A holiday designed to honour everyone who matters in your life with individualized gifts and attentions is probably not going to be simple. Not whether you buy presents at the mall, online, your local artisanal shop, or homemake everything. Celebrating the many people, if you be so lucky, who make your life worthwhile can be many things – a challenge, and opportunity, necessary even – but simple it isn’t. The couple of families I’ve seen who have successfully done this – say, by sitting around a fire and enjoying hot cocoa to its fullest with no need for more – are virtual ones (and I don’t mind telling you I’d like to get a peak into their non-online lives).
I try to practice “simple living” as it’s called, and I’m here to tell you that while it may be simple, it’s not necessarily easy or less work. Around the holidays, for example, I almost always incorporate some homemade gifts into the stash, and I work quite hard to involve my young boys in this process. This year one project of what my son has called the “elf factory” was making jars of peppermint hot cocoa. They’re lovely, I think, and the boys worked hard measuring out the cocoa, crushing the candy canes, and layering the jars with chocolate chips and marshmallows. They also spent a lot of time trying to write out the recipe instructions on the gift tags (made from their watercolour artwork), signing them, and punching holes in the little cards.
It might be a simple activity to describe, but it’s particularly easy to execute. It’s not so simple buying all the ingredients and the jars in bulk and setting up a big enough work station. It’s not simple to save the watercolour art through the year and retrieve it at Christmas, or to guide the writing of two boys at different stages. It is positively, unremittingly not simple to engage a two year old while his older brothers get to do cool stuff that he can’t quite do. And clean-up? Not simple.
There may be people out there for whom this kind of activity is a cinch, regardless of how many kitchen items a toddler can throw around. I’m not one of them. I do it because I love it, because it makes the holidays feel a bit more heartfelt to me, because I want to keep the consumerism at bay, because it’s so important to me to make things with my boys, and because I hope the recipients of our gifts can somehow feel the care that went into making them. (I’d also do anything to avoid going to a mall at this time of year.) But it would be much, much easier for me to click a mouse a few times and buy presents in lieu of the ones we’re making, and as I can afford this, I am actually choosing to complicate my holidays by making presents with my children.
Simplifying, or slowing down, or mindful living, doesn’t necessarily mean doing less, it means doing less of what you don’t want so you can make more space for what you do want. Sometimes what we want is messy and spills onto the floor. I make gifts with my boys not because it’s simpler, but because I’ve decided it’s worth it, even if the dining table is covered with mason jars and there’s nowhere to eat for two weeks. If at some point it gets too much, we won’t do it again when the next year rolls around.
But I hope we do.