Changing the Holiday Perspective
I originally posted this on my personal blog a year ago, and seeing that we're still in the midst of the pandemic - and folks are still behaving very similarly - I thought I'd post it again for my readers here to ponder as well...
"Let’s make a promise that no matter what happens during these tough times, we’ll reconsider our priorities and make decisions that will give us more time with those we love. “I sustain myself with the love of my family,” wrote celebrated author Maya Angelou."
~ Peter Telep, excerpted from Some Don’t Realize What a Profound Gift of Time This Pandemic Is
The other day, I came upon articles lamenting the struggles that logistics companies are having while preparing for the holidays. The entire burden was put upon them to solve it, with crisis-style reporting of how people would have to do their online shopping early this year to "save Christmas".
Made me wanna gag.
Why? Because here we are, in the midst of a devastating global pandemic, with record unemployment and poverty...yet folks are worried about how they're going to CONTINUE rampant consumerism during the holidays. Worried that "Black Friday will not be the same" because they can't cram their rude bodies into stores to fight for stuff they don't need. Worried that, while they say they care about the planet and human rights, that their sweatshop-made items won't arrive on time. Worried that they'll be considered bad parents, bad partners, bad friends if they don't buy crap for them, the majority which the person didn't really want or need, and will either return, regift, or donate sooner rather than later. Worried that this "tradition" will mean the end of the world and signify their failure to show their love through materialism.
I saw an article that STARTED to address it...
"This Christmas will be one of exorbitant spending and lavish gifts for many American families. It’ll also be one of tight budgets and difficulty putting food on the table for many others. That’s the effect of the pandemic recession, which is exacerbating inequalities between the rich and the poor."~ The Detroit News, 9/28/2020
And then went on to ask "what do they do about Christmas?" Because apparently, for all of us, when we lose our jobs, our homes, our way of life, the biggest heartbreak is...not buying stuff.
A couple of days ago, my husband and I were taking our "Sunday Drive" as we do to just catch up and enjoy the beauty of other areas around us, and we talked about how much nicer and less stressful our holidays are when we don't have gift-giving expectations. And it made me think of childhood, and I asked him, "What gifts do you remember getting as a kid?" Our answers were almost identical - beyond getting our bicycle, practically nothing came to mind. (Well, for me, a second one that came to mind for me was when my mom got me the cassette tape of Run DMC - King of Rock, mainly because I was so touched that that one year she made the effort to go out of her comfort zone to ask someone at the record store for a band she'd never heard of...and that was the point, it wasn't the tape, it was that I felt like she was thinking of ME and not what she thought I should get, which is in all honesty how it often goes. Did anyone ever ask for a fuzzy acrylic sweater? I don't think so.). And we talked about what we DID remember as kids on the holidays and they were ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS about the experience. My husband remembers going on the beach (being Australian, it was the dead of summer) and the surfing Santas. I remember how as a kid we would always have fondue. Once a year, dragging out the fondue maker and cutting up bits of French bread, meats, apples, and more to go into the cheese and sitting around the coffee table with that and hot buttered rum. While I don't remember what was in my stocking, I do remember getting up to have homemade hot chocolate on "the good china" in my pajamas. The biggest memory though? When we drove to Sunriver to have a "white Christmas". Honestly if we had gifts that year I couldn't tell you because the snow was the gift!
So when my husband and I got together, our holidays have almost always focused on the experiences, with gifts being optional for the experience. Sometimes we do bit, sometimes we don't. I think that's why I have always loved Thanksgiving the most out of all holidays during the year, because it's about gratitude, not stuff. When it comes to Winter Solstice and Christmas, we have developed a tradition of every year being a theme dinner from a different country. We've had American Soul, Cuban, Australian, Italian, French, Peruvian, and this year Laotian is on the docket. We wake up and go for a walk, then we cook together, try new recipes, drink wine, slow dance in the kitchen (or boogie if that's what's on...) and snuggle up on the couch with the pup and turn on a movie.
Occasionally we've done gifts, but I put it all out there and asked him the earlier question in a new way. "So honey, of the gifts we have given, what is the one that stands out to you?" And guess what - it wasn't something that came in a box. He said, "honey, it was when you arranged for me to take a ride in a biplane, because you had tried so hard back when we were in Portland to find that for me and when it didn't work out, you didn't give up looking for an alternative because you knew how I'd always wanted to do it." I gave him an experience. And when he asked the same of me, I told him my most memorable was when he made an entire charcuterie plate at work for us then picked me up and took me to a surprise location of a park way outside the city I'd never heard of (even though I grew up in the area!) and brought that and the wine along for a quiet little walk and a picnic. Yes, he's on occasion gotten me something pretty like a necklace or two, but what do I remember? Our time together. TIME.
And so here we are, in the pandemic, and folks are complaining about being cooped up with their kids, and all I can think of is how we tried for 5 1/2 years to build a family, where roadblocks came up every step of the way, from infertility to six failed donor egg IVF rounds to miscarriage to three failed private adoption attempts including fraud and then the final heartbreak with being unable to move forward with the little girl who asked if she could call me mom after one of the happiest weeks of my life this past summer, when the agency blatantly disregarded our urgent concerns of emotional and potentially sexual abuse by her older sibling (who they refused to place separately, even though their brother had already been placed separately and they said the prior caseworker had recommended separate placement of these two as well because of the older one's behaviors). We knew that this was the end of the line for us, because once you've had a baby inside you that died, greeted another one as he entered the world and took your name, only to have him taken away by a manipulative meth-head and evangelical racist agency, and finally met the girl who made you feel like all of the past was worth it to have her hug you goodnight and snuggle up to you on the sofa to read and ask you to teach her how to garden and bake and so much more...well you know your heart will just die if you lose anything more after that. You have to go into saving your own life after these things happen, no matter how others try to guilt you into "never giving up" while your body slowly self-destructs from the pain.
So now my goal in life is to help my community and my planet and those who desperately need the advocacy that so many pretend to care about but won't pony up and do the work in real life. My goal is to tell you their stories, help them one by one, and get out there and make sure their songs aren't left unsung. My goal is to evolve somewhere new.
It ain't about the stuff, y'all...haven't you figured that out yet? It's about us. It's about love.
Or are you still complaining that you have to wear a mask?
"To gain a deeper understanding of empathy and generosity, we should derive happiness and compassion from altruistic motives, and not through material goods. Especially in this pandemic craze, we have seen selfish and materialistic behavior cause us to hoard material goods as a means of finding comfort. It seems as though we have become insensitive to others if they have nothing tangible to give to us." ~ Sofia Woo, excerpted from Beware of Celebrities Bearing Gifts