Warning: Although the emotional charge associated with holiday extravagance could light up all the Christmas trees of America, you've gotta grab the bare wires ifyou really want simolicitv. You will likelv ríence surges ofantagonism f rom familyand friends, so you may want to simplify in phases, over several years. Particípate in only those holiday customs that give you joy. If purchasing gobs of gifts wears you out or if the spectacle of discarded wrappings and broken toys disgusts you, make donations to charlty instead. If you're fed up with the weighing and measuring of gift equivalencies among your family and friends, initiate a change in the rules: allow only second-hand gifts, gifts of food or group gifts. If sending holiday cards steals time you'd rather spend singing or doing volunteer work, stop sending cards. Write letters to distant friends and relatives in the summer, when they have more time to reply. If decorating and undecorating the tree has become a chore, skip t. Simplify to some evergreen boughs on the table or the mantle. Take a walk to enjoy your neighbors' trees through their Windows. If holiday religious services are overcrowded and unfulfilling, say prayers at home. Attend the next weekend, when the decorations are still up and the pews are empty. Don't dump it all on Mom. Women often exhaust themselves trying to recréate that illusory Victorian Christmas. Popular magazines make the pressure worse by printing glitzy spreads on how to set a stunning holiday table with polished silverplate, handmade centerpieces and banks of candelabras. Have a casual potluck dinner instead. Involve all members of the family, especially bored teenagers. Set them the challenge of producing the pancake breakfast or the oysterstew supper by themselves. Créate rituals that satisfy you. American Christmas is mainly about purchasing and opening presents. Research your heritage and revive some ethnic rituals - dances, games, plays, songs - to fill the gap left by reducing or eliminating presents. A Winter Solstice or Kwanzaa celebration may have more meaning for you than Christmas or Hanukkah. Substitute sledding or a tramp in the woods for those hours of vapid holiday specials on TV. My three kids get one gift on Christmas f rom Santa. On the Twelve Days of Christmas (up to January 6), they each get a small present wrapped in reused brown paper - favorite-colored mittens, a special cookie, a calendar, a box of drawing pencils. At dinner we read about the medieval significance of that day of the Twelve. The kids know that all year l'm stashing away inexpensive treats suited to the tastes of each and they think this arrangement is quite cool. The indispensable guide to holiday simplicity: "Unplug the Christmas Machine" by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli.
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