Zero Shopping Days for Christmas

I have no intention of buying a single gift this holiday season. No, I’m not Scrooge. No, I’m not a bitter, lonely person. I’ve just outgrown the love of stuff, and am no longer a member of the cult of crass consumerism.

My husband and I are more into experiences than objects. My dogs don’t distinguish one day from the next. I have no children, and my parents have passed away. My niece and nephew are independent adults. My sister and I are long past the whole present buying thing. Thank heavens I wasn’t born into a family that takes the gift exchange to an extreme, buying for aunts, uncles, and cousins. And my fellow bridgetenders can’t be bothered with secret Santa. (Yay!) I don’t even mail out Christmas cards.

Yes, we’ll get a tree and decorate the house with lights. We will have a nice meal. We’ll listen to carolers and go to festivals and check out Christmas decorations in town. We’ll probably watch It’s a Wonderful Life while sitting in front of a nice fire. We might make a batch of cookies.

We keep Christmas in our own way. It doesn’t come wrapped in pretty paper. It’s not covered in ribbons and bows. But it will be merry in spite of, and perhaps even because of, that.

Christmas

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The Post-Holiday Snarkle

Is snarkle even a word? I hope not. Because I’m making it one now. Remember, you heard it here first, dear reader. I wish I could work up the energy to copyright it.

It’s the day after Christmas, and after all that build up, as usual, I feel a bit of a let down. I’m tired. I’m glad it’s over with. I won’t miss Christmas music. I just want to wallow in the fatty leftovers and settle in for a long winter’s nap.

I dread taking down the decorations. I am so over beating myself up for not mailing out Christmas cards. I plan to enjoy some peace and quiet.

I am, indeed, in a snarkle. That’s a sparkle hangover. That’s a desire to be snarky but resisting the urge. It’s also the sound I’m making because I’ve come down with a nasty winter cold, mainly because I’ve had a lot more human interaction than I do the rest of the year. It’s a phlegmy sound, deep within my sinuses. Snarkle.

Now, to just get through New Years Eve. One hurdle at a time.

I think I need some fruitcake. Not.

Post-Holiday Snarkle

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What a Difference a Person Can Make

Last year, I went with a friend to the Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition here in Seattle, and I blogged about it. I had a wonderful time. But beneath the surface, I was feeling this great, yawning, howling, aching chasm of loneliness.

While I spent most of the holidays bravely stuffing that down and trying not to let it overwhelm me, it was a very near thing. Sometimes I could feel it surging upward, and I knew that if I let it take over, I’d probably lose my battle with depression and start howling or something.

Even so, Figgy Pudding is a wonderful event, and I decided to make it part of my Christmas tradition. I went again this year with my husband. As we stood there, listening to the carolers beneath the glow of the huge Christmas tree, what I felt was joy. No physically painful ache in the pit of my stomach. No feeling of being on the verge of hysteria. Just contentment. What a gift this man is in my life. He’s all I need for Christmas.

And then I looked around at the crowd, and I realized that no one who looked at me this year or last would have known my state of mind. I’m sure there was a lot of joy in the crowd, but also a lot of longing for companionship. A lot of pervasive emotional pain. The fact that it often looks one and the same is a bit troubling.

I’m not saying that everyone in the whole world must walk about two by two in order to be happy. Some people are perfectly satisfied being alone. I know I felt that way for quite some time. Some people who are in relationships are even more lonely than their single friends, and that’s got to be even more emotionally excruciating.

I just find it kind of enlightening to realize that there’s really no way to know what’s going on beneath the surface unless you talk to someone. We need to communicate more. We need to put down our devices and actually connect.

And to those of you who are swirling in that deep dark pit of loneliness that I used to know all too well, I just want to say that it may feel like that’s your forever, but keep reaching out. You never know when someone will take your outstretched hand, and that changes everything. I’m living proof of that.

Carolers

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Christmas Lights

One of my favorite things to do during the holidays is check out the many Christmas lights. It seems like every town has at least a street or two where all the houses go all out with their decorations. We drove through one of those neighborhoods recently during a high wind storm, and that added another layer to the experience. The lights seemed like they were dancing, and the inflatable decorations were bobbing about, or clinging desperately to light poles.

It’s always fun to play Christmas music while doing this. Nat King Cole. Bing Crosby. And then sometimes we go rogue and go with a more modern artist like Annie Lennox, who has a great Christmas album. It’s called A Christmas Cornucopia. Highly recommended.

If you live anywhere near water, you might have the experience of a Christmas Parade of Lights, where all the boats light up. They do that here in Seattle, and that, too, was much fun. (Until the night turned to sh** when a car plowed into us, but I wrote about that yesterday.)

No matter what your religion, or lack thereof, I think colored lights at night are absolutely gorgeous, and well worth appreciating. I wish they were up all year round, but then I suppose they wouldn’t seem as special. Happy holidays, dear reader!

Here are a few of our pictures from the parade of lights in Seattle.

 

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The Holiday Spirit

I hate it when I’m required to act jolly. I mean, it’s not like you can just flip a switch and be all “deck the halls” and “fa la la” just because it’s expected of you. That added pressure during the holiday season is exactly why suicide rates spike. I mean, if you’re already feeling like a freak or a lonely outcast, then being constantly reminded you’re also not in the right mood must be too much to bear.

There have been entire years where “Bah, humbug” was my default position. I didn’t want to be bothered. I avoided malls and parties and gift exchanges. I couldn’t work up the strength to decorate. I just wanted to make it through to January, so I’d have time to brace myself for the assault on single people everywhere that is more commonly known as Valentine’s Day.

What is this thing called the Christmas spirit? It sometimes eludes me. Other times it waits until the last possible moment, and then it smacks me upside the head with joy to the world. In those years, that smack comes as a huge relief, because I have to admit that the stress of not being part of the mainstream does get to me. It’s so much easier to go with the flow when you feel like you’re part of that flow.

Last year, I was kind of in “fake it ‘til you make it” mode. I did a lot of holiday things. And I did have fun. But I still felt kind of detached. (Check out that blog post here.)

But this year, I’m thrilled to say, I am already rejoicing! I’ve happily participated in a lot of holiday events with my husband, and we’ve decorated the whole house with lights, a tree, candles, etc. Our decorations won’t draw crowds, but it’s certainly more than I’ve ever done in my entire life. I get a warm fuzzy feeling whenever I’m there. I’m just happy to be happy, and happy to have someone special to share that with. I never thought I’d ever have it this good.

So, here I am, on the other side. I don’t want to make others feel bad for not being in the holiday spirit, but I also don’t want to feel bad for being in it myself. How about we make a deal: let’s just not put any expectations of any kind on ourselves or others this holiday season. Sound good? It sure does to me.

(And no, this photo is not of my house!)

Christmas Spirit

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Holiday Markets

I’ve always thought that the quintessential Christmas experience would be going to a holiday market in someplace exciting like a village in Germany or France or something. I kind of feel as though we Americans are relative newcomers to the whole holiday thing. Nouveau célébrants.

It would be exciting to experience tables upon tables of crafts that have been created for generations, and eat traditional foods that I’ve never heard of before. All while wearing a beautiful, heavy sweater knitted by a half-blind, arthritic little old lady who doesn’t speak English. And I’d be wearing ear muffs for the first time in my life, too. And a furry hat with matching boots. And mittens. Not gloves. Mittens.

But one really shouldn’t overlook the holiday bazaars that we have right here at home. They’re amazing as well. Recently I went to a Christmas Night Market right here in Seattle, and there were hundreds of booths full of hand blown glass, paintings, jewelry, ornaments, clothing, and food galore.

I didn’t buy much. I’m trying not to accumulate stuff. But I have to say that if I were in one of those families where you buy something for even the distant cousins, a holiday bazaar would be my venue of choice. Anyone can go to Walmart. But supporting a local artisan so that he or she may make a living from some unique craft is special, indeed.

Even if you buy nothing (in which case, leave your wallet at home so you’re not tempted), these markets are a great deal of fun. Something about being surrounded by creativity just adds another wonderful layer to the holiday experience.

Happy holidays, dear reader!

Bazaar

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Leavenworth Revisited

It seems as though every state has an historic and/or heavily themed, touristy albeit delightful little town. St. Augustine, Florida. Helen, Georgia. Solvang, California. Williamsburg, Virginia. Leavenworth, Washington. I love visiting these places, but only infrequently. Too often, and it starts to feel like overindulging at a buffet. It seems like a great idea, until you do it.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Leavenworth, Washington for the second time. I wrote about my first visit, and reading back I can tell how lonely I was that time around. This time I got to go with my husband. It’s amazing how the tenor of a trip changes with its participants. I had fun in 2015, without a doubt. But I really loved it this time.

The whole Bavarian-themed town was decked out for Christmas, and I must say, they do a phenomenal job of it. I truly felt as though I was walking in a winter wonderland. And of course, there are dozens of shops that are ready and willing to prey upon one’s holiday spirit.

We spent a lot of time searching for the ideal ornament to commemorate our first Christmas together. (I’ve written about this tradition of mine before.) After about 8 stores, we finally found the perfect one: A blown glass heart made from the ash of Mount St. Helens. We both have certainly risen from figurative ashes, and we’re all about the love these days. Just right.

We also bought a copper leaf, as we enjoy the colored leaves of autumn. That will have pride of place against our dark purple wall in the living room. Autumn all year round. (The shop that makes these had entire wreaths of them, too, and they were tempting, but we really are trying not to accumulate too much stuff.)

It was fun exploring all the tiny little shops. It was like Diagon Alley without the wizardry. (I have to say, though, I could never work in one of these places. They probably listen to Christmas music for three months at a stretch. That would drive me insane.)

The absolute highlight of the visit was our dinner at the Watershed Café. That deserved a post all its own, so I wrote about it a few days ago. So good. So very, very good.

After that, we wandered around the town square, taking in the holiday lights. What color! And mind you, this was before their official Christmas Tree Lighting. I can’t imagine how they could possibly top what they already have done.

That night we stayed in the Blackbird Lodge. Like the rest of downtown, it is faithful to the Bavarian theme, but it’s not over the top. It’s very tasteful and cozy. We even had a lovely little fireplace in our room. And the views were spectacular. I absolutely loved the place. (My only complaint would be their complimentary breakfast. It was make it yourself waffles and coffee. That’s it. That’s all. No OJ. No milk. No cereal. No bagels. Nothing. And there was only one waffle iron, and since each waffle takes 2 ½ minutes, quite the line was formed. Come on, guys, you can do better than that.)

The next morning we walked in the park along the river. The mountain views are spectacular. It reminded me of my first trip there. Then, I was walking my dogs and feeling a bit sorry for myself. This time, I was holding the hand of the best human being I know, and realizing just how lucky I am. Quite the upgrade, indeed.

Without further ado, here are some photos from our trip.

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The Giving Gift

A dear friend of mine gave me the best Christmas gift ever this year. It was a card. A simple card. But inside, it said, “In the spirit of the season, a night of housing, hot meals, and hope at the Sulzbacher Center were given, in your honor, to a homeless man, woman or child.”

I love the Sulzbacher Center. It’s a shelter in Jacksonville, Florida, the city I once lived in. They do amazing work. So I got to imagine that for one night, at least, someone was safe and warm and not hungry. Someone could sleep without fear. That gift was really for them, but thinking about it made me feel really good, in the way that getting something to wear or to be forced to dust for the rest of my life would not have. My dear friend knows me well.

If I had children, I would make it a tradition each Christmas to give them a “giving gift”. But I’d take it even one step further. I’d let them choose what charity to give to. I’d make a card that said something like, “You now get to spend x amount of dollars on a charity of your choice.” I’d help them research charities, if they liked. Or they could pick a problem, and then choose a charity that’s trying to help solve that problem, such as homelessness or abused animals or disease in third world countries, or natural disaster recovery.

The giving gift would be an annual lesson in compassion for others and problem solving, and it would demonstrate that happiness doesn’t come from getting stuff, it comes from doing good. There’s no better gift than that. And it doesn’t have to be restricted to just one holiday. It’s great for birthdays or Valentine’s day or any other gift giving occasion.

Feel free to start using this idea. It’s my gift to you. And to help get you started, here are links to two of my favorite organizations, Heifer International and Kiva.org.

Happy Holidays, dear readers! And thank you for making this blog such a delight for me! You are truly a gift.

gift

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Jólabókaflóð

Cultural appropriation is a big no-no these days. We are starting to learn to respect each other’s diversity, and try not to turn other people’s sacred things into kitsch as we once were wont to do. But I just came across an Icelandic tradition that involves two of my all-time favorite things: books and chocolate. So appropriate it I will.

It’s called Jólabókaflóð, which means Christmas Book Flood, and it began in Iceland after World War II, when everything was being rationed except paper. So for Christmas, people started giving each other books. Since it’s their tradition to open their gifts on Christmas Eve, it became quite natural for them to spend that evening reading their new books. (I don’t know how the eating chocolate part came into the mix, but I’m sure not complaining.)

What a delightful idea. And the best part is that I’ve gotten Iceland’s seal of approval to steal this tradition. As a matter of fact, they encourage it. They are spreading the word about Jólabókaflóð to people all over the world, to inspire reading. According to NPR, Iceland  publishes more books per capita than any other country, most of which are sold from September to November, hence the literary flood.

I must admit that I am telling you about this for two reasons. First, of course, is that I’d love for you to buy my book. But second, I like the idea that tonight, I won’t be the only person who gets into her jammies, crawls under the covers, and reads to his or her heart’s content, all while eating chocolate, guilt-free, for once.

So spread the cozy word! And happy holidays!

book flood