Winter Holidays: The Slow and Simple Edition

Welcome the winter holidays: a season of togetherness, festivity, and warmth — right in the middle of the gloomiest, darkest, coldest time of the year, when we most need a pause and a good dose of cheer.

But too often the cultural and social expectations we layer onto this season actually reduce our ability to enjoy it: witness the stressed-out faces of people with their last-minute gift-shopping lists and packed-full December calendars. Not only that, but the rampant consumerism sparked by those same expectations is blowing up into absurd proportions.

What would a “less is more” version of the winter holidays look like? The slow and simple edition? I see this as a great opportunity to practice being really intentional and ask ourselves: What do I really value? What is it that makes this season magical for me, and can I experience it without buying into all that other people tell me I need to buy into? Can I tweak or change traditions if they no longer serve me? Here’s what I’ve found useful in trying to create a clutter-free, slow, simple holiday time.

 

Simple Decorations

Surely we don’t need yet another reason to bring more plastic into the house. Real winter greens are the loveliest thing on earth: they fill your home with their fragrance, last for a long time, and are fully biodegradeable.

I grew up in Nordic evergreen forests, so the deep forest smell of spruce and pine greens inside the house signal to my brain that I am home.

There are lots of ways to harvest them sustainably: go to places where Christmas trees are sold to collect the trimmings or fallen branches, or look by the curbside. Last year, a neighbor had trimmed a large cedar and left the cut branches on the curb, so we picked them up, carried them home, and “decked the halls:” wreaths and garlands for the porch and arrangements for the inside along with candles and pine cones. (I also think that collecting a branch or two on land that’s not yours is not a huge deal, but obviously you have to make the call yourself.)

For a wreath, I wove this hoop out of vines that I can now re-use and dress differently each year. I love to use the deep greens of cedar and pine as a base, then add the grayish hues of sage, rosemary, or silver-dollar Eucalyptus, and finish with cones, winter berries, and ribbons.

The same theme repeats itself in our Christmas Eve dinner table setting: winter greens, pine cones, and candles.

For the Christmas tree, apart from the tiny LEED lights and some baubles, everything else is natural materials: burlap ribbons, pine cones, dried orange slices with cinnamon sticks, and these wooden ornaments from my native Finland that I love.

 

Simple Gift-giving

When it comes to gift-giving, I stand by this piece by Becoming Minimalist: let’s keep it sane.

  • Even with kids, there is a middle ground between a hard-liner “no presents” policy and piles of plastic made in China that will get tossed or forgotten by next year. I like the four-gift rule: “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.”
  • Handmade gifts
  • Gifting experiences
  • Gifting consumables: chocolate, nuts, fruit, wine, local specialty treats.
  • Gift donations

Here are some hand-made gifts I like to make and give:

 

Simple traditions

When I was growing up, my family had a lot of Christmas traditions. Christmas Eve always followed the same formula, and that’s what made it feel unlike any other day of the year.

Now that my partner and I get to figure out what our own family’s Christmas looks like, and create our own traditions, we’re leaning towards a slightly more flexible approach.

I’ve been asking the question: what are those moments when we’re fully in the “flow” mode, that feel special and invite us to pause? I’ve come to realize that the cue for that feeling is often something really simple. It may be just lighting a pillar candle and turning on some Christmas music when the late afternoon starts to darken outside. It may be cozying up inside with woolen socks, candles, and hot cocoa when it’s snowing outside. It may be baking gingerbread cookies with my daughter when we both may just end up eating more dough than actual cookies. It’s the smell of evergreens inside the house, beeswax candles burning, winter oranges in a bowl, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and cardamom in gingerbread cookies baking in the oven or in the traditional Finnish blackcurrant juice glögi simmering on the stove. It’s sitting down for my annual Solstice reflection ritual on Winter Solstice.

None of that is complicated or costly, nor does it need to be.

I’d love to hear from you: what ways have you discovered to make the most out of the season without adding more unnecessary stress, waste, or consumption?

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