As a life-long Christmas lover, my eyes were opened this year to the sheer gluttonous and over indulgent way we spend the festive period in our house. I’m not sure why I’ve never seen it before, but this year I spent most of the time thinking, ‘Too much. This is all too much.’
Too much stuff. Too much ‘I want!’ And far too much waste.
Our house is already bursting at the seams – with cupboards overflowing as soon as the doors are cracked open and a loft jam packed with boxes and bags. A playroom full of neglected toys gathering dust. And yet we insist of cramming more stuff into our lives just because it is Christmas.
As I was sorting the rubbish and recycling left over from Christmas Day (the picture below captures about one third of the waste) I made an affirmation that next year will be different. I want to give more. I don’t mean give more stuff, I mean more to society. I want to give more time. I want to produce less waste. I don’t want to spend my time stressing over how much I’m spending, where I’m going to put everything and how I’m going to dispose of all the waste.
This year, I thought of everything that is going on in the world and realised my Christmas expenditure and waste was criminal. I felt guilty and ashamed.
I will always love Christmas, but next year will be different for my family. This is my plan for Christmas 2017:
1. Less Stuff
Once my children had ripped opened their presents, with barely a glance at the contents, my seven year old daughter announced in a huffy voice, ‘I got more presents last year!’
I felt the familiar grab of shame, a feeling which perpetuated most of Christmas for me. It’s not her fault that she has cultivated such an ungrateful attitude. The fault lies entirely at my door. I give her too much stuff – of course she is unable to appreciate it.
In reality, of the multitude of boxes and packages she unwrapped on Christmas morning, there are only two she was genuinely delighted with. The others were there for the sake of being opened.
Next year I will buy her fewer gifts but put more thought into giving her things she’ll really love. She only actually asked for a few things – the rest were crammed into my trolley in a desire to make Christmas special for her. It didn’t work.
2. Viewing The World Outside Our Window
Band Aid’s Feed The World is my all-time favourite Christmas song, as relevant today as it was 30 years ago. The line ‘there’s a world outside your window’ paints a vivid picture.
I would like my daughter to learn more about the world, so she can see for herself how lucky she is without me constantly having to tell her. My words are vacuous to her. She needs to understand the challenges other people face in order to be grateful for her life.
One of my best friends inspired me beyond measure this Christmas by volunteering at a homeless shelter on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. She is going through a difficult time in her own life and reported that her two shifts at the shelter were an incredibly humbling experience, making her realise how lucky she is in so many ways.
While my daughter is still too young for such an experience, I have decided that next year she can accompany me to our local children’s hospital to donate some toys. She can watch charity Christmas appeals with me (like this one) and help me decide where our money should go. And she can help me select food to donate to our local Food Bank.
I’m convinced these small actions will help her to understand how privileged she really is.
3. Less Food
To be fair, we managed to cut down our food waste from last year because we all noticed the excess was insane. However, we can do better.
There’s no need to stock up on mince pies when no one really likes them, just because it’s Christmas and we feel as though we should. The same goes for Christmas cake and Christmas pudding. No-one in our house actually likes them, so why the hell do we buy it?
4. A Different Kind Of Advent Calendar
Each morning, my children mauled at their advent calendars like a couple of hungry sea gulls ripping apart a crab on the beach. The chocolates were fished out and consume at lightening speed, without a backwards glance at the pictures and message within each window.
When I was young, my advent calendars didn’t contain any chocolate. However, the opening of each tiny window to reveal the picture within was the highlight of my day.
I really like the idea of a book advent calendar like this. It seems like a charming way to spend time together and share in some Christmas magic.
5. Revising Elf On The Shelf
For my sins, last year I introduced an Elf on the Shelf to my daughter. His name is Charlie and she absolutely loves him, finding his antics hilarious. She also enjoys the little notes he leaves her. He seems to bring her much happiness and so next year (if, fingers crossed, she still believes) he will return.
However, instead of getting up to mischief and leaving small gifts, he’s going to take a leaf out of the Kindness Elves’ book. Each day he will leave a little challenge, aimed at encouraging her to spread a little kindness and cheer to her friends, family and total strangers. He may ask her to smile at everyone she sees, make a list of things she is grateful for or donate some toys to a children’s charity.
So next year, Charlie will stop nicking our mince pies (there won’t be any to steal anyway) and focus on showing my daughter 24 ways to be kind. I’m excited to see the effect this will have on her, as we know kindness provokes feelings of well-being and fulfillment.
There are many things I still love about Christmas. The carols. The lights. The decorations. The magical expressions overcoming my children’s faces as we leave out carrots for Santa’s reindeer. The music and the stories. All of this will stay, but the glutton will be eliminated.
Christmas should be about giving, sharing and spending time with loved ones. I feel my family has achieved this, however with a few tweaks we can cut down on the over-indulgence and include the world around us more wholeheartedly.