6. The Blessing of Simplicity
A few years ago, I realized what I treasured most about Christmas—rich, meaningful moments of family and faith—was being sandwiched between whole hurricanes of activities that ripped my attention from what was important and left me exhausted. So I committed myself to simplifying how I moved through the holiday season.
I turned off the TV. The ads blasting us with the absolute need to buy this, that, and everything else within the next two seconds gave nothing but stress.
I shopped for gifts only within my community or with online merchants. No more struggling through crowds at large regional malls and big-box stores. No more driving an hour each way half a dozen times to find just the “right” gift. No elbow-throwing “midnight” sales. Instead, I boosted the local economy in Bristol and assured the employment of every UPS driver in the near world.
I stopped baking cookies and stopped buying and sending paper Christmas cards. I bought homemade latkes at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, cookies at a local Christmas bazaar, and subscribed to jacquielawson.com. At Jacquie’s URL, I picked a card, wrote a loving message, transferred my address book to the site, and hit “send.” People know I still love them, and it didn’t take a trip to the post office or three hours addressing envelopes to tell them.
7. The Blessing of Family
For me, the biggest blessing at Christmas has always been the gathering of family from far and near. When my mother- and father-in-law were alive, the whole extended family—Christians, Jews, and secular humanists bound by genes and drama—would gather Christmas night for a noisy feast that rocked my in-laws’ condo. Family ruled in all its gutsy, loving, out-there diversity, and I thought I’d found heaven.
My friend Jeff Meyers feels the same way. He lives in Indiana. His parents are in Santa Cruz; his brother just finished college in Washington state; his grandparents, great-aunt, and an aunt and uncle are in and around Buffalo; and the rest of their family seems to be scattered around Detroit.
Yet each Christmas, some 30 of them will fly into Buffalo where his grandparents, Grace and Dick Meyers reside. The group ranges in age from 10 to 88 and is prepared to divide up to stay with Grandparents Grace and Dick, Great Aunt Faith, or Great Uncle Steve and Aunt Jan for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
“People arrive in waves for breakfast on Christmas morning,” chuckles Jeff. “Then they hang out, talk, play board games, and talk some more until it’s time to eat again late in the afternoon. There’s always some kind of bird, and all the fixings—stuffing, potatoes, vegetables—plus several versions of Jell-O. We’re all Jell-O freaks,” he confesses. “Plus my aunt makes chocolate everything and my grandmother makes figgy cookies.”
A couple of days later, there’s a pizza party at Aunt Faith’s; then everybody starts to scatter. “I like seeing everybody,” he says. “It anchors the family. And it helps our family stay strong.”
Then he grins. “That and figgy cookies.”
8. The Blessing of Taste
Jeff’s stories of holiday dinners and pizza parties remind me of the tastes swirling through my own kitchen every Christmas Eve. The rich “testing” spoonful of my mother-in-law’s dark chocolate mousse as it slides across my tongue and the fragrant morsel of hot gingerbread just out of the oven. The tiny sliver of roasted meat, stolen from what waits on the counter. The bite of sea salt and garlic sprinkled over roasted green beans, harvested and frozen—just for this moment—from my summer garden.
Every bite awakens memories and a sense of continuity between my family’s past, present, and future.
It makes us feel whole.