15 Dec Freedom *from* Finances for the Holidays
Hey, I know, as a writer about financial freedom I’m supposed to come up with a dozen ways to save money this season. I’ve cheerfully coughed these up for nearly 30 years, like a lone voice in the deluge of other voices driving people to shop. I’ve defrocked massive gift giving as a brilliant marketing ploy just when everyone feels obligated to BUY something, anything, to get through this month alive. I’m like a bell ringer for the Salvation Army stationed outside department stores to remind you of the neediest while you shop to fill non-needs for people you may see only once a year (and gladly).
God, here I go again. Grinching. Sticking chunks of coal in Christmas stockings. Oh, I should have said holiday stockings.
Rather than tips for resisting commercializing ChrisKwanzukkah, I’ll tell you what this season actually means to me other than apparently writing the obligatory harangue.
The Silence of the Night
I don’t give gifts except a few trinkets from the thrift store for kids under 5 who call me Auntie V.
Instead I welcome with open arms the season of the dark (at least North of the Equator). I pull dark around me like a blanket. A sun worshiper, I find I am relieved by the grayness, the late sunrise and early sunset in the Pacific Northwest. Summer – as much as I love it – can be so noisy and demanding with its 15 hours of sunlight and raucous gardens and the drive to enjoy every scrap of the glorious outdoors before the equinox starts stealing our day length.
I cherish that the world goes quieter between December 25-January 1. That offices close. That people are making heroic efforts through rain, sleet and airports to go home to family with all family represents: roots, memories, familiar faces, a loyalty – however thin – to be there for one another.
I can write for pleasure, not production. I wander around without much purpose when there’s a patch with no drizzle – and even in the rain. I bring in wood and start to build fires instead of turning up the heat. I love sitting by the fire, as if watching flames turn logs into alligators and wizened faces were purpose enough for an evening. Add a grog of my choosing and the warmth goes even deeper.
I call friends and meet for tea; it’s that time of year when we can ask “How is it for you?” and not just get busy for an answer. These visits are like divining rods for me, learning how the world is feeling by hearing how friends are feeling as the world courses through them.
Spiritual – not financial – accounting
I had a 15 year tradition with a friend who died two years ago to spend an afternoon each reviewing the past year and setting intentions for the coming year. Before doing that, I’d ready through my journals, written daily and mostly forgotten, to see what had actually been happening inside me. As the years go on, there’s less nonsense on those pages and more gems – if I could just read my handwriting or know what vast reservoir of wisdom a sentence fragment might refer to. If you’ve never kept a journal, here‘s one of many equally good articles about the why and how.
Since my friend is gone, I invited a circle of wise women to gather to reflect on our lives in these complex times. I plan to do that again this year.
There’s always a Solstice party hosted by two couples who love the tradition. The guest list includes a hundred or more friends and circulating through them assures us that we are real, we are here and we are here for one another. It’s as close to family as I come and indeed we act like family. We help each other through illness and death and grieving and publication parties.
Love in the dark – the truth of winter holidays
Love can be general. Everyone. Humanity. God. Being Alive. It can also be very specific – the who you love and how you love. These connections over the holidays can seem brief and trivial, but under the surface there is this call and response of Yes – Yes – Yes – Yes… to who we are to one another.
So here we are at love, which is of course what this season is really about. The miracle of the Christ is that into this transactional, polarizing (not just now, throughout history), dangerous world there arrives an unbidden gift of love that makes us a we. We see that light shining in the dark, reminding us that there is something stronger than obligation and duty that threads us together because love without a nametag is laced into our DNA. Without the glue of love, this world will surely – and literally – fall apart.
I can and do forget that love is all I am doing, that love is the only dimension missing from any humdrum picture. Maybe it’s my age, but I experience love as a sense, like sight and hearing, not a reaction to a person or ice cream. To have that sense sharpen in a season when everyone pays a bit more attention to it makes my heart sing. It’s that time of year when it is safer to love with abandon, the people you pass on the street down to the specific loved ones you count as your own.
As an amazing and wonderful gift of love this year, I was chosen as a Hometown Hero on my island – an honor with a story in the paper – given several times a year to people who knit us together in small and large ways . I wept when I read it. It felt like sneaking in to my own memorial service. I wish this kind of love for you, whether showy like a Hometown Hero or very very simple and maybe quiet – just one person noticing you exist.
I often organize a community Caroling expedition into the neighborhood. The more urbanized and specialized and tech driven we’ve become, the less likely we are to invite people into our homes. We don’t “just stop by”. I might be in front of a friend’s house and call to see if it is a good time to visit rather than knock on the door. So it’s shocking when a group of bundled people with music sheets rings your bell and bursts into Good King Wenceslas came down, on the feast of Stephen…”. We usually have the littlest one be the bell ringer, standing on tiptoes and feeling the importance of her job. It’s so simple. You download your favorite carols, get a group together, bake some cookies to give away and then knock on doors and spread the looooove.
Oh Come all ye Faithful, Silent Night Holy Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, Oh Holy Night, Angels we have Heard on High, Ave Maria – when did this invitation to exalted love become a shopping list?
OK, OK, here’s a tip sheet:
Big Tip: Quit Christmas as a commercial event. Stop letting it into your house and family. Resign. Retire. FIRE. Who says you can’t do that?
Now here’s a list of things you can encourage instead:
- Take the No Presents Family Pledge. Is there such a thing? Not that I know of. Make up your own.
- Go out together to sing to your neighbors
- Pick the perfect charity for each family member and give in their name.
- Participate in making and serving a holiday meal for people who may not have a family or even a home.
- Revive charades and other parlor games
- Invite family and friends to a year in review party. What were the highlights? Low lights? Lessons Learned? Missed opportunities? Aspirations for the year ahead?
- Do the above but by yourself with your journal. If you don’t have one, buy one for next year.
- Put a wad of dollar bills in your pocket and give one to every person in need you see.
- Put a goofy smile on your face and offer it to everyone on who passes you on the street like they’ve just made your day. If you do this for a day, it will make your day.
- Or if you want to just say bah humbug and go South for some sun.
Happy Chrikwansukkah one and all.