When did Christmas become so tied to consumerism? Writer Emily Ehlers explores a few family rituals that help encourage memories over materialism this festive season, so you can ditch the shops and say hello to a holiday period filled with the things that truly matter.
I stared through a shop window adorned with a huge range of cheap and glitzy stockings. There’s no denying they were pretty (even if the Christmas Unicorn-themed stocking felt like a definite money-grab), but it made me think back to my own childhood when every Christmas Eve we would rush to the cupboard and pick out a pillowcase to be hung from the mantle. To anyone else, they were just daggy, saggy pillowcases, but to me, they were resplendent stockings, ready for my mum (errr, I mean Santa) to secretly fill with a few chocolates. A couple of decades later I can’t wait to lead my own kids to the linen cupboard to choose their stockings.
This Dickens-esque flashback not only reminded me that memories trump materialism, but also prompted me to start a few of my own family rituals. So please join me in making this the year you say no to the piles of stuff and start some traditions that highlight the true meaning of Christmas…
Make ‘things I love about you’ jars
Regardless of how environmentally conscious you are and how much you get that Christmas is not just about the gifts, it can still feel weird for some people to not exchange presents (I am one such person). If you’re overcome with the Oprah-style compulsion to frisbee out gifts to your nearest and dearest, a great alternative is something I’ve clumsily coined the ‘things I love about you’ jar. These are jars that allow people to anonymously write what they love and appreciate about others while everyone else parties. While face-to-face declarations are fabulous, they can be awkward and therefore missed altogether – the jars, though, are a perfect way to get people to reflect on what they mean to each other. Use any old jars from your kitchen and assign one to each person at your Christmas get-together. If you have the time, skill or sanity left, you can make some sweet upcycled labels to tie around the necks of the jars with twine. Set up a note-writing station with pens and scrap paper and encourage everyone to get involved. Because who doesn’t want to go home with a plastic-free party bag filled with love?
Get your jólabókaflóð on!
If you’re the bookish type, then you may consider borrowing the Icelandic tradition of jólabókaflóð (pronounced YO-la-bok-a-flothe) or the Yule ‘book flood’. On Christmas Eve, every family member is given a book, and after they’ve been exchanged, it’s customary to curl up in bed with konfekt (delicious filled chocolates) and read together. In a time when so many of us feel frazzled, the book flood provides an invitation to slow down and enjoy life’s most simple pleasures with the people (or animals) you love. And for the not-so-book-wormy amongst us, I’d suggest simply cosying up as a family and enjoying a Christmas movie together – which, if you have any sense, will be the Will Ferrell classic, Elf.
Lend a hand to those in need
With Michael Buble’s honey tones wafting through the air, it can be easy to forget that Christmas can be a really hard, heartbreaking time for some people. Whether it’s a lack of companionship, financial security or a present under the tree, it’s not just important for adults to be mindful of this, but children too. A meaningful new tradition could be volunteering at a local Christmas appeal. Both Food Bank and Ozharvest are nationwide organisations that provide lots of opportunities, but you could also look up local community kitchens. And if you can’t donate your time this Christmas, there are always appeals for food, toys or essential supplies you can get behind. Start the beautiful ritual of making up hampers, writing cards and supporting charities like Share the Dignity (which provides essentials for homeless women), and get your kids involved by having them choose some toys they can gift forward to children in need.
Have yourself a merry little crafts-mas
In the bustle of December, I like to ground myself by organising a creative Christmas crafternoon with friends who are probably also feeling harried and could use the opportunity to chill. We put on some carols, sip on tea and create things for loved ones. While it’s festively productive, it also serves as an anchor of calm and connection. We usually choose simple projects such as cookies, macrame or candle-making, none of which require Martha Stewart-levels of skill. Not only will your gifts be handmade and upcycled, but you’re also making memories at the same time – something I’d choose over sprinting around a shopping centre any day.
It’s clear that when it comes to making festive family memories, it’s the creativity and thought that counts – not the amount of money you’ve spent. So try adding some of these rituals to your holidays this year and enjoy a more meaningful Christmas packed full of comfort and joy!