ol’ family meals. Every holiday dozens of people in my big Polish family would be at my grandparent’s, crammed around tables full of food and conversation.

And while I might remember a few of the special gifts that I got, those “things” aren’t first on my mind.

What I remember much more are the things that we did and said, making the food that we ate and places we went every year. That’s what the holidays were, and that’s what they continue to be.

So this year with every Black Friday ad, every person complaining about “surviving the holidays” like it’s a terminal illness and the obsession with gathering “things,” I won’t roll my eyes and dish out perspective with each self-created drama they lament.

Instead I will remind them to focus on figuring out what holiday experiences are personally meaningful to them instead of getting sucked into events that leave them feeling empty and drained.

Instead of feeling burdened to buy gifts, connect to why the person they’re shopping for is special to them and how they want them to feel when they open the gifts. (There is no better feeling than finding the “perfect” gift, even if that gift is a card.)

Instead of debt, try donations. It’s something you never regret.

Instead of rushing around, stop and take in the sights and the smells of the season. Step back and ask, “What do I want to remember?” And if they have kids, “What do I want them to remember?”

So even though these weeks might be rough, I remember those things from above and know the season can always feel priceless. 

And for that—this year and always—I am truly rich and thankful.

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26 responses to “A Priceless Holiday Season

  1. I love this. So many people get burned out by the holiday because it’s one big competition. At this moment, I’m loathing the Target commercial with the woman singing about how she’s pinned all of these ideas and she’s “in the game to win it.” It makes me think of the crazed person on black Friday, trampling over someone else because her little prince or princess will absolutely die if they don’t get the latest iPad or pair of boots.

    I think you’re on the right track, and everyone just needs to slow the hell down and think about why we do these things, not just go through the motions and he with the most toys for their children, win.

    Very well put.

  2. Maybe we should all start a sort of support circle and start going out of our way to compliment each other for a month or so. A holiday support group. Not a bad idea!

  3. while us kids had gifts to open and all the things you want as kids, the memories I have from holidays growing up are not the things, but the time. getting together with family, us kids getting to stay up late to continue playing cards with the grown ups, getting to help in the kitchen…

    and those are the memories I continue to want and make and look forward to each year (I even brought back the family card game last year!). we don’t even exchange gifts, we do a fun white elephant thing instead.

    I will admit to listening to holiday music already, and I love to decorate and have people over and get in the spirit, but my spirit has nothing to do with getting stressed or caught up in the commercialism – I could go on and on about how I feel about that!

    and those turkeys? adorable.

    • Me, too, obviously, as this post is centered on that commercialism. I also love the actual holiday spirit and traditions–new and old. That’s why I get a little bit sad, simply because there’s a loss of some of that for me now. But it’s also a new year and a new way to enjoy the season.

      Also, I would LOVE to come to your parties ;)

  4. Amen Sister! Well said. My favorite part of the holidays in the traditions I continue and the new memories I make. It’s never about the things, which is good since this year our financial situaton won’t allow for excess spending. I’m pretty sure everybody is getting some homemade granola whether they want it or not. As for me, I’ll continue to decorate the tree with the Hubby while listening to carols and sucking down hot chcolate. I will make Puff Pastries or Orange Cranberry Scones for the neighbors and I’ll watch The Sound of Music yet again. I’ll indulge in far too much food on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas morning, and I will spend hours playing with my nephew who lives in Belgium the majority of the year. That’s what Christmas is about for me.
    Oh and Thanksgiving is a stuffed bird that I could totally skip altogether.

  5. My family runs its own business and so money has always been tight. More so in the last few years though. How we do it in my family is each person has to make each other family member a gift. We’re not supposed to buy anything new or at least spend much money. I think the gifts are much more meaningful this way. Last year my little sister spent hours putting together a book of logic puzzles for me. One year I made another sister a calender with her favorite singer. I picked pictures and made dates relevant to our birthdays and other things that a store bought calender wouldn’t have. There’s so much more thought behind these gifts than going out and buying something. I think quality is more important than quantity.

    Have you heard the song “Better Days” by the Goo Goo Dolls? It’s one of my favorites, especially around this time of year.

  6. It just gets earlier every year, and the pressure starts and continues for so long. I just try my best to enjoy spending time with family and friends, and creating fun memories for my kids. That’s my priority. The stress is there, but I really try not to let it get to me…too much. It’s tough. I like your donation idea and tried to get my office to do that one year instead of gifts. It didn’t go over very well, but at least we did it. It felt good to give back instead of just give to the selfish jerks at my work.

    • As you might know from my first book thing, we always do a donation to the Humane Society (like the little money from my first book.) Even if it’s really small, every little bit helps and I think it’s a great idea for an office to do something like that. I understand that it’s different with kids and I’m jealous in that respect. It would be fun to create traditions and see that magic while they still believe ;)

  7. How true your words ring. i wish there would be a recording of this post playing that entrance to every mall.

  8. What a lovely post, Abby! A few years ago I watched a documentary called What Would Jesus Buy. The documentary itself is pretty uneven, but the message is a good one. It was produced by Morgan Spurlock from Super Size Me. One part that I think about every year at the holidays is how they filmed people on Black Friday – ravenous for deals on TV’s, cameras, phones, etc. People in malls were pushing others over, obsessed with getting THINGS. Then they showed Christmas Day. The mall was quiet. People were home with their families. The holiday was over. Until the next shot when it was December 26th and people were right back at the mall again, ravenous for after-Christmas sales and replacing the gifts they didn’t want. It’s like the opposite of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In our real lives, the Grinch brings iPhones, iPads, and iMacs, and somehow Christmas didn’t happen. It didn’t fill the hole. It wasn’t enough.

    At Christmas, I try to make most of my gifts or buy them from small independent artists. When I give a gift, like you described, I hope to be showing someone how I feel about them. After all, when Christmas is over, it’s not the objects that we remember. It’s the feeling of closeness that we shared with those we love the most.

  9. As you may remember, I gave the ‘silly season’ the sack when my kids were in their early teens. My preference is to see no one on the daft day and the peace and quiet is sublime. The kids, grandlings and sister get together after the rush to give the little kids presents and hugs for everyone else. It is wonderful and, as you say, making our own holiday traditions with the people we love and those who love us. Bliss! xxxx

  10. I don’t think I could love you anymore than at this moment….xoxo

  11. Beautifully said. I love watching the Christmas holidays thru the eyes of my granddaughter. That is the most wonderful gift.

  12. You nailed it! Thank you! I always have to balance the Martha-induced need to DO ALL THE THINGS with the need to stop and just enjoy the simple wonder of the holiday season–the sights, sounds, smells and magic of memories that resonate with each tradition revisited.

    I refuse to even go OUT of my house on Black Friday and join the herds of wild-animal/humans at the malls. I have NO Pinterest holiday boards. I may make hand-dipped candles and homemade jams for gifts, but only because I LIKE doing it, not because it’s trendy. And only if it doesn’t suck the time away.

    My husband and I have also already made a pack to NOT DISCUSS the endless November two-step in our large extended family, of “who’s doing Thanksgiving with (or without) who” and the ever-present family members whose mission in life seems to be to: STRESS EVERY SINGLE GATHERING. (*making erasing hand gesture*)

    Here’s to a magical, relaxed, traditional holiday to all!

  13. This was a beautiful post. I think we all need to sit back and remember what the “holidays” are all about.

  14. I love Christmas but I shudder when I see decorations up in the shops in October! C’mon! I like that my whole family gets together, but the pressure to buy buy buy everything in sight is crazy!

  15. We are celebrating Christmas by donating lots of things to our flood victims. no gifts for anyone except stocking stuffers because mommy lost her marbles this year and bought a dog for Christmas.

  16. You started me off when I read this because my current pet hate is sitting, in early November, watching Christmas shopping ads, and just feeling ill with commercial overload.. I can see I’m not the only one, but the shops are desperate for revenue and they will not listen to our pleas for mercy

  17. I remember a time when I hated Christmas and also would have gladly skipped to January 1st and the Rose Parade, which I did and still do look forward to. I was in my 30s, life sucked and I felt bad about myself. The Christmas cheer only seemed to mock me. So glad those days are over. I don’t have the money I once had, but I’ve made Christmas a personal lovefest. Decorating my tiny home and inviting people over, even if it’s just for wine and soup, gives me pleasure. I don’t even mind the non-stop Christmas music. I’ve already loaded up Pandora and just waiting for December 1st to push “play.” I agree with you that the important things are those that have special meaning for us. I’m past the need to acquire more crap.

  18. “you learn a valuable lesson—be better, not bitter, and be thankful for all that you have.”

    Yes, indeed.

    Thankfully, my family has implemented simplicity for YEARS regarding the holiday season. We only focus on tradition, family, and having fun together.

    Love this post, Abby. LOVE IT.

  19. Great post! Looking back, my best memories from childhood holidays are nights when we’d sit around the fireplace and listen to Christmas carols on the record album while drinking eggnog (we seriously did that. Best memory ever, for the price of a quart of eggnog!) and also driving around looking at Christmas lights. I only remember a handful of the gifts I received over the years. I guess the moral is, focus on living in the moment and making simple memories, not on buying stuff!

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