Recently, I've received a lot of questions from the media, readers, and friends about how we handle Christmas and other gift giving holidays. I have to admit I'm a little surprised by all the questions, since it's only mid-October! So I decided to compile some of these questions into a blog post. I hope this helps you out. If you have additional questions, please leave them in the comments section. :)
Reader: What does Christmas mean to you?
Tammy: For me Christmas is about spending time with family, eating good food, taking long walks, and unplugging from Internet. I'm not religious; at least not religious in the traditional sense. I don't think I have to go to a church to develop a relationship with the divine. That can be done through meditation, yoga, and being in nature. With that being said, we don't go to church on Christmas. We focus on spending time with family and friends.
Reader: Do you give gifts at Christmas? And do you have rules or principles according to which you would choose gifts?
Tammy: I do struggle with the tradition of gift exchanging during Christmas. The holiday has been co-opted by large corporations, who care more about their profitability than the planet. I'm not against gifts, but I am against mindless consumption to maintain the status quo. For instance, I don't want anymore plastic stuff made in China that is designed to break and enter the landfill after a few years. Its such a waste of resources!
Everyone we know already has too much stuff and adding to that is not a consideration. Plus, I don't want or need more stuff. So we encourage friends and family members to donate (time or money) to a charity or give educational savings bonds to the kids. And if they have to give us something, we request cookies, wine, or a dinner date in the new year.
In the end, people aren't going to remember the new set of pajamas they got on Christmas morning. But they will remember a wonderful experience (like sharing a holiday feast or the amazing batch of cookies you made).
Reader: Do you think Christmas is really about peace and happiness, especially since our culture is so focused on "gift giving"? And if I don't want to celebrate Christmas what are some alternatives?
Tammy: It's up to us as individuals and community members to make the "peace and happiness" message of Christmas authentic. For example, rather than buying the latest gadget, go volunteer at your local domestic violence shelter or serve meals to homeless in your community. There are so many people who need help. Giving the gift of time is much more powerful than buying more stuff. Also research shows that you get more happiness and satisfaction from constructive experiences and charity than you do from shopping.
Personally, I enjoy hanging out with my family on the holiday. But if the idea of a traditional Christmas doesn't appeal to you, then organize a volunteer outing on Christmas day. For those of us who have safe, warm homes, and more than enough money, I think it's our responsibly to give back to our community.
Another alternative is creating your own Christmas tradition! For example, a few years ago Logan and I "rebelled" against Christmas. We decided to stay in Sacramento and have a "staycation" rather than traveling.
Reader: How does minimalism help you prioritize and remain mindful during the holidays?
Tammy: For me minimalism goes beyond stuff and decluttering. It's about being mindful of how consumerism and advertising impacts our everyday lives. So rather than buying a lot of stuff on the holidays, I stay out of the mall and focus on cultivating good relationships.
I keep coming back to cultivating meaningful relationships because that IS the KEY to happiness. If you read any of the latest happiness research, scholars point out again and again that humans are social beings and without meaningful and stable relationships we become very unhappy and succumb to feelings of inadequacy.
Reader: What is your superpower and how does it help you make the most of Christmas?
Tammy: I'm a connector. For example, I have a lot of friends in the virtual and physical worlds. So I do my best to connect like minded people with each other. And that also comes in handy during Christmas. During the holiday, I focus on being present with my friends and family and helping them connect with each other in more meaningful ways.