My mom has a way of making Christmas seem otherworldly, even now. Everything about her house is different Christmas morning – the smell of food she stayed up half the tonight preparing, the garland unpacked each fall and stretched across the mantle, the grandparents crammed around the living room before breakfast. As a child, I wanted to live in that world year round.
I’m one of those people that starts thinking ‘holidays’ on October 1. My husband is the other type. Where I see a three-month season (October 1 to January 1), he sees one month (Thanksgiving to Christmas). I’m sure his logic makes more sense than mine, but whatever. Logic has no room in my version of Fall.
I’d like to tell you that I have unwavering self-control when it comes to this time of the year, but that would be a lie. If there was a ‘decorating’ line in our budget, you better believe I’d be swapping pillows, flowers, candles, and everything else at least twice a year. I’d rotate my house each time Pottery Barn changed their window display. However, as this envelope of money does not exist for us, I’m happy to enjoy my Mexican Pumpkin candle and call it a wrap. Happy October to me!
The dilemma is that the Internet is only warming up in its pressure to meet a new standard of Martha Stewart perfection. Full-blown crazy is just around the corner, ready to drain us of our time, money and sanity. So before we move any closer to the day I question dropping thirty bucks on an Elf On The Shelf kit, I’m laying down three ground rules for myself.
Be honest. Be honest about what you can to do. Be honest about what you want to do.Be honest about what you cannot do.
All you crafty ladies out there, with your sewing machines and your eye for design, bless you. I once asked a woman working at Hobby Lobby where I could find something. She responded with, “in the craft section.” The craft section?! Not only was I still lost, I now felt like the most incompetent suburban woman ever. In my mind, Hobby Lobby is an enormous warehouse of raw craft materials waiting for someone with the desire, ability and time to bring them together in their fully glory. I am not that someone.
That woman may make DIY snow globes from apothecary jars, fake snow, white lights and tiny figurines (it’s a real thing), but I don’t have to - I’m not even sure I want to – and I know it isn’t in my skill set.
Love your budget. Loving my budget helps me love the holidays. On our first Christmas day as a married couple, my husband and I drove around the city for two hours arguing about how much money we had spent on gifts. Under a heavy dose of newlywed naivety, we stretched ourselves beyond what was reasonable for our income and lifestyle. The result was suffocating tension just trying to make it to our next paycheck.
My kids don’t know what Elf On The Shelf is and 99% of our gifts will be in the form of food or simple ornaments this year. That may not always be the case, but if I’m being honest, that’s what our life looks like right now. It’s small and rich and worthy of enjoying, just as it is.
Unplug and build memories, not snapshots. Walk away from the screen!
There was a time when the only way I could know what your house looked like during Christmas was if you invited me over. If I wanted you to experience my Thanksgiving spread, I’d set a place at the table and I would feed you, not serve up a mastered picture that may as well come with the caption “look what I can do!”
The limitless world of online inspiration tempts us to measure ourselves against women we may never see, rather than enjoy sweet memories with the people running through our halls and crowding around our kitchens.
What if Facebook grew eerily quiet during the holidays, because we were each too busy investing in the flesh and bones of our actual lives? What if the pictures we took were simply for our own memories, or to be privately shared with family far away, rather than hanging them in the public marketplace and waiting for applause to trickle in?
Unplug and experience the season as it is for you. I don’t need twenty-five ways to repurpose autumn leaves. My kids won’t care if we glued them to mason jars or created October themed sensory bins. All they want is to roll around in crunchy leaves and not hear me say, “Do that one time and smile…I just want one picture! If you smile we’ll go get ice cream!” They want me to put the phone in the car while I chase them around the park. Unplug and enjoy the moments that are actually happening, letting go of the pressure to create memories we think we should have.
Give yourself and those you love one gift this holiday season – your presence. Slow down. Keep it simple. Invest in experiences. Love the gift God has already given you, because as we all know, it is more than enough.
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Cara Joyner is a freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom living on the East Coast with her husband and two sons. After years of working in student ministry, she has come home to raise her boys and begin tackling grad school. She loves hanging out with college students, watching Parenthood and eating chocolate like it's one of the food groups. In addition to iBelieve, Cara is a contributing writer at RELEVANT and Today's Christian Woman. She writes about faith, marriage, motherhood and intentional living at www.carajoyner.com. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.