Society

Why We Keep Christmas Simple

DSCF7558They say this is the time for families to come together; to pause and relax; to celebrate and to enjoy something very special together: time that is.

Christmas is approaching and when I walk down the high street or just dare to enter a shop (yes, any shop), all that relaxation and calmness get blown up by a killing Christmas industry. Overpriced battery-operated plastic toys ‘Made in China’ (which will last, well, maybe for couple of months), the hundredths version of ‘Jingle Bells’ blasting off your head, and cheap sugary chocolates to turn your children into hyperactive Christmas addicts. And the good news are: You’re paying for it. Double. Triple or even more of the normal retail price. Why? Because it’s just Christmas. Oh joy!

Don’t get me wrong: I love Christmas. This is not a post saying that I want to get rid of it. Quite the contrary. I’m just so fed up that this hype is getting bigger and bigger. Not only that big supermarket chains start selling Christmas stuff already in September; but that also so called marketing experts target one specific group of our society: Our children. Big companies have understood that it’s not the parents they need to convince, it’s the kids. Because they will make a fuss about a certain new desirable toy until Mama and Papa finally give in and say ‘Yes, put it on your wish list for Christmas’.

This way parents keep their sanity and hopefully peace on the big day: Christmas day. But at what costs? Through my work with families in the past, I too often experienced one vicious circle happening to many: In December families would go into debts to buy Christmas presents. Some would even turn to pay-day lenders or even worse loan sharks. The big Christmas bubble wouldn’t last long and it just popped like an overheated balloon. The consequences were drastic enough: Debts to pay off for months, sometimes for years.

Another point I really can’t stand is all the artificial stress (which often becomes then too real) and fuss around the big season. Parenting is tough enough. Our days start early and if everything goes well, we might be able to relax for an hour or two in the evening, before we fall into bed. Who would want any additional stress? Not me.

So, I’m not prepared to turn my Christmas into a hyper-stress-and-making-me-poor event to please a money-making-industry or anyone else. For years my family and I have been celebrating Christmas in a simple and easy way. Yes, the kids get some presents (normally about two for each of them). Yes, they are excited about it and they bounce up and down.

But for me it’s all about that one thing: My family. Taking the time to enjoy each other and to cook some special food. I remember last year when my wife and I sat on our sofa with a glass of wine and just watched the kids. We had spent all day outside and now enjoyed the warmth of our home. The children had a great time and suddenly started making music. Candles were lit and a great smell of Christmas spices and good food filled the air. No hectic, no stress. It felt so right to me.

So, get it right this year. What about inviting some of your neighbours for a nice dinner (everyone brings something to share), or you could just spend long hours in wintery woods (and make a fire)? Why not volunteer somewhere where people really need help? Take your kids with you to show them what the real spirit of Christmas can mean. Or you could just go with this idea: We have some friends who don’t do any presents. Instead they take their kids for a short holiday somewhere in the countryside.

Of course, celebrate Christmas (or whatever you call it) the way you like it. But if you feel it’s all getting too much, bring it a gear down. Talk to your partner and kids about it and put some changes into place, so the festive season will work for all of you. Because Christmas is not about money, it’s about you and your family.

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

Checklist To Start The Weekend

  • Allow enough playtime for and WITH your kids
  • Surprise your family with a new dish that you cook (or even cook together)
  • Build a den
  • Make some musical instruments out of shoe boxes, elastic band, old yoghurt pots filled with rice or lentils – and have a family concert
  • Run over fields and chase cows
  • Have time to yourself (read, sleep, meditate, dance, do what you like)
  • Turn TV, laptops, phones etc. O F F (no stand by, no quick check, no cheating – off means off)
  • Invite your neighbours for a tea or coffee (they’ll bring the cake)
  • Say THANK YOU to your partner, or your parents, or to a friend or a stranger
  • On Sunday night meet with your family and talk about all the things that happened this weekend

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers

The Monthly Declutter Virus

Usually once a month I get it: the declutter-my-life-and-environment-virus. Don’t worry, normally it’s not contagious. It’s like a good fever: high and short. In the way my body tells me to get rid of things in order to feel better. And often the kids’ bedroom is my target. My wife and children don’t mind, as long as they don’t have to help me in my mission.

The cleaning out or let’s say – the healing process – involves: picking up all sorts of things and elements (blu tack, bits of sellotape, string, pens, books, food) from the floor; sorting the books (I think my boys own more books than me and the local library put together); dividing broken, half-broken and playable toys (yes, that’s where my eldest starts to argue: That toy is not broken, it just had an accident!); and to make the room generally more accessible (at least for the coming hour).

I find this cleaning out helps my inner peace and balance. Yes, it has something zen  (please tell me if you’re Buddhist and I’m wrong). And it reminds me of the simplicity of life. When I go through all this stuff, I often think: hey, we need so little, but have so much.

Leo Babauta, author of the Zen Habits Blog, brings it to the point when he says: “And when I’ve gotten rid of clutter, I’m freed. I can forget about those things, and live instead in this moment. … Decluttering can be a beautiful process of helping ourselves let go of the things we don’t realize we’re holding on to.”

I don’t think my children are overloaded with toys. We really try to keep it balanced and spend a great deal outdoors in the woods or by the sea. Every time we run over fields or collect millions of stones at the beach (to make the stones and pebbles collection we already have at home just a tiny bit richer), I pause and think: yes, that’s also what parenting is about: to see and to appreciate those little things; to enjoy that very moment and to take it home.

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Don’t get me wrong: this is not a post saying how bad toys are. No, not at all. It’s fine for me, after spending so much time outdoors, to come back and get the train set out and play. It’s good fun and I love playing with many toys my children own (did I really say that?). At the same time I want to keep that thought of a free, running-through-the-woods, awesome childhood. Because that’s what I did when I was little. So, my children deserve the same, at least!
Did you get infected now? Sorry. Should have warned you earlier.