Making Xmas More Mindful
I’ve started preparing early for the Christmas bank holiday this year, but not because I love Christmas. In fact it’s almost the opposite.
Every year, as the festive season approaches, I feel the discomfort a little more sharply. I find it impossible to ignore the contrast between people who don’t have much material wealth, and the massive spending orgy that December has become for many of us.
Typically, I resist for weeks and weeks, moaning about how much I hate the seasonal pressures, only to relent at the last minute and then feel resentful at being forced to participate in the less ethically-sound aspects of the thing we call ‘Christmas’.
While a part of me would like to opt out of the whole thing, I wouldn’t do that without our young son’s agreement, or that of other people who my husband and I are close to. So we do participate in the Xmas bank holiday as a family: loved ones come to stay, we exchange gifts, we have a special meal, we have a tree in the house – and I’m fascinated that many of these customs go back much further than you might think.
I’m all for a winter festival that brings people together and invites reflection on our human experience of the seasons: emotionally, collective rituals are important, and our shared December customs have their roots in ancient traditions that far pre-date our modern materialistic ones.
This year, I just want to tone down the excessive consumerism that can go along with it all.
Part of my commitment to intentional living as a whole is to reduce my spending on things that aren’t really important to me. So for example, I spend less time and money on my appearance than I used to, and more time and money on wellbeing. When it comes to Christmas, this is what’s been bothering me for a few years: feeling coerced into spending my time and money supporting the values of consumerism and ‘more is better’, when these aren’t my personal values.
I don’t have an issue with gift-giving in itself: it’s a practice that embodies many positive values like kindness and generosity. The practice of giving gifts (thoughtfully, with awareness of what I’m buying as well as who it’s for), also supports my values of community and connection. My ‘anti-consumer Xmas’ isn’t about rejecting the exchange of gifts: it’s about making it a more conscious practice.
This means I’ve started preparations earlier, spending more time to find gifts that I feel good about buying and giving. And taking the time to make some things myself. Time is an important aspect in all this: I’ve written before about how slowing down is important to living mindfully. If I’m choosing not to give up Christmas entirely, then I have to make the time to engage with it mindfully.
It’s easy to forget that events like Xmas are an ‘extra’ that will be added on top of an already-full life. Much as I’d like to think that all the additional busy-ness that goes with it can be magically squeezed in with everything else, the reality of Christmas can be a far more hectic pace than I’m comfortable with.
Aswell as starting preparation earlier, another way that I’ve created some much-needed space is to block out prep time in my diary to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Having days set aside on my calendar for the making, wrapping and sending helps to prevent me from accepting invitations to do other things that could make me feel swamped. (For a number of years, it’s been a practice of mine to schedule a new year catch-up with friends, so we can both relieve some time pressure pre-Xmas, and have something to look forward to in January).
Having more space around it, this year I’ve enjoyed the process of gift-choosing much more. It’s been a welcome relief from my usual pattern of trying to avoid it for as long as possible and then caving at the last minute, ending up panic-buying things based purely on convenience. Perhaps what I’ve experienced is the slow version of Christmas shopping.
And it’s also been an opportunity to support ethical organisations, ones that reflect the values that matter to me. As Vicky Robin puts it, ‘how you spend your money is how you vote in what exists in the world’.
With all that in mind, here’s what the mindful practice of gift-giving looks like for me this year:
– I’ve chosen more gifts that are made of sustainable materials, like wood, metal and natural fibres, and avoided plastic gifts that can’t be re-used plenty
– I’ve bought less gifts in total, resisting the cultural pressure to buy our son a mountain of presents, when he’s happy with a few well-chosen ones
– I’ve rejected the assumption that the amount spent reflects the value of the present: I know that when someone takes the time to make me a gift, or find something I’d really like, I’m not thinking about how much they spent
– I’ve found suppliers who have an ethos I’d like to support, eg I love Shared Earth and Unicef for gifts that also provide the individuals who made them with much-needed income
– we’ve made some cards ourselves: so far we’ve had fun with geometric string art and upcycled mosaics
– we plan to hand-make alternatives for things that come in lots of single-use plastic: this year we’re looking forward to making some chocolates instead of buying them (we always have too many left over anyway)
More than anything, I always try to consider what really matters at this time of year, beyond trying to have the ‘perfect’ Xmas. We usually make a donation to charity – often connected with poverty or homelessness – as a way to honour that.
When I asked my son what he likes most about this time of year, his answer was spending time with family (not the presents!), so that makes it much easier to take a ‘less is more’ approach to gifts.
Choosing an intentional approach to Xmas allows me to make the season more aligned with what I really care about. And so far, I’m feeling far less Scroogey about the whole thing than I usually do – and much more open to enjoying a winter festival that has many positives, when I choose to let go of the bits that don’t fit with my values.
If you are interested in living more intentionally, you might like my post What Is Mindful Living?
My Coaching Programme by Skype also offers 1-to-1 support. The Starter Session includes some tools to help you move towards intentional living – and can be done as a one-off, or as part of a series of sessions.
If you need some help with keeping your schedule manageable, you might like Christine Carter’s excellent piece ‘21 Ways To Give Good No‘.