Seeking simplicity for the holidays

Posted: Sunday, December 20, 2009

We are not big holiday shoppers. With a few exceptions, I like handmade gifts (upcycled are even better). I had hoped that handmade would also inspire simplicity in gift-giving, but every year I seem to set the bar higher and higher for myself, making a longer and longer list of necessary handmade gifts.

Unfortunately, it's not just the gifts though. We make crafts for the school craft bazaar. Now I wrap all our gifts in (recycled) fabric origami instead of paper. I fantasize about making recycled Christmas card boxes to house the handmade truffles for my daughter's teachers.

And what Christmas would be complete making tiny gifts for all 18 kids in my daughter's class from random stuff already in our house? This doesn't even address attending every event with the word "holiday" or "Santa" in the title.

I tell myself that by having a less materialistic Christmas, we will be happier. So I was pleasantly surprised when my daughter wrote her letter to Santa and asked for something orange and more books.

No toys from commercials, no item she would die without, no way our post-Christmas living room would look like the floor of a K-Mart toy section after an especially bad earthquake - I tell myself I will make memories instead. I rush out to get tickets to "The Nutcracker."

And the gifts? I tell myself that next year, my daughter's Christmas list might look different. Next year she may reject a handmade cape made from fabric from St. Vincent's. A new nightie from an old sheet may seem like an insult to her then. But it's not now, so to prove my mom chops, I better start stitching.

I try to reassure myself this is better than buying. And I do love to craft, so what could be wrong? Yet everyday, my list of things to make (preferably from only recycled material) gets longer. How about a fairy ring? There must be time for a fairy ring! And then what about the mermaid pillowcase I started six months ago? Sure, I can finish that right up! And I could make a fairy house like that one on Etsy in no time at all. Really, could that take more than an hour?

So today after work, my dance card was full. I had plenty to do, all of it self-imposed - and all of it essential. And much of it can't be done over the weekend, since that is already full of birthdays and dance performances and ski sign-ups.

So tonight was the night. As my daughter and I walked home from school, she talked and I wrote a mental list for my evening. I would be productive. I would complete tasks. I would be efficient. I would be good.

But when we got home, my daughter took me by the hand into the family room, lit only by the Christmas tree and the stove. We climbed into the recliner, and she fell asleep in my lap - right there at 4 p.m. Right there in the middle of my busy-ness and productivity.

And I knew right then that this was really what she wanted. She will wear the St. Vincent's cape, and she will play in the fairy ring. She would love to see "The Nutcracker," but in the end, a warm nap in the glow of the Christmas tree was a gift no one else could give her, handmade or not.

And that busy-ness was a pretty silly substitute for materialism, since it didn't really move me closer to simplicity. And nothing can substitute for the simplicity of a child snoring softly in your lap.

• Marie Ryan McMillan is a parent and teacher in Juneau.

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