Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Winter Solstice! 12 days of Christmas

Happy Winter Solstice!

It's the shortest day.
Today, we celebrate the return of the light.
Welcome, Light!!!

Every year, we say we don't want to celebrate the holiday season the same old way.
Then every year, we mostly do.
Most years we say something about wanting to celebrate the Winter Solstice.
Then most years, we don't.

This year, we really decided to change it.

We decided we would celebrate the 12 days of Christmas. We would not start Christmas the day after Thanksgiving (really never did that). We would not start Christmas December 1st. We would not start Christmas until it was really close. 12 days out. That was our plan. It fell on a Sunday. Perfect. December 14. After Kevin's birthday. (Since his birthday/Christmas proximity has generally been a bone of contention for him.) Perfect. December 14th. Perfect.

Well, we'll get back to that date. It was to be a joyous day, starting with a family ritual and culminating with putting the tree up, drinking egg nog, eating gingerbread. I envisioned it. The perfect little nuclear family gathering we've never had.

And then we got sick. Pretty much all of us. But mostly me and Kevin. At the same time. That is rare, and those of you out there who are married with children understand how difficult it is. It's bad enough when you take turns being sick with your spouse, so the well one can take care of the sick one and Everything. Else. But, when you both get sick at the same time, no one gets taken care of and nothing gets done. And certainly not Christmas in a house where the spouses don't really love it.

So, no Christmas has been done. And it's now the Winter Solstice. Not to mention that we have been blizzarded here in the Pacific Northwest, which normally does not get blizzarded. And I have to think, in a way, "How perfect." I did the math last night, and if we decide to start the 12 days of Christmas today, with the Winter Solstice, they will last right to the New Year. I somewhat like that.

But, let's backtrack. What did we decided to DO for the 12 days of Christmas (that hasn't gotten done yet?)

Well, the idea was to make it somewhat simple. And make it about love and kindness and time together. Not about stuff.

I had been guided to a couple of different websites shortly before we made this decision. Here is the first:

The Story of Stuff

It's all about the nightmare that is our constant overconsumption of stuff. It wreaks terrible havoc on our planet. It wreaks terrible havoc on our lives. Christmas, as it has been celebrated by us in the past, has been pretty much the pinnacle of destruction. I even called Caspian's first Christmas with me the "Christmas of Carnage". He was 2 or 3. Probably 3. He was technically the first grandchild. He arrived at age 2, but that didn't matter to my parents. It didn't matter to Kevin's guilt about his semi-recent divorce. All these things were showered down with a rain of presents that we had to keep begging him to open, because got tired of it and had to keep moving. The poor lad would want to just play with something and we would say, "No, you have to keep opening." It really sounds like some sort of satire now, 7 years later, but it is true. Then, Kevin had to go to work (restaurant), and I spent SEVEN HOURS (I shit you not) cleaning up paper and plastic and organizing stuff. Christmas of Carnage.

It has gotten gradually better each year as we make a commitment to scale back and then don't totally. But it has gotten better. The problem is, we're parents. In the United States. As parents, we just want to give our children everything. We want to give them the dream. That's also the United States thing. But the issue is that we have been sold a bill of goods. Overconsumption. It's not even fun. And it's wrecking everything. And we know it. We, in general, and we, specifically my husband and I. But some part of us felt somewhat powerless to stop it. The part of us that felt like we still wanted to give our kids everything. Well, the story of stuff arrived at just the right moment to catalyze us.

Then, my dear friend had also set up a website for her daughter to raise funds for the needy in lieu of getting a bunch of stuff. I loved that idea, so we decided to incorporate it into our plan. (Which I will get to, eventually.) You see, the thing is, we buy our kids all the stuff they need. And we try to do it in a way that makes sense, in small increments throughout the year. They don't need an avalanche of crap at one time. It's too much. They can't even appreciate it. I remember seeing another friend of mine and a family member finding little things for the kids in their lives all year and squirreling them away. Silly, little things. And "saving them" for Christmas. It seemed so absurd to me. Just give that little thing to the kid when you find it. But here we come to one of the other ridiculousnesses of Christmas: It's a HUGE financial burden on most families. They might not describe it that way, but it is. And it's just not necessary.

And, it also sets up our economy in a very weird way. We save up save up save up for 10 months and then spend it all in 2 months. It makes no sense.

Also, about this time, I read of the poor Wal-Mart worker who was trampled to death by shoppers on Black Friday. I have never participated in Black Friday. I do not understand it. I thought it was somewhat sick before. Honestly. Now it really turns my stomach. One of the comments in the news article about this guy's untimely holiday death (or very timely) referenced the following website:

Advent Conspiracy

Now, here's the funny part. We're not even Christians. But, as Americans, we get caught up in the Christmas trap. So, that website is a bit Christian for me, but I love the ideas. I think it is brilliant. It makes so much sense. I was inspired. I shared it with my family. We decided to do something different.

And then, of course, December 14th happened: illness descended.

At any rate, here is our outline.

We agreed to scale back on presents. The kids would each get something to play with, something to wear, and something to read. This seems to be a whole movement. I have heard a lot of people doing something like this. I like it. It simplified everything and is a good amount of gifts. The kids still get gifts. They just don't get completely obliterated by so much stuff they can't even enjoy it. It also helped me focus more on what was really important to get them.

We would give more to others. I actually had a decent Christmas budget that we now intended to not totally use. We would choose charities and give.

For gifts from others, we would recommend that they also give to our charities.

Zane decided he still wanted gifts instead of giving to charity. That's ok. He's 3.

We agreed that we would spend more time together, doing fun things.

We agreed that we would really work to keep kindness in our hearts and treat each other as such and everyone.

Caspian chose the Spotlight Foundation as his charity. They help horses and trouble kids. They're local. If you'd like to join us in giving, here's Caspian's page.

Kevin and I chose Save Our Wild Salmon. They are also focusing on local environmental issues, specifically with the salmon in the Snake River. If you'd like to give to help this ecosystem, here's Kevin and my page.

So, this year, we really are going to celebrate the Winter Solstice. We are going to have a ritual and put up our tree and play in the snow. We really are changing Christmas in our house. It feels good.

As they say at Advent Conspiracy

Worship Fully
Spend Less
Give More
Love All

Thanks for reading this far. And Happy Solstice! Welcome Light!!!