Sunday, December 6, 2015

Getting Into The Christmas Spirit

Happy Saint Nicholas Day! In case you didn't know, today is the feast day of St. Nicholas, a 4th-century Christian bishop with a reputation for secret gift-giving such as slipping coins into the boots of the poor. Growing up in Poland, I used to put my winter booties out for Saint Mikolaj on the night of December 5th, hoping to find toys in them the next morning (and yes, I would still get my bigger presents on Christmas Eve - it's a win win, am I right?). So I guess this little coincidence now allows me to shamelessly talk about the holidays with you and share what's been on my mind lately.
Christmas is my favorite holiday, like it is for probably 98% of Christians. I have a special fondness for things associated with it, and I'm not really apologetic about it - there's so much hate and sadness in our world that I can't help but feel grateful for those little joys Christmas usually brings me. Twinkling lights. The smell of cold and winter in the air. Baking shortbread star cookies. The feel of fir and spruce branches in my hands. Even the gaudy decorations and glittery baubles. It's fun!

But this year, I'm not really feeling it *shrugs*. I believe it's a whole combination of feelings I've been experiencing lately, and I wish that maybe by naming, stripping them bare and sending them out in the world like itinerant snowflakes, I can get rid of some of my Holiday blues. Shall we try?

Regardless of those superficial moments of festive joy I've mentioned above, Christmas is the happiest time of the year for me because of my family. As some of you may know, me and my husband emigrated to North America over 6 years ago, and all of our family and most of our friends live in Poland. We go home for the holidays every year, and due to my husband's limited time off work and the cost of airfare it's the only time of the year we travel to Poland (although most years, we also see our immediate family when they visit us here in the US during summer months).

At any rate - I don't know about you guys, but my family is pretty high on my life's priority list. This combined with how rarely we get to see them makes Christmas extra special for me. And I'm not saying this year I'm not excited and looking forward to being with our loved ones - but I guess this year more than in the past I feel that our time together is just so limited. Unfortunately, parting doesn't get easier with practice, and every year when time comes to say goodbye for another six months or more, I'm simply heartbroken. I can't seem to be able to shake that feeling this past couple of weeks, and I don't want to think about our Christmas trip's end before it's even begun, but that's precisely what I'm doing.

Another big factor that's been adding to my Christmas ennui is, well... excess. You've surely noticed I've been talking quite a bit about minimalism on the blog this year, not because it's trendy but because many of its ideas are really resonating with me. For someone wishing to simplify their life, the Holiday season seems to be all about things that you must have and that you must do. Shopping for gifts, and shopping holiday sales. Buying the tree and tree trinkets, decorating the house. Christmas party obligations and associated stresses - hair, outfit, hostess gifts. Cooking and baking up a storm. That's a lot of things we may feel forced to do, without reflecting on their value in our lives.

I would say that compared to a standard American family (if such a mythical beast even exists), me and my husband have always been pretty minimalist when it comes to celebrating the season - partly because we can easily simplify as we're spending the holiday overseas. We don't put up a Christmas tree; it'd be a shame to have it go to waste when we're not home for two weeks. I don't decorate our home much, because we live in a small apartment and don't have the space for all the extra stuff. We usually go to one semi-formal holiday party, and we don't keep a large circle of friends we would feel obligated to entertain. I don't even send out holiday cards. I'm the beauty blogger who stole Christmas, am I not?

Yet even the small number of Christmas preparations give me very ambivalent feels. On one hand, I feel incredibly grateful to have the means to purchase nice gifts for everyone in my family. But on the other... I kinda wish we would skip the whole gift exchange. There's 12 people on my list, no kids. It has somehow transpired over the years that I always buy more than one gift for each person - more like two or three. That's at least 30 (?!) different things I'm having to carefully plan and research, purchase in advance, transport in my check-in luggage to Poland, wrap and place under the tree. It takes a lot of time, effort and energy - and money, of course. But what worries me the most is that in the end, I'm really not sure how useful or enjoyable these presents will be for my recipients. As for me, when it comes to surprise gifts, I've come to feel more apprehensive than excited when it's time to open the boxes under the tree, because I HATE receiving unwanted things and feeling ungrateful and wasteful as a result. And for the things that I've requested from my wishlist... I could just as well purchase them myself, couldn't I? It's really starting to feel like the whole gift thing isn't really worth it - for me.

Before you judge me as a bit extreme, I should tell you that I do believe it's okay to live a little during the holiday season. I think we should be feeling thrilled about Christmas indulgences, precisely because they're not strictly necessary. It's so much fun to experience things that are over and beyond - that's what makes them extra special, and we're all very priviledged to have that. Maybe it doesn't sound very minimalist to say that anticipating excess can make us happier, but, well, it's true - and I think that as long as we don't make ourselves feel completely overwhelmed and stressed out, it's all good.

So how am I attempting to fight the blues and get into that Christmas spirit? Well, now that I'm 95% done with buying gifts, I did decide to go ahead and purchase a few new clothing items for myself during Cyber Monday sales (I've never shopped Black Friday in store, but I did work retail on Black Friday one year, and it wasn't pretty). Some pieces will replace somewhat worn out staples (a few warm long-sleeved tops, a set of pjs), some are just for fun (a casual jersey dress) - and I'm looking forward to wearing them during the Holidays.
I'd also been contemplating the best way to inject a little bit of Christmas decor into our place, and I was inspired partly by my mom, partly by my fall-themed pumpkin centerpiece shown here, to put together this little arrangement for our living room window sill - it's my version of decorating the mantelpiece when you don't own a fireplace. I decorate our window with fairy lights every December, but this year I shopped around and purchased a bunch of these fir? or spruce? branches for a whopping sum of $2 at a nearby florist. Greenpoint, I tell you - and speaking Polish to Polish shopkeepers doesn't hurt either :) The branches smell absolutely incredible, and since they're just, well, branches, they can be easily composted at the end of the season without having to store another thing in the closet. I laid them out on our sill, added some baubles I had in my stash from that one year we did put up a tree, and voila! A touch of minimalist Holiday cheer.

Other things on my list include baking festive cookies, listening to Ella Fitzgerald's holiday album (well, okay, I'm also partial to some Buble), typing out emails to friends all over the world I usually have trouble keeping in touch with, gorging on tangerines and maybe even watching a seasonal movie or two (please leave your favorites in the comments below!). I also borrowed an easy Christmassy read from my local library - they always set up seasonal displays for kids, but I guess this time they were nice enough to put together a little corner for adults too. Christmas-time mystery seems to be a thing, and I like it. So... are you guys feeling the Christmas spirit already, or are you trying to fight the blues like me? What are you looking forward to the most during the season? I'd love to hear from you!


  1. I am thrilled about the holidays. But the main reason for that is that I live in Switzerland while the rest of my friends and family are in Belgium, so Christmas = going back home and spending lots of quality time with everyone. That's what's making me feel so excited about it. The materialistic side of it all isn't important to me.

  2. I don't like surprise gifts either. LOL! It's like, what if it's something I don't like? I'll pretend I love it, and when I get home, it'll be left somewhere in the black hole of the house. Then after a few years, I'd probably find it again, unused, and it'd get donated. I don't celebrate Christmas, but I do love the FEELING of Christmas. It's a beautiful time of the year. The songs, decorations, twinkling lights - all are very cheerful!

    I celebrate Chinese New Year, and we are way more practical. We don't exchange gifts. We give red packets filled with cold hard cash. Well, the traditional belief was meaningful, until it's really just all about the money these days. The one who gives the most generous red packet is the most popular every year. It used to be good fun, until kids nowadays just get too greedy. I guess there's always the flip side of things :-)

  3. Monika, we don't do Christmas Gifts here in our house. I'll buy a few stocking stuffers for my daughter, but that's it. Instead, we donate money to something called the Huron Carole, which is associated with the Food Bank here. We'll put up a tree, because we like looking at our ornaments, but all the hullabaloo and stuff with Christmas we don't really do. I don't even really do the Ukrainian Christmas stuff like the 12 meatless meals because c'mon seriously-like for the 3 of us? Umm, no. For us Christmas is just hanging out and spending time with each other. That's all it is. People put too much pressure on having the perfect Christmas and it's such a set-up for a big let down. I hope you have fun in Poland! I think you should just enjoy yourself as best you can!

  4. You know, I don't think it's strange at all that you have this sense of apprehension about Christmas. There is a lot of pressure to give gifts, and get gifted in return. And for someone like you who's trying to downsize on all the stuff in her life - well, why accumulate more, right? I feel the same way, although we don't celebrate Christmas because we aren't Christian. There are still lots of gifts to give for the holiday we celebrate, and I'm thinking that my husband and I will only try to go for "experience" gifts instead of "things" gifts (i.e., going to a movie, concert, hike, day trip, etc.). It's a bit more complicated since we have a young kid, but we'll figure it out, I hope. It's hard to resist all the shiny goodies that roll around during the holiday season, but I really think I'll be the only person to give a gift to me! Maybe just one or two things. I did the same thing for Cyber Monday - just ordered a few things online for myself and my kid, basic stuff that we need, and probably a few things will get sent back as well. Having time to spend with family is the best gift of all, seriously. I really started to appreciate that once I had a kid. I hope you enjoy your holiday and feel festive in your own special way! I love to relax with candles and tea, so I think that's what I'll indulge in this year. :)