Letting Go: The Christmas Edition

Earlier this week I wrote my version of “The Letter.”

Maybe you’ve been working on one, too. You know, the letter we send to our relatives explaining, pleading, guiding, reassuring, demanding, that they please just give one present, or a present that doesn’t make noise, or something homemade, or at least not made by a small Bangladeshi girl. We all have our particular conundrums to sort out, and are determined that once and for all we will do it. We will be brave and say our piece and save Christmas from turning into the atrocity we know is coming if we don’t act quickly.

If only everybody would listen to us!

I even sent my letter as far as my husband (it was destined for his family, after all) and he rolled his eyes. He said that maybe it needed a few revisions. We talked about it for a little while. I got sort of excited, threw the word “Crap” around a bit too freely. And then, just like that, it was out of my system. I didn’t want to send my letter anymore.

Here’s what I want to do instead: Control the things I can.

I want to make our advent season as blessed and rich a time as I can. I want to light candles each night and watch Mary make her way on the starry path. I want to celebrate the small, magical feast days of St. Nicholas and Santa Lucia with friends and songs and small treasures. I want to visit the mountains and make wreaths from pine and fir branches. I want creating small, useful gifts to be part of our daily routine, something that brings us joy in both the making and giving.

I realized, with the help of a few friends, that the mood we create in our home is what is most important, not the kinds of gifts our loved ones give us. If I want Christmas to be a time filled with reverence and simplicity, then the way we live, the things we do, the essence of our days will convey it.  No amount of gifts under the tree that I might want to use the C-word on can undo all that. (In fact, maybe, just maybe, that balance is actually exactly what we need.)

I don’t want Christmas to be about this tight knot in my belly worrying about how horrible things will be if I don’t take matters into my own hands. I want to let go of my need to control what isn’t my business. And you might argue that it is my business, and probably you’re right and I’ll regret this. I’m prepared for that and have made my peace. In the end, these are our relatives, our family. They know us and love us and are well aware of our feelings about plastic and clutter and consumerism and all the rest. I don’t need to tell them again. Let them find their own way to give.

And let me find my way to graciousness and gratitude.


Since writing this post, I have been filled with doubts: I should do something. Say something. I’ll regret this letting go business. I’m so going to regret this. It’s going to be terrible. I’ll definitely have to send a letter next year. Why don’t they just ask what we want? Why?

And then I find my way back to peace: Give them a chance, they will totally come through. Relax and let go. Every kid deserves a few toys their mother doesn’t approve of. That’s a good thing. How bad could it be? Seriously, is that really so bad? Really?

This is going to be okay.

I can always send the letter next year.

14 Replies to “Letting Go: The Christmas Edition”

  1. Oh, I know exactly. But I’ve come to this conclusion: relationships matter more than stuff. I keep mum to preserve the relationships. (But then, later, lots of the c— goes right to the thrift store, oh so quietly.) It’s really really hard for me. But for most of the gifters, it’s not about not listening or respecting, it’s about wanting to show love and doing it in the way they know how.

  2. It was only when I imagined the tables being turned that things really came home for me. What if someone said to me, “Please stop with the homemade and secondhand gifts. They just don’t fit in with my values.”? Well, I’d feel sorry for them, but also a little indignant.
    Anyways, our family is really filled with sensible people and our situation isn’t as difficult as it is for some. There are still donations to the thrift stores, and a sense of loss and waste. I’m hoping to get beyond that this year and be just a little more grateful and to really mean it.

  3. Hahaha! I hear you. I have a blog entry about a gift-giving guide for the low-tech baby – which I know my MIL has read, and adheres to – but her mother didn’t get it at all, when it was verbally summed up for her. Just, no concept. My MIL said to her – “Ma, they don’t want things with batteries!” and my GGMIL- who is Turkish, first-language Greek-speaking – was like, “No no, I included the batteries!”. LOL. Just no hope.
    My side of the family doesn’t read my blog at all as far as I know. I tell my mom these things verbally, but, you know, it doesn’t always get passed along. I just give stuff away. (My only son is 14 months – too young to miss anything, yet!)
    And that is okay. Having some awful, unsustainable presents won’t spoil your kids. It’s not your sin. Sneakily give them away after a few months. Or days. Whatever.

    Does your family read your blog?

  4. it is not just “Let go”, it is “Let Go and Move On” – to keep you occupied elsewhere. You seem to have moved on a little bit! Don’t make your tension part of the holiday spirit as it will creep in while the family disobeys and showers you and the children with gifts. “Ho-hum” attitude, remember? Take some away (“Oh, my – how lovely but this is for older children, lets put this away until you are five years old! And what a lovely toy it will be then!”) – and remove others for eternity – you can do it, you can invent the story that goes with missing Barby. Come from a calm, no-buttons-pushed place. Speak with the relatives in February or later, if needed.

    One of our relatives told me how offended she was with our very gentle request of “No gifts, please” – she said it meant her choice was not good enough! Definitely not what I wanted to communicate at the time (at the time it was just that, no gifts at all please, not even home-made and heart-felt – my son was turning one year old and was not comprehending any of it anyhow – and we simply wanted to have joyful people around us on this day…)

    I am mulling over “One gift per family” tag line for the holidays… …. I want to limit the volume of it, at least

    1. Yes, the moving on bit will be the real challenge, and genuine graciousness (if not always gratitude) is my goal. In some ways, it is actually easier for me to just say Bring It On, and to embrace the folly, to laugh about it and not take myself and my values so seriously, than to try to control it and then be resentful.

  5. Hmmm…I’m not sure that I’m ready to give up my letter. But I did cut out the entire middle section in which I expounded about child labor and environmental responsibility. I think I’m going to send it and the reason is that my family already knows I have particular wishes about gifts, they just don’t really understand them. I think it might actually relieve them to have it all spelled out for them. Or maybe that’s just by rationalization so I can continue to be control-freaky.

  6. Kyce, I can’t tell you how I appreciate all you say here. It has been an ongoing journey for me. I even reminded an in-law the other day to please limit any gifts to one or two, and have agonized a little over the fact that she is ignoring my wishes. It simply isn’t worth it to get all angry and riled up- it totally negates the whole meaning of this time of year! Because I do tend to get a little caught up in my feelings over the matter, and though he agrees with me, it drives my husband nuts.
    For us, in the end all really is well each year. Really.

  7. I feel like this idea that you spoke of is drifting into my days little by little. Not just with holiday gifts but with clothes, food and entertainment. I want what is best for my children, we all do, but it feels like it is making me focus on the negative instead of the positive. And like you said if the majority of what our kids interact with is what we wish for them, then the other small percentage is not so bad, right?

  8. Yes, I like the above. I think often it just takes one person with the courage to break the traditions in the family, and give some charity vouchers one year with tins of cookies instead of useless gizmos, and then other people feel they have “permission” to follow suit…

  9. At times it feels that the life of a mother is a consistent state of letting go. Thank you for expressing these sentiments. We walk a similar tight rope. I’m thinking a lot about hands-on/hands-off (i.e. not controlling what I can’t, and peacefully accepting this).

    I’m planning our Summer Solstice Family Festival this week and came here for inspiration. I’m so dang glad to have found your blog, Kyce!

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