How to shake off the excess this holiday season
This summer, when the sun was shining, the clouds were stunning and a white Christmas was the last thing I was worried about, I sat in a green meadow, surrounded by trees, friends and the holy spirit for an open-air church service. We sang simple, old hymns and breathed deep to sample the aroma of the potluck we would share after service. I sat in awe, as the day was so pure, so innocent, so — and this will surprise those who know me — simple.
I am not a simple person. I like too much, too loud, too many, and if a little is good, a lot is better. When a co-worker, a lady I really didn’t much care for, called me the “Queen of Excess,” I was oddly flattered and I decided I liked her just enough to include her in my next big shindig — a Black Tie Chili Supper. That means, if you score an invite, you wear a black tie, and whatever else you fancy to eat a meal that is anything but simple: homemade (resplendent with hours of simmering and adding one more dash of this to compensate for the last dash of something that was a little too much) chili with all of the fixings. She wore a ball gown, over long johns, because we were gathering outside in the winter, and I loved her all the more because of that epic effort.
And yet, when I stop and think, as I did during that open-air church service, it is the simple moments in life that draw me in, that make me happy. I am currently in the last stages of launching a new book, “Quiet Leadership,” which is filled with stories of people I think of as leaders, who don’t lead masses of people, or shout about their causes from the rooftops. They quietly change the world, or at least my perception of it, simply by being them and sharing their truth.
There really is something to it, and I think it has been one of the gifts of the Covid pandemic, the opportunity to sit back and reconsider what is important.
This holiday season — while life is a bumbled-up jumble of germs, changes we didn’t want to make, restrictions, guidelines, opinions for and against, shortages, outages and stress — what if we sat back and embraced the simple, identified the little things that make the biggest difference, and worried only about them?
What if we gave up excess, erased chaos, ignored the call for opulence and, with those we love the most, celebrate what we treasure the most? What if we baked one batch of cookies, the family favorite, instead of 24 dozen for the cookie exchange? What if we played the old tattered, dog-eared game, with missing pieces, instead of buying three new ones that are, truth be told, based on our old favorite anyway?
This may sound like retail sabotage, which is not what I am suggesting. I love new things. I love to support our local businesses, but just exactly how much do I have to support them before the thought that matters when I give a gift, becomes one thought, followed by another and then another, so pretty soon it is a lecture on consumerism instead of a loving soliloquy about the recipient? I’d argue, not very many.
So, if like me, you are willing to give simplicity a go, to let calm invade the festivities, to let less become more, how do we do that? What do we keep and what do we give the boot? Here are five ideas for you, five ways to be simple in a time when simple, quiet actions just might be the answer to our biggest problems.
KAREN’S 5 IDEAS
1. If you really don’t like it, you really don’t have to do it. You know the event, you know the foods, you know the activities. You do them because you have to, it is expected, it is the thing to do. This year, my friend, you get to say no. No, thank you. No more. Not at this time. Take it off your plate and if you have to, hide in the closet while the storm rages around your refusal. You are making things simple, and the simplest thing ever is to say no when you really don’t want to say yes.
2. Pick a day to do it all. It may be too late for you, if you started shopping in July, but for this year, this crazy, germ-filled year, pick one day to do it all. You will do all of the shopping, all of the wrapping, all of the cooking in one day. The beauty of this is the fact that it makes you simplify because there is not time to do more than the basics. I’ve actually done this before, and I hope it doesn’t crash your opinion of my “Queen of Excess” title to know that. Instead of being crazy for months, I’ve spent Dec. 23 shopping, cooking, wrapping and singing. Guess what? It was glorious! I can’t wait to do it again! Everything is sweeter when you have one day to do it all!
3. Ask for help. If your people can’t go without a tree until Christmas eve as the Germans did when they first had the idea to bring a tree indoors, ask them to set it up. If they must have every family favorite at dinner (our dinner typically includes three kinds of stuffing) ask them to make it. I know, you are the decorator, the chef, you know the secrets, but this year you are simply going to sip hot chocolate, while looking at the tree, if they, and you know who they are, insist on bringing crazy back to your holiday.
4. Talk to the people you love. Take them to coffee. Hand them a card. Ask them a question. Listen to their story. Listen. Ask. Listen. They are your people and now, more than ever, they want to know what is in your heart, and you want to know what is on their mind. Being together is all that matters, so, simply, quietly, be that. Together. It’s all that really matters.
5. Practice the one tradition that matters. Somehow every tradition, every culture, every food, and every way to celebrate has become the norm. Why? It is OK to embrace other ideas, but it is your tradition, the thing that makes your family unique, that is the one that matters. It might be making homemade eggnog, with everyone holding the spoon while stirring the egg whites in, it might be caroling, or opening the gifts slowly, so it takes all day, that makes your holiday your holiday. That tradition is the only one that matters. Enjoy it.
You are an incredible human being, with gifts beyond measure, love to share and laughs to laugh. This holiday season I hope that instead of fighting for what used to be normal, instead of making yourself crazy so everything can be perfect in an imperfect world, I hope you can sit back and enjoy what really matters. Simply. Quietly. With peace and love in your heart.