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February 5th ATTY Letter

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Posted 02-05-2010 at 09:07 PM by Sapsorrow

[I]This is a copy of an email I send out to a small list of friends and family who are doing the holiday planning "all through the year" or "ATTY" with me. I liked this one, so I'm keeping it here, too. And, yes, I'm going to post my "homework" here as well.[/I]

Hello again!

I have two apologies to make: 1) sorry for the delay, it's been that sort of week, and 2) the craft list proved a VERY ambitious project that will hopefully be done next week. This is a blessing in disguise, however, because there are some things that may preempt gift and craft making decisions. So without further ado...
[B]
Simplifying Christmas[/B]
I could just as soon talk about holiday stress, but I won't because simplifying is positive and stress isn't. I've already learned that at a certain point, longer planning increases the complexity of your plans rather than decreases them. After all, if your Christmas is a gift per, a stocking, a tree, and cinnamon buns for breakfast, there's really not that much to plan and soon you'll start creating work for yourself instead of getting work done ahead of time. There are, of course, hundreds of books and articles about how to simplify any aspect of your life, so I won't reinvent the wheel (I will, however, include a bibliography of links if you want to learn more), here are my top ten suggestions for simplifying Christmas at this end of the year:

1. [U]Decide what it is that you're celebrating. [/U]- Since this is a volatile topic, I'm going to leave it at that and move on.
2. [U]Prioritize, beginning with determining what lines up with your reasons for celebrating.[/U] - If Christmas for you is about Christ, then I imagine you're going to put church at the top of your list, whereas if it's about the solstice you'll probably want to indulge in stargazing and possible a "soup and solstice" party, and if Christmas time is about goodwill towards your fellow man, then charity, volunteering and gifts will probably top your list. A simple tip for prioritizing: take a calendar and put no more than ONE activity per day on it. Want to drive around to see the Christmas lights? That's one activity (ok, taking a scenic route to another activity doesn't count). Baking cookies is an activity for the day, so is church. If you do this, you should leave room for serendipity to give you those fireside reading moments that really make the season. If you have small children, consider even fewer activities and take more walks.
3. [U]Reconsider hosting.[/U] - No matter what you're hosting or how, hosting is stressful and it is work. There's no reason everyone has to host something at the holidays, in fact the FEWER that host, the less obligation for everyone because courtesy strictly specifies that if you are a guest of someone else, you ought to return the favor within the year. If some holiday gathering is a necessity, the alternative is a cooperative party, where no one is the host in the etiquette sense and no one bears the whole burden of stress and effort. More on cooperative parties in a future email.
4. [U]Reconsider traveling[/U]. - Traveling is also stressful. That said, we are all spread out these days and that necessitates a certain amount of travel for a reunion of any sort. What to do? 1) Generally speaking, the smaller household should visit the larger. 2) Only one trip out of town or county per holiday if you have children. 3) If everyone is spread all over the country anyway and there's no natural point for everyone to converge, consider taking your holiday to some destination instead where no one will have to host, and make the vacation a reunion and family gift. Ex: rent one of the Disney cabins or villas for the family (may require more than one if a large crowd). Yes, they can even arrange a Christmas tree in the room.
5. [U]Reconsider the formal dinner[/U]. - Those big reunion dinners are a vital part of any holiday, but they're also stressful, expensive and exhausting if you aren't Julia Childs. Try a cooperative meal instead as per my suggestion under "reconsider hosting" or, if you were just thinking of a fancy dinner for the household, consider a smorgasbord of room temperature or heat and serve finger foods. The other meal simplifying rule: don't pile on the options and sides. One main dish, maybe three sides (two veg and a potato), and one dessert rather than seven.
6. [U]Opt out of Christmas cards. [/U]- If cards have become a hollow obligation, then give it up already! Or switch to email.
7. [U]Set a budget![/U] - I won't lecture anyone on this point except to say this: to do a holiday without a budget is like ordering dinner from a restaurant with no prices on the menu, only feasible if you don't need to ask. Also, debt = bad.
8. [U]Set a tradition on gifts.[/U] - Abstract limits can feel stifling, while a tradition such as "kids get gifts, adults party," "everyone gets three gifts, the same number as Jesus," or "four gifts: one you want, one you need, one to wear and one to read," seems inspiring.
9. [U]Consider the "traditional gift."[/U] - Instead of fretting over working out the PERFECT gift for a whole range of people you're giving to, opt to give the same gift to all. Pick something meaningful, classic, or even literary in and of itself rather than the generic "gifty gift." Above all, avoid items that toot their own horn, like a cheap scarf with a giant designer logo. At minimum it's tough to determine if it would suit everyone's style. This type of gifting works GREAT for homemade gifts. I was thrilled one year to receive a nice jar of homemade hot cocoa, and so was everyone else. It's also easier to assembly line a number of the same item.
10. [U]Plan for the practical.[/U] - What do I mean? I mean spend some of your "Christmas planning" preparing for flu season and other winter emergencies. Make sure that you have a supply of everything you need to weather a bad cold or flu over Christmas, and everything you need to keep you in comfort if a severe winter storm snows you in. To that end, they even sell canned "luxury" foods through Vermont Country Store these days.

[B]Simplification Bibliography[/B]
[I]Articles[/I]
[U]"10 Ways to Simplify Christmas" [/U][url]http://psychology.suite101.com/article.cfm/10_ways_to_simplify_christmas[/url]
[U]"65 Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress" [/U][url]http://psychology.suite101.com/article.cfm/65_ways_to_reduce_holiday_stress[/url]

[I]Books (Via "Limited Preview" on Google Books)[/I]
[U]Alternatives Simplify & Celebrate[/U] - A fantastic book from part of the "Alternatives for Simple Living" ministry (notable for their Whose Birthday Is It Anyway? resources) that is as much planner as exploration. [url]http://books.google.com/books?id=H6oK7tUXd00C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q=&f=false[/url]
[U]Old-Fashioned Country Christmas by Gooseberry Patch[/U] - Gooseberry Patch publishes what are essentially high quality community cookbooks, but this book includes crafts and traditions submitted by readers and is excellently inspiring. [url]http://books.google.com/books?id=J1_03aOaXIIC&source=gbs_navlinks_s[/url]
[U]Simplify Your Christmas[/U] by Elaine St James - Elaine St James is kind of a guru of voluntary simplicity and her books are a light, inspiring read. You can get a good idea of the contents of this one by browsing the "preview," which is nearly 80% of the book, and I own a copy if you'd like to borrow it. [url]http://books.google.com/books?id=u8dHEbb0hSwC&printsec=frontcover&dq=simplify+christmas&ei=-IVsS8vgIp3wygSM3eitDg&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false[/url]
[U]Simplify Your Holidays[/U] - A holiday planner which is excellent... except that it plagiarizes almost everything from OrganizedChristmas.com, so I haven't a whit of sympathy for the fact that the preview includes some of the planner pages which you can print out and use in your notebook. [url]http://books.google.com/books?id=4trcF_avzJgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=simplify+christmas&ei=-IVsS8vgIp3wygSM3eitDg&cd=2#v=onepage&q=&f=false[/url]
[I]
Sites on Simplifying Christmas[/I]
New Dreams [url]http://www.newdream.org/holiday/index.php[/url])
Organized Christmas ([url]http://christmas.organizedhome.com/[/url]) - An excellent sub site from Organized Home with printable planner pages and wonderful gift suggestions (like printable "Jiffy Pop" popcorn toppers.

[B]Psychology of Gift Giving[/B]
[I](Shamelessly lifted from NYT @ [url]http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/11/health/11well.html?_r=1&ex=1198040400&en=ea0dab73396453d0&ei=5070&emc=eta1[/url] therefore please read it there, I do not wisg to copy the text onto a form rather than in an email between friends.)[/I]
[B]
Top Ten All-Purpose, Nigh Universally Appreciated Gifts![/B]
1. Cake! Who doesn't like cake?
2. Towels! It seems like holding out on replacing towels is a national competition (I speak from experience), but the critters do stain and wear out, so a gift of fresh towels, whether bath or kitchen, is very pampering.
3. Turkey, or really any big luxurious roast. Go all out: brine it, rub it, marinade it, stuff it, lard it, wrap it in pastry, inject herb butter under the skin, etc, and don't forget to slap it in a basket with a sprig of holly on top.
4. Calendar! Everyone needs at least one, and there are so many to select from. I'm a fan of the Old Farmer's Almanac and their calendars, while Mom loves her Sierra Club.
5. Socks! It's cliche, but people don't tend to replace their socks, even when their whole foot starts to poke through!
6. Gifts of warmth: anything from a hand knit scarf up to a proper winter coat, these are universally useful, almost always appreciated, and in these days a genuine need if the person in question doesn't have them. This year a man in town froze to death for want of a good winter coat and some shelter. I learned from experience what it was like to have no coat or closed shoes as well.
7. Their cup of tea! It's hard to remember that tea, coffee, and chocolate were once considered high luxuries, but they really aren't necessary to survival no matter what we imagine. A tin of the good stuff will rarely break the bank, but so often we don't treat ourselves.
8. A pencil set! Pens, pencils, and stationary are humble things, most people making do with the shabby freebies you pick up here and there. A nice set can be had for very little, a personalized set for as little as $5, and they're all especially popular with children (throw in some stickers for kids and some stamps for shut ins).
9. New bakeware! If your kitchen is like mine, you have a set of once fancy, now warped and rusty cookie sheets. These old standbys can be had just as conveniently as a gift card, they're found in the baking aisle of your grocery store, and they're frequently on sale. Naturally, give them with a batch of cookies and a recipe!
10. The classic sweater! It's a Christmas tradition, now made famous by the Harry Potter series: the gift of a homemade custom sweater. On the upside, it is cheap and heartfelt, on the downside it's time consuming, requires some skill (which I lack) and you could really miss their style.

[B]Your Homework[/B]
Phew! I may be late this week, but it still seems to have been a content full, on target edition! Now, your mission should you choose to accept it:

1. Pick three things you plan to do to simplify your Christmas or your planning. They don't need to come off my list, of course.
2. Write up your reason for celebrating. Try to be specific, not just why you have a holiday, but how different practices like gift giving work into it.

Send in your responses if you like!
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