Monday, December 21, 2009

Sometimes it takes a blizzard

All of the pre-Christmas madness came to a grinding halt this weekend as the northeast, and particularly the Philadelphia area, was paralyzed by a massive blizzard. We received 23 inches of snow--2 feet!!!--on Saturday, and the main roads in town are still a mess. (The above photos were taken after only 1 foot fell). The snow started falling at 3am on Saturday, and didn't stop until 4am on Sunday morning. That's 25 hours of snow. Mr. Red went out to shovel 4 times, and thanks to his efforts we were able to dig our car out and head to Mass last night (although I'm still doubting the wisdom of our decision to drive on the roads last night).

Prior to the snow, we had a busy weekend planned. Last minute Christmas errands, a haircut, a Christmas show, two family Christmas parties, and pre-Christmas prep for pies, cakes, and cookies. Thanks to the snow, everything was cancelled, and we spent our weekend baking, cleaning, shoveling, playing in the snow, and RELAXING! It was wonderful. A forced break to really soak in these last days of Advent was just what our family needed.

Apparently, we were not alone in our sentiments. On Saturday night, our across the street neighbors hosted their annual Christmas party. We have never been able to attend due to the craziness of the season. With the poor weather, our other plans were cancelled, and so we walked across the street for a great and relaxing time with our neighbors. I met many new friends in town, and every new conversation brought the same sentiment of joy regarding the snow and the forced break during this busy season. One neighbor spent the day wrapping, another baking, but everyone enjoyed listening to Christmas music, staying at home, and spending time with their families. The party was great, I'm sure in part because of the blizzard.

Last night Mr. Red and I had a talk about what we could do to decrease the madness and simplify our future Advent seasons. We can't always count on a blizzard to slow things down, but there are many activities and traditions we can choose to exclude from our Advent season that will help us attain peace and a prayer filled heart leading up to Christmas Day. This year we have a newborn baby, so the typical pre-Christmas obligations are little more onerous than usual, but even on a good year, we run ourselves ragged with Christmas preparations.

In the past, we have refrained from adopting some new traditions like celebrating the feast of St. Nicholas. It just isn't possible to celebrate every feast, or emphasize every tradition in our home. And as much as I'd like to make a big deal out of the Feast of St. Lucy, something has to give or we will just be tailgating our way to Christmas. As a family, we have to make some hard choices. Packing everything in, every year, just isn't possible without going insane!

And so on a practical level, Mr. Red and I decided not to get each other gifts at Christmas time. We will focus on birthdays instead, as that time of year isn't already full of other obligations. In the future, we may be making a move in this direction with Godchildren, and maybe even some of our nieces and nephews. We will also consider doing certain traditions on an every other year basis. It is often hard for me to say no to just one more Christmas obligation, but each gift, each activity, and each party adds to the complexity of the season, and before you know it, we need a blizzard to slow us down and give us the time to really appreciate this special and holy time of preparation for the birth of our Savior.

What have our readers done to simplify this holy time of year? What activities or traditions have you chosen to forgo?


B-Mama said...

We were snow compatriots, Red, but had just over a foot--nothing close to your 2 feet! WOW!! So glad you had a relaxing time.

GG and I join you in forgoing presents for one another at Christmas, but we also both have birthdays around the holidays, so we are still in a flurry buying gifts for that! It's too bad we can't plan the date when we're be born!

In the future I hope to institute a name draw for a family gift exchange. I know some bigger families that do this rather than everyone feeling the obligation to shop for everyone. This will level the playing field--we are going to soon outnumber my sister's children 2 to 1. I don't think its fair that she has to shop for ALL my kids!! Each person also receives a nicer gift because the $$ isn't so spread out.

Lastly, for some reason this Advent we've had two free weekends with no events. Instituting a rule like 1 major event each weekend or something like that really allows for pause and appreciation for the season. It has definitely helped us take a breather! We might force this rule in the future...

Kat said...

Red, we also skipped a Christmas party this weekend, but our excuse wasn't nearly as good as a blizzard! We decided to run an errand on our way to the party, but on the way Maria decided to dump a bottle of water on herself. Of course, I hadn't brought a change of clothes. Then I realized that I had forgotten diapers and wipes, in addition to bringing no snacks for the remainder of the car drive. Out of character for us, we decided to call and say that we were sorry, but we weren't going to be able to make it to the party. We were only one of many many party guests, so we knew that our presence wasn't going to make or break the party :) And we decided that our kids would be happier, and we would get more sleep, if we just went home. Like I said, out of character, but we've actually missed a couple of holiday parties this season and I think these were good decisions!

Mary Alice said...

We had many of the same emotions this weekend -- and I didn't get my godchildren's gifts to the post office on Saturday! Well, C better learn sooner or later that his godmother is a spaz, the box is wrapped and ready to go and I will get it in the mail tomorrow!

It is funny, becuase the past two years we have had to do lots in advance and then slow down because of the baby being born in late December. This year, I am going to be shopping up to the last minute, and I loved the day of sledding and baking on Sunday, but in the future we will do what we did the years I was pregnant -- do all of our shopping on Thanksgiving weekend. I will also order the cards then.

When I heard about the snow and everyone on the news was talking about how it would impact their shopping, it made me pretty sad. People dug out for holiday parties but not for Mass. Some made a point of getting to mass Saturday night, which I didn't even think of!

Speaking on behalf of one of your godchildren, that would be fine for us, especially since she is the only one of our six kids who gets a seperate Christmas gift from a godparent, as the others are mostly aunts and uncles.

I also read a great peice on Faith and Family about picking the traditions that bring you closest to God, and in a way it gave me permission to skip some things, even good things, to make room for the great things.

Lastly, I LOVE snow, but last night I had to run out to the car to get something and I realized how VERY VERY cold it was, and I just realized that I need to figure out a way to do more for those who are homeless. I am trying to figure out how to make this part of our routine during Advent and throughout the year. Cutting back on gifts and writing a check is one way to start.

My kids are getting stockings, one gift from a sibling and one big gift for all of them from us/santa. It works this year, and I am hoping that next year it might be a ping pong table or something like that. Elizabeth Foss talks about cutting back from three gifts to one. Buying even three gifts for six kids really got to be a lot, not even the money but just the logistics.

Bethany said...

We've actually been quite the opposite this year, busier than usual. Since we've finally settled down in one place, we have had extra commitments this year. Combined with commitments that are atypical for a normal December (i.e. the wedding we attended Saturday morning) and the apparent fact that at 33 weeks pregnant I'm already starting one-a-week dr.'s visits due to a thyroid condition, we're strapped for time.

However, a couple of things that have always helped us are:

1) We alternate whose family we spend the Thanksgiving/Christmas Holidays with. This year Thanksgiving was with my husband's family, and we celebrate a small Christmas on the Fri afterward. And Christmas will be with my family, though they are choosing to come over on New Year's which is helpful in slowing down the rush. And Christmas Day now, is always done at home. If family and friends want to come visit on Christmas Day, that's fine, but they don't expect too much. Christmas Day is spent attending mass and visiting with parish friends and celebrating the birth of Christ at home.

2) We order many presents online; gifts from us/Santa as well as specialty items that may not always be able to be found readily available in a city of only about 100,000. Since neither me or my husband are big fans of shopping (though I don't mind visiting the little boutiques down town) this definitely helps us cut down on the stress.

Also, this year because of the pregnancy, I took a leave of absence from the parish choir, which has helped us manage our time, though I am disappointed that we finally get back into our restored/renovated Cathedral and I had to relinquish singing on Sunday mornings. But it has definitely taken some of the stress out of this year's Advent season.

texas mommy said...

This year has been atypical for us as well. Since in September I was anticipating feeling nauseous during most of Advent, I did all my Advent/Christmas prep in a somewhat panicked flurry in September before I expected morning sickness to set in, obviously before the miscarriage. All but a very few presents were ordered online, delivered and wrapped before the end of September and remain sitting in my closet. The Jesse tree ornaments finally got made and I organized a daily binder with Advent/Jesse tree activities for each day of Advent for the boys. Really, looking back on it, I am amazed at how much I accomplished in a short period of time, but there were few other obligations in early September.

This Advent has been different in that I find myself with TIME. Time to rest and watch old movies with my husband in the evenings. Time to bake and decorate with the kids. Time to read and pray. Time to wait. I am such a rusher-arounder that I really do need time to wait and contemplate. In the evenings I just need to pull out an ornament, the next addition to our nativity scene and the next days coloring pages/activities all ready to go. All this to say that I really need to remember this in the future!!

Karen said...

This year we missed a lot because I was sick most of the month. Most of our decorations are still sitting in the boxes my husband brought up from the basement.

Every year I look for ways to simplify Christmas so it is more about God, than it is about worldly things.

This year I made our parents and siblings albums (all the same) on Shutterfly. They are hard to buy for, and can really just buy whatever they want for themselves. It did not take me long to make one album. We only have one brother with children, so we only get presents for the kids, the adults do not exchange.

We have traditionally done no real stockings (maybe their real sock with a cookie in it). They each get 3 presents and there is one larger family present. I can see that maybe next year we may go down to 2 presents - it is just so much stuff to store. I love the joy they receive from presents, but I am cringing at the thought of where am I going to put it all.

I shop online and at a few stores, but try to have it all finish by Thanksgiving time.

Erin said...

In order to make it through the pre-Christmas madness of shopping, parties, and three family Christmas celebrations, my husband and I exchange gifts on the Epiphany instead of at Christmas. This gives us a little breathing room in December, and more time together.

Also, this is our first Christmas that our baby (18 mo) is aware of presents, but we will likely leave all the gift giving to our parents and siblings-- he doesn't know that mom and dad didn't get him a gift!

Elizabeth M said...

The snowstorm was a great way to refocus. But this year, we've simplified everything because I've been out of work for 9 months, and for many reasons (including DH's health), I'd made more than half of the family income for a number of years.
So everything is scaled back. Both families know we will not be giving gifts (other than anything homemade, mostly food). So that cut back on the rush of shopping. We are giving just a very few items to each other -- a couple books and some necessary items (slippers, pjs). My mom gave us a check early to allow us to get what we really wanted to give the kids, but that's very scaled back too. We did a lot more careful planning of what we most wanted to give them for their special interests. Since we have always "done" Santa (we were not as strong in our faith early in our marriage), it's hard because our youngest still believes. She knows we're not spending much on anything (not just Christmas), but said it was OK because she was asking for presents from Santa, so we didn't have to buy them. So we selected one special thing from her list (which was reasonably priced) and gave some of her requests to family members who wanted gift ideas.
It was much easier shopping in many ways because there were so many fewer decisions to make -- and there was no adding things just because they are "so cute" and in front of me.
We're also not doing cards (also for financial reasons). We'll take a nice picture of the kids to give to grandparents, aunts & uncles, and I'll do a nicer email "card" to others.
We've been humbled and grateful for gifts from some friends. But even though we pray that our financial situation will be improved next year, I hope we'll find a way to keep a sense of simplicity. There is a lot of peace in just NOT thinking or stressing about doing more shopping or cards. I want to keep the sense of priorities even when we are able to spend more in future years.

Merry MOM said...

One way Christmas slows down in our house is that for the past few years the whole family gets sick. Seriously... Sometimes I think God allows families to get sick to help us live the uncomfortable aspects of the Yuletide. Obviously Mary and Joseph had extreme joy despite the fact that they had to bring the Savior into the world in a very humble stable next to smelly animals. When the parents and kids are sick the house will not be perfect, baking might get scratched, and Christmas parties canceled. Yet despite this, we all have to be cheerful and grateful in less than ideal circumstances, trying to remember that no matter what, we can still celebrate Baby Jesus' birth. I still have a few more days so I'm hoping we may be recovered before Christmas! IF not we'll have 12 more days to celebrate!!

JMB said...

I've blown off Christmas cards in the past when it was too much to even try to get the kids in one place all happy. I've also blown off stocking stuffers on numerous occasions. I don't bake at all. I'll buy cookies for a cookie exchange. I regift gifts to teachers and/or participate in a class gift so I don't have to buy individual teacher gifts. I've found that as the kids get older it gets way easier to cut back on gifts for them. My husband & I don't exchange gifts for Christmas. I will rarely turn down a party invitation, but I will turn down "ladies night out" events with friends.

What has helped me so much keep in the Christmas spirit is to try and attend Daily Mass during the week when the kids are at school. I'm lucky to have found a wonderful Carmelite chapel in a mall near my house!

Jennifer Frey said...

I would definitely recommend foregoing the Christmas cards. They served a great purpose before the internet, but now they are just a waste of time and money, as far as I can tell. Also, since we have a large family, we have always gotten away with cookies and fudge for gifts for many people, and there are many people who do not expect gifts.

Because my husband and I are both academics, and Advent comes right as the semester ends, we know that we have to plan well and early to get through this season. I had most of my Christmas shopping done by early December, so that it wasn't stressing me out. I also blocked off certain days for certain tasks that would be fun with the kids in advance, so that I knew we would be able to do the most important things. But most importantly, I think my husband and I are really on the same page about what is most important to us this season. We don't go all out decorating the house and stuff like that. We stick to basics like our tree and advent wreath and leave it at that. We won't be winning any awards from Martha Stewart, but we have had a very blessed and relaxing Advent, and that is what counts.

One final thought: The ultimate paradox about this most "wonderful time of the year" is that it is the time when people are most likely to be depressed. I am convinced that one of the biggest reasons for this are the weird (and often misplaced) cultural expectations that surround this season. I think that each family needs to prayerfully consider which traditions to go in for and which to forego. I also think that reflection will reveal that most of this stuff has little cultural value (especially from a Roman Catholic perspective), and can be easily dismissed. Simplifying is not only smart, but also the only act of sanity during a time when most of us are being driven mad.

So I guess what I"m saying is: Red is wise.

Kevin said...

The first thing we do is to go on a one day Advent retreat early on. It compltely refocuses Advent on Christ and away from the parties and gift giving. It's easier for us since we only have two kids and grandparents eager to take the kids for a day. Second is that we avoid the "Christmas" parties. At 27 about half of our friends are still single and the "Christmas" parties are just excuses to get drunk, not to anticipate the birth of Christ. I cringe when I think about the times I spent as a single stuffing my face and drinking at Christmas Eve parties and then going to Midnight Mass and greeting our Lord's birth as an extension of a Christmas party. Don't get me started on that. Third we have also blown off Christmas cards as well. We send an electronic greeting to our friends. Our gifts to family are pictures of the kids or homemade items. We each have two godchildren and we get them Catholic kids books to remind them of the birth of our Lord since their parents are fallen away Catholics. The kids get a couple of small gifts on Christmas with the bigger gifts given on the Feast of the Epiphany. The church has given us several weeks to celebrate Christmas up to Epiphany so we should use that time wisely.