Christmas meant so much to me in my childhood.
It represented spending quality time with family and friends, watching Christmas films like Miracle on 34th Street and Home Alone, listening to artists like Mariah Carey, Michael Bublé and UB40 sing Christmas carols, and of course, giving and receiving gifts.
And then Christmas day itself was always a fantastic day. Below is an outline of how my family spent Christmas together.
Christmas in the Ofei household
Wake up around 7 am and wish everyone a Merry Christmas.
Eat breakfast which would usually involve butter cookies and a hot cup of milo.
My mum and sister would get started in the kitchen early to prepare peanut soup, okra stew and sometimes my dad would marinate meat for a barbeque (as Christmas is in summer in Australia).
It was a requirement from my parents that the house needed to be spotless before we could open presents. So my older brother and I would impatiently clean the floors, do the dishes and clear out the trash.
Then everyone would have a shower and get into nice clothes because we had to look suitable for Christmas photos!
Once we were dressed, food was prepared, and the house was clean, we would all go to the living room where we would open up presents under the Christmas tree.
When we open up presents, we are a lot more measured than most families. We don’t open up our gifts all at once. We methodically, take turns in opening our presents. And of course, pose for the camera each time.
For as long as I could remember, being the youngest child, I would be responsible for passing around the gifts.
My dad would always have some tricks up his sleeve, sometimes wrapping up a gift voucher in four boxes and a sock. Or I remember one year I had to go looking for my brand new bike which was located in the storeroom downstairs.
After we finished with gifts, we would eat lunch as a family outside, overeating as most of us do at this time of the year.
At this point, everyone kind of just did their own thing, whether it was getting acquainted with their new gifts, or napping to recover from the food coma over lunch.
Late-afternoon is where we would start watching movies and TV shows together, including Mr Bean and Rush Hour.
Eat more food. Adults would have some drinks and then call it a night.
Those of us who got money as a gift would get up early in preparation for Boxing day sales. Because if there was any time to shop it would be now.
Note: I can’t ever recall there being any conflict between family members on Christmas day. It was the one day in the year where everyone was happy the whole day.
I share this story with you because, in one way or another, I’m sure your Christmas shares some variation of what I’ve outlined above.
I also acknowledge that everyone’s experience of Christmas is vastly different. So please excuse me if my version is unrealistic to your situation.
Even as I write this post, my heart is full of fond memories from Christmas day. But fast-forward to today, my perspective of Christmas has changed significantly.
Christmas has challenged me in more ways than I thought possible
Over centuries, Christmas has evolved from a simple celebration of Christ’s birth to the most significant holiday of the year.
What used to be a spectacular event in my life is now a horrifying process of pathological consumption.
At the unprecedented scale, we buy trees, decorations, food, drinks, lights, wrapping paper and of course gifts. All of which create physical clutter like no other time of the year.
This is not to mention the obscene amount of waste generated during Christmas season.
Then I think about all of the poor people, usually, parents, who have to pull off the Christmas miracle for the family. I know that Santa has a lot on his plate come Christmas eve, but what some of these parents pull off is on par with Mr Crinkle. Here’s what their to-do-list looks like:
- Sell Santa Claus to their kids, and maintain the secrecy of presents, usually wrapped in motivation for the end of year school grades.
- Organise extended family to stay in the house, which involved clearing out multiple rooms.
- Analyse finances and prepare a generous budget for Christmas. Although, budgets are routinely exceeded at this time of the year.
- Make multiple trips to the mall to buy presents and decorations.
- Organise for the family to put up the Christmas tree together.
- Get husband/wife to put up the Christmas lights on the house.
- Plan and prepare food for the day, which sometimes feels like catering for a small wedding.
- Once you’ve put in all of this hard work upfront, the day itself better feel damn special! So you push to ensure that there are no fights in the family, everyone remains happy, and you capture memories through photos.
I feel stressed just thinking about the pressure we put on ourselves to make Christmas feel like Christmas.
Then there are the animals. The billions of turkey’s, chickens, pigs, cows, fish and lambs slaughtered for Christmas, of which some of their limbs are not even consumed on the day because we overeat. So their bodies are thrown away to create even more waste.
So the combination, of clutter, waste, mental stress and animal consumption are the reasons why I disagree with a lot of what Christmas has become. I won’t go into to much more detail about this side of Christmas, as we’ve already written about practising minimalism at this time of the year.
Note: we also recorded a podcast episode on the same topic.
Having said that, I do think there are some things we can learn from Christmas and why this day feels so special.
What we can learn from Christmas
Earlier in this article, I outlined what made Christmas special in my childhood.
There are some fundamental themes to look out for how we prepare and celebrate holidays that makes the event feel so good.
A day to spend with those closest to you
All year round our schedules are filled with commitments that prevent us from spending stretches of quality time with our friends and families.
For many of us, Christmas is a date in our calendars when we know we’ll be able to connect with the closest people in our lives.
A day to eat your favourite food
Christmas is a day to indulge in your most requested foods, without any limits. You hear people joke about their intention to eat as much as they can on Christmas. Heck, we even increase our activity at the gym to account for the excessive amounts of food we’ll be eating on the day.
A day where everything is closed
Most shops are closed on Christmas day, which not only forces us to plan, but it also means that we’re constrained and thus seek to do different things that generally do not involve consumerism. Many families embrace the idea of staying in the house and playing board games, watching movies, or just lounging around the house.
A day with limited boundaries
Perhaps the most appealing part of Christmas day is the removal of limitations to indulge and have fun. It’s often a day where you can spend hours playing and eating without having to think about to-do lists, diets and work. It’s this feeling that creates a magical atmosphere on Christmas day. Everyone is encouraged to relax and enjoy the time with those closest to you.
More days should feel like Christmas
Setting aside the pathological consumption, Christmas day itself does wonders for creating “feel-good” experiences in our lives.
My question is, why only spend one day a year in this mode?
We mark this day in our calendar and plan our whole life around it. I remember working in the corporate world and pushing so hard to meet deadlines before going on Christmas holidays. I was motivated because I had Christmas to look forward too.
So if we take away the rapid consumption and spending that happens over Christmas holidays, we have a day which involved eating the foods we want, spending quality time with friends and family, and a day with limited boundaries to have fun.
I think that’s a pretty attainable day to achieve.
So my challenge to all of us is to think about how can we take the learnings of Christmas, pair it down and re-create the experience regularly. This could be once a week or once a month.
Perhaps then, we would have more to look forward to. More importantly, if we have more days like Christmas throughout the year, we won’t feel the need to put so much pressure on ourselves, both financially and mentally at the end of each year.
What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s feasible to create a mini Christmas day at least once per week? If yes, I would love to hear about how you plan on spending your time on your special day.
Other articles you’ll love:
- Forget About Your New Year’s Resolution
- A Minimalists Guide To Gifting Experiences (90+ Ideas)
- Where is Away? The Epidemic of Plastic
- How to Respond When You’re The Only Vegan at the Table
- Guilt-Free Consumerism, Does It Exist?