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The Season for The Reason…Wait, What? 28

The Season for The Reason…Wait, What?

Shortly after Memorial Day, the Christmas decorations went up. OK, I’m exaggerating. But sometimes it feels that way, doesn’t it? I wonder if one day, we’ll just leave the decorations up all year.

In my Christian faith, I often hear people remind us to remember the “reason for the season.” In other words, instead of focusing primarily on the material side of Christmas, we might want to consider focusing more on the spiritual side of Christmas. It’s probably a good idea.

But as I considered the phrase, I realized that the reverse is also true. This time of year is the “season for the reason.” Let me explain.

As a child, I could not wait for Christmas. It was the one day when I got a lot of free stuff. I didn’t always get the free stuff I wanted but it was free stuff nonetheless. For the record, I’m still waiting for that can of Silly String I requested six years in a row but never got because my mother was convinced it would ruin the couch. But even with the disappointments, Christmas was exciting.

As an adult, the holidays are still exciting but they also come with just a tad bit of stress (OK, more than a tad bit!). There is shopping to do, cards to send out, cookies to bake, and all of this must be accomplished while dealing with the other stressed out people who are on the roads doing their shopping, mailing their cards, and buying their cookie supplies. In fact, I’ve jokingly said that the holiday season officially starts when someone flips me off in traffic. We’re yule-tired, egg-bogged, and one nut shy of being fruit cakes.

That’s what made me think of this concept of the “season for the reason.” In other words, are we really clear about why we do what we do during the holidays? Are we doing something because of expectations, or traditions, or perhaps because it’s the right thing to do? Let’s think this through.

Years ago, I used to compose a lengthy and extremely witty letter to send to everyone on our holiday card list. I chronicled all that we had done that year using a clever thematic format. One year the letter was written as a college yearbook. Another year, it was written as a noir detective novel. And after the Florida elections in 2000, the letter looked like a ballot with hanging chads and all. But as our children grew up and we all got busier, the letter got longer and longer. As a result, I had to reduce the font size on our letter down to around three or four. In fact, some of the older members on our list, whose eyesight was waning, would ask, “Why does your holiday letter look like one big blur of ink?”

One day, it occurred to me that other people might not be as enamored as we were with my hilarious rendering of our family’s achievements. So, we made a change. The cards now have two parts. First, on the front of the card, is a current photograph of the family so that people can see how ridiculously attractive our offspring have become and simultaneously, how ridiculously unattractive my bald head has become. And second is a succinct family “letter” that must fit on the back of the card. The reason for the card, we discovered, was not so much to impress but to simply to let people know we were thinking of them during the holidays and to give them a brief update on our lives.

Sometimes, I suspect, we do things that, in time, may no longer make sense. But we’ve embraced the routines for so long, we have a hard time letting go. Once we do let go, however, we might realize that we had our focus on the wrong reason.

Here’s another example. We recently went to a party and contributed some of the appetizers. But there was so much food, the appetizers were hardly touched. You should know that my wife and I have a deep-seated fear of running out of food whenever we entertain. In fact, at the first Super Bowl party we ever hosted, we had five pizzas left over. Not a total of five pizzas but five pizzas left over.

I remember a comedy routine by Jim Gaffigan during which he said, “Can you imagine explaining appetizers to someone in a third world country? It would be like saying, ‘Oh yeah this is our meal before our meal.’”

Maybe we don’t need so much food. Maybe we don’t need to eat so much. Maybe we don’t need to worry about running out. The reason for sharing food is to experience the communal activity of breaking bread together. We don’t need to break our backs trying to carry all the food on our plate.

And finally, we probably ought to consider the reason for all the gifts we buy. We fight the traffic, scramble for the very last parking space, and then disappear into the over-crowded mall trying to find gifts for all the people on our list when many of them probably don’t even need the things we’re buying for them. As I mentioned before, I couldn’t wait to get all the free stuff at Christmas when I was a child. But as an adult, I feel that I have plenty of stuff already.

I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon. But I think it could be valuable for us, during the holiday and then throughout the year, to be clear about why we do what we do. Are we doing something because we feel it’s expected of us or because it’s the right thing to do?  Are we focusing on excess when moderation would be just as appropriate? And are we comparing our actions to others instead of being comfortable with our own decisions?

The bottom line for the holidays is this: What is the reason for our approach to the season?

Whether we’re writing, cooking, or shopping, if we’re clear on our purpose and can be comfortable with a little less than a little more, perhaps the season will be more meaningful and less hectic.

That sounds reason-able to me. How about you?

Happy holidays.

28 comments

  • Thank you, Ron, for tilting the phrase and making us slow down long enough to get clarity in the midst of the hectic rush. This is a wonderful season and I appreciate your reason-ing.

  • D. Walde says:

    This is probably one of my favorite articles that you have written since I started following you. Why, because I can relate to it. I dread having to put a wish list together each year for family to pick what gifts they want to buy for me. If I really NEED something, I will go buy it. Otherwise it just seems to be “stuff” that piles up and gets used occasionally if at all. I don’t need more stuff (unless it’s tools, because you can never have enough of them).

    What I really need is more family time enjoying meaningful activities that make memories and shape our lives. No one remembers the knick knack that so and so bought for them five years ago. But they remember the time that the whole family went out into the snow and communally killed a tree that was too large for the house (Dad, I can’t feel my legs!). These are the life long memories that stick with us for years to come, and will be passed down from generation to generation with a bit of amplification added in as it is told to each new generation.

    So go out and make a memory, and have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, joyous Kwanza, or whatever else you celebrate this time of year.

  • Rita says:

    A wonderful column as usual. I know what you mean about us all having to much “stuff.” Happy Christmas to you and your family.

  • Patti says:

    Dear Ron and family, have a very Happy Holiday. Love Patti T.

  • Mark says:

    Ron,

    Your email touched on a passion of mine; personal effectiveness. Part of effectiveness, as you know more than myself, it’s about focusing on the real reason to do “stuff” and not the peripheral thing we “think” is the reason. Once we get to the core of the why, we sometimes realize there is no real answer to the question other than, “that’s just what we’ve always done!”

    Being a minimalist at heart, this really helps your readers to truly dig deeper into the season and, as a Chrisitian, remembering in Matthew 10:9-10 we see the example that Christ set for “stuff.”

    Thank you for your blog and your newsletter,

  • Val Cook says:

    We decided last Christmas to take the money we would have used buying things nobody really needed and make memories instead of a big mess. So my sister, my ex-husband (friendly), my son and daughter-in-law, her mother and my 5 month old grandson and me, are all going to Hawaii for a week to just hang out together, enjoy each other’s company, take pictures and give each other the priceless gift of time together. I’m happy to hear others feel the same way. Time is precious. Give it to those who matter.

  • Ron,

    Happy Holidays.

    I appreciate your newsletters. They always give me something to think about.

    Thank you,

    Warren Taylor

  • Judy says:

    Our family gets together plays games and talk about memories. I love to cook so there is always plenty of goodies. Give a lot to elderly who no longer cook, don’t have family here. Merry Christmas and may 2018 hold maNY blessings for you and your family.

  • Donna Stone says:

    Ron,
    22 years ago when we had our first child, we made a conscious effort to focus more on the memory making and less on the “stuff”. I am happy to report that when I ask our children “what do you look forward to most at Christmas?” their answers each revolve around family, being together, hot cocoa by the fire and playing board games. Because we each have a little child inside of us who also enjoys “free stuff”…our Christmas stockings have become the focal point as each member secretly adds various trinkets which are fun, funny, useful and sometimes very impractical. Yes, it takes a very focused effort to not get caught up in the “have to’s” that the incredible advertising/marketing agencies present and to really make a clear vision for yourself and your family about what matters most.
    Oten, the best gift of all is your “presence” more than material “presents”.
    Thanks for the opportunity to reflect. Happy and healthy Holidays to you and yours.

  • LaDonna Gatlin says:

    Well said, as always, Ron. Christmas Blessings to you and yours!

  • Sara says:

    Merry Christmas, Ron, to you and your family. Thank you for reminding me to slow down and remember why I do what I do everyday and especially this time of year…

  • Tobi Louise Kester says:

    This year, I decided to think of gift-giving in terms of what might make memories. Rather than just ask people what they want (except for my younger kids, who are pretty specific) and buying that item because they mentioned it, I have started to really analyze what I know about the people I buy gifts for. I think about the everyday stuff that either contributes or detracts from the ease of living for them. I think of the things that help to form their passions in life. I have focused on what might help them remember me and others throughout the year, so that connections between the people I love are developed more deeply. And I make a point to tell them why I have chosen that particular gift for them.

    For one friend, it was a hammock and tarp to relax under the summer sun or springtime rain on those easy, breezy, lazy days to come. For someone else, it was a fun set of mugs decorated like woolly sweaters that they can use with their spouse around the fireplace in the winter evenings. For yet another, it’s a tool that will make their hobby that much more exciting to dive into.

    I’m sure many of us do this kind of gift-giving all the time, but I think what made it different for me is the intentional nature of my efforts. I wasn’t looking for stuff, I was focused on tying the people to the ways they live their lives, and tying people to each other. Living with intention is what makes life meaningful.

  • Pam M. says:

    Ron – I always look forward to your newsletters, & I always gain some insight, but I also look forward to the comments! Thank you D. Wald, Mark, & Donna for great reminders & inspiration!
    Happy holidays to everyone!!

  • Gwen says:

    Hi, Ron:

    Your story of the Christmas letter is nearly identical to mine. Witty I was, oh, so witty. What I did – after 20 years of the tiny-print “letter” was to change the “letter” into a photo card with captions. (Still witty but brief, oh so brief). Now every time during the year that I take a photo of anyone, I get “Is this going to be in the Christmas card?” or “Don’t put that in the Christmas card!” (which makes it a sure thing that I will put that one in the card.) So originally the card was very large – an 8 1/2 by 11 printed on both sides and folded once. Last year, I told my husband, “we’re downsizing”. So last year and this year it is an 8 1/2 x 11 printed on one side and folded into a small 4 x 5 card. My ultimate goal is to do a postcard. But I don’t think they’ll let me get away with it.

    Great article and I needed it. But it’s too late for this year — maybe next year I will manage not to go overboard buying, baking, decorating, etc.

    Gwen

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