The Upside of Downsized Holidays

This Christmas, please take it easy

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Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Nobody wanted the 2020 holiday season to be like this

I mean, really. It’s the biggest Bah Humbug in living memory. Even confirmed Scrooges are waxing nostalgic about Christmas Past, or whatever winter holiday has been their cherished tradition in which they like to play the curmudgeon role.

At some point during the pandemic, months back, we were hearing half-apologetic confessions from the devoted introverts among us who avowed that they rather preferred lockdown. We’re not hearing that so much anymore.

Everyone is bone-weary of the distancing and the separation and the list of things we can’t do, from traveling to visit distant loved ones to exposing our naked faces in public. The other day I was listening to a radio advertisement for a luxury resort featuring “exclusive, private suites,” yada ,yada, yada . . . they lost me at “exclusive” and “private.” Right now, neither of those are a draw. Give me happy crowds! Bustling shopping malls! Times Square stuffed with cheerful drunks! A chance to mingle with humanity, please!

Just don’t give any of that to me this year. I’m nostalgic, not suicidal.

Like it or not, this is the holiday season we have

Since we can’t change that fact, we may as well embrace it. It’s fine, probably even healthy, to reflect on the holiday traditions and the scale of celebrations we typically enjoy, and even grow misty-eyed as we do so. But who wants to spend the entire Season of Light down in the dumps? This year has been dismal enough, and we don’t earn cosmic brownie points for marinating in the blues.

At the risk of being a Pollyanna, I suggest we consider the benefits of severely trimmed-back festivities. Call this year Calm Christmas, Quiet Kwanzaa, Serene Solstice, the Hanukah of Hush, if you will. There may be many things this year that you will miss, but here are some elements you may not:

Traffic: no car-crawling through sleet-showered freeway slogs, no circling jammed parking lots looking for a space, no waiting in dismal airport cell phone lots (I sincerely hope). Think of the time you’ll save, time you could spend mulling wine and watching classic holiday movies from the comfort of you ever-so-well-worn-by-now couch.

Entertaining: Sure, we crave some real, non-Zoom together time with family, friends, and neighbors — but we can’t have that this year. So let’s remember what that also means: the giant open house you traditionally host, the one that costs you hundreds of dollars and untold hours of preparation, followed by a massive cleanup? Chillax: it’s off the table this year. Ditto the extended family visit with yet another turkey and Uncle Grump tossing verbal bombs at the dinner table, while Aunt Oblivia’s chihuahua pees in every corner of the house. You get to take it easy.

Finding something to wear: I mean, go ahead and pull out the sparkly sweater that lurks at the back of your closet eleven months out of the year, if it tickles your fancy. But this year, you can wear it with your sweatpants. Or, no pants.

FruitcakeNo need to elaborate.

Mindless calories: Yes, many of us have already expanded our dimensions over nine months (hence the lame jokes about puttin’ on the Covid 19). But at least this year many of us won’t be subject to the typical barrage of cookies, sour- cream-and-you-name-it dips, peppermint bark, rum balls, and cheese everythings that normally show up every day for a month in every staff room across the land, just when we’re too frazzled to resist them. This year, we can be choosier about what we overeat.

In my case, that will be pumpkin pie with whipped cream. For breakfast, any chance I get. Any leftover whipped cream goes in my coffee. So worth it.

Gift wrappingIn a year where you’re probably ordering all your gifts online and having them shipped directly to the lucky recipients, think of all the time and stress you’ll save not having to tart up your offerings with (expensive!) gift wrap. Not to mention all the wear and tear on your thumbs from curling ribbon.

People watching you unwrap presents: Is it just me, or did this start getting awkward for you too, the moment you stopped being a kid? I am no shrinking violet, but for some reason having the eyes of my assembled relatives trained on me as I contend with bows and knots and scotch tape makes me painfully self-concious.

It’s probably just me.

The Before Time holidays were getting out of hand

Nothing is more alluring than something you’ve been told you can’t have. So it’s normal to pine for the lavish, over-the-top holiday hoopla of yesteryear. But let’s admit it: the holiday season as typically conducted has a way of getting on our last nerve. Noxious canned Xmas Xmusic piped into every public space, the relentless pressure to buy buy BUY, the magazines at every checkout counter exhorting us (especially women) to Make This Your Best Christmas Ever! For some of us, this time of year is as likely to trigger melancholy as cheer.

Since we’re forced to dial things back this year, there’s an opportunity to Marie Kondo our whole holiday experience. Maybe this winter we pay more attention to the cues of nature than of corporations, and slow down. Go within. Look for the simple things that really do spark joy.

Maybe instead of lining up for Santa at the mall, you can take the kids on a discovery walk out in nature, or just in your neighborhood. Bundle up and go check out the sparkly lights in the evening, or look for interesting leaves, or stars, or snowflakes if you’re really lucky. Bake cookies and decorate them — this year, it totally doesn’t matter how they turn out, as long as you have fun making them.

Buy less and have more. Most of all, more time. It’s the most precious gift there is. More than ever before in our lifetimes, we’re surrounded by the evidence of life’s fragility, and by the irreplaceable nature of each moment. This year, we have a chance to pause in all our doing and allow our moments, and ourselves, to simply be, right here in the here and now.

After all, that’s why they call it the present. Happy holidays


  1. There definitely are some advantages to a smaller, quieter holiday season. I think the thing I miss least is the never-ending Christmas music in stores beginning right after (or even before?) Halloween. By the time we get to Christmas Day, the opening notes of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” make my eye begin to twitch.

    • As well they should! Personally, if I never hear Bing Crosby’s interminable version of The Little Drummer Boy again, it’ll be too soon. Call me Scrooge.

  2. I’ve got my own Christmas CDs playing non-stop. Nothing like a rousing Hallelujah Chorus to get your holiday spirit on. My playlist is way better than the stores! Pink Martini, Blues, Jimmy Buffet, TransSiberian, Latin… Feliz Navidad! This year I’m hunkering down with a spiced rum eggnog (or half gallon) and holiday movies. I’m decking the halls with ivy (need to rip it out–it’s taking over) redwood and eucalyptus all picked from my yard. I’ve got balsam fir in the diffuser and last year’s cinnamon scented candles burning on the coffee table.I’m not even pulling out the decorations from storage (Marie Kondo thumbs up) The 12′ tall metal Christmas tree sculpture blinks outside the window. It looks like Christmas to me! How easy it is: almost no shopping, wrapping or cooking. My only effort is sending handwritten cards, but hallelujah! Hallelujah! I’m inspired.
    Maybe it will snow.
    Have a very Relaxing, Stress-free Christmas to one and all.

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