I think that the author, Elaine St. James, has very good intentions. She recognized the problem of stress during the holidays and is trying to address it. The problem, in my opinion, is that she goes WAY too far.
I find that whenever I read ‘advice’, be it Ann Landers or a book like this, I always contrast the ‘expert’ advice with Miss Manners. I admit that Miss Manners is my idol and can do no wrong in my eyes. My mantra is ‘WWMMD’ (what would Miss Manners do). If they disagree, they are wrong. End of discussion. St. James talks about the problem of grandparents overgifting grandchildren. She suggests having your children write Granny a letter saying, “Thank you for the beautiful doll. Since I already have so many, I decided to give it to a little girl at the homeless shelter who’d never had a doll.” First, good freaking luck getting any normal child to voluntarily write such a letter. Second, isn’t it a grandparent’s privilege to spoil the kids? And, finally, it’s just RUDE (Miss Manners would NOT approve). It isn’t up to us to decide what others give us. Our only job in that exchange is to be appreciative and gracious.
Another thing that she finds stressful is all the celebratory food involved in Christmas festivities. She suggests a simple meal. Well, I can certainly identify with that. In the past few years, I’ve simplified my Christmas Eve meal a lot. My last post goes into this very subject. But then she goes on to say, “Have only fresh fruit or fresh fruit juice on Christmas day…Or you could have fresh vegetables – raw, juiced, steamed…”
Some of her ideas are simply a rehashing of the ladies magazine annual Christmas issue ‘tips’. Handmade gifts are precious and priceless, but only if they are appropriate. If you are just making them at home to be ‘green’ or ‘frugal’ without a thought to whom they are being given, they are really no better than the pre-wrapped gadgets that abound in stores in December every year. She also drags out the hackneyed wrapping paper options – newspapers, wallpaper, catalog covers. I always wonder if the people who give out these ideas have ever actually tried these ideas. Can you imagine trying to fold stiff, unwieldy wallpaper around a box?
Along the same lines of thinking only of oneself and not what others might need or want she says that if family gatherings are stressful, just don’t go to them. Well, if one comes from a truly toxic family, I would agree. But what generally happens is that you might get a little aggravated. Is it really worth hurting your grandma in order to relieve a little stress?
The gist of this book seems to be get rid of the tree, the decorating, cooking, gifting. I think that this takes ‘simplifying’ way beyond healthy and certainly beyond happy.
Some of her suggestions include ‘touchy-feely’ activities, which, frankly, tend to make me itch. She mentions conducting a Native American ‘arrow ritual’ with your family. Aboriginal traditions and ceremonies are rich, dignified things. But the idea of a bunch of tubby white folks conducting them in their living rooms seems a tad ridiculous to me.
I confess to feeling harangued by this book. This is the kind of thing that immediately gets my back up. I do things the way that I do them because I want to. Because they mean something to me. Don’t tell me to stop doing them. Either help, or get the hell out of my way!
As silly as I found parts of this book, there is actually a lot of good information. Making the holiday more meaningful, less commercial and family centered is an admirable goal. But somehow, the book ends up actually losing the meaning. It seems to be promoting self-centeredness and a ‘me first’ attitude. I can’t believe that is a good thing to teach our children. Our family motto is ‘Suck it up’. People always take that as a joke, but, actually, I mean it. Sometimes we have to do the things that we don’t want to do in order to make life work for others. There are people who need things from us – attention, time, money – that may be hard for us to give. But we still need to give them. I’m not sure that The Child fully appreciates the motto yet. But I believe that she will.