For consumerist dread? I like to fill this space with ideas for merry making and simple festivities, especially in this time of year. To me, conjuring a bit of reverence and a bit of handmade magic during the holidays is a special joy. In my work, I love to share ideas that counter popular consumer messaging. While my inbox is increasingly filled with missives screaming IT’S NOT TOO LATE, IT IS THE LAST MINUTE and FREE SHIPPING, it feels calming and grounding to encourage the gift of a simple craft project, or a simple experience.
But the truth is that this time of year can really throw me personally. There’s inevitably a moment when I feel a disconnect between what I want to do and what I end up doing; what I think I might accomplish and what I have the bandwidth or even desire to complete. The season can feel like a referendum on the efforts I’ve made to consume thoughtfully, to value people and planet over goods, to instill values of community and care in my children. Hell, consumerism aside, the season can feel like a referendum on parenting in general.
In minimalist discourse, there’s not simply a keeping up with the Joneses, but its counterpart which is just as fraught: keeping up with whoever is navigating life under capitalism with nary a consumerist care. In this minimalist fantasy there are children delighted by nothing more than walnuts in stockings. There are folks who gladly forgo their own gifts so that others may have them instead. Looming large in the minimalist imagination are the mythical families, who, shielded from the ever-present consumer goods directed at children, have Christmases that come and go without want or greed or miserly Scrooging of any kind, not to mention a single item that nobody really needs or likes at all. Holiday activities take precedence over gift giving. Cookie-baking and crafting happen without harm or hiccup. Ice skating and sledding adventures come and go without temper tantrums. No one is too hot or too cold or too tired to take one more trek up a hill. No one is pissed about the color of their snow pants or the fact that they already drank all the hot chocolate. Holiday meals emerge from the ether—or maybe they’re simply the happy result of utterly harmonious family revelry. No one complains and everyone pitches in and a wholesome meal is shared by all.
Sometimes this is the way things go.
There are moments when my kids are delighted by very small things indeed. On winter evenings, the sunsets outside our rear windows are incredible—a light display of epic proportions that make us gasp night after very long night. When the sky turns pink then purple and brilliant cerulean my kids run across the room and implore us to take a look too. They clamor onto chairs and insist that if we just crane our necks a bit more we’ll be privy to even more celestial glory. Last week I stuck leftover pieces of gelt into my agnostic children’s advent calendar and they squealed and shrieked over the coins as though they were made of actual gold. A pajama-clad walk to see the neighborhood Christmas lights after dark might very well be every bit as joyful as we imagine it could be at the start. In these moments I’m tempted to pat myself on the back and say job well done.
But more often, there’s wonder and want at the same time. Cookies are made and delighted over and they also inspire a raging sibling squabble and parental regret. Christmas lists include a wish for world peace and a Spiderman costume with sewn in muscles. There are tears over the lack of a sequin-festooned reindeer sweater and there’s the patient knitting of a scarf for a newborn cousin. I’m learning to say job done well enough in these moments, too.
For me, and maybe for some of you, it’s helpful to remember that the holidays are like the other days. We do our best, we begin again, we marvel at the setting sun and we wish we had a sequined sweater.
PS. On Instagram this week, I’ve got an ad campaign around using recycled paper packaging to make easy, festive holiday decorations. They’re currently hanging all over my house and making things feel very festive indeed. To her delight and my horror, Calder has already ripped three garlands from the wall. Both, and, et cetera.