Thursday, January 6, 2011

This Book BUGGED Me!!!

I was given a book for Christmas. The title is “Simplify Your Christmas” subtitled “By Not Having Any Fun at ALL and Being Selfish as Hell”. Not really. The actual subtitle is “100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays.”

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…” How very….festive. Now I know that I am a food obsessed fatty, but I don’t know anyone who would feel that sitting down to a meal of sliced bananas and steamed beets was a sufficient recognition of the joy of Christmas.

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.


  1. Oh, Sweetpea!! You need to be doing this for the NYT or New Yorker!!! This is the hands-down best book review I've read in blows and stretches!

    I must say, possibly my admiration is kindled by common feeling of Miss Manners/itch/harangued/memememe/ridiculous/leave my traditions alone.

    Just one thing, though---about ten years ago, I caught a Sears tools and materials going out of business in that location, and bought who knows how much wallpaper for 25%, and it makes GORGEOUS gift wrap---especially the deep green moire.

    Just sayin'.

  2. Ok - I'll give you the wallpaper. It just seems so stiff and liable to tear when I've bent it that I figured it would be horrible wrapping paper.

    Adding this to say:
    I have to confess that the irony of this post has not escaped me. I am in fact posting to complain about a GIFT that someone gave me for Christmas. In my defense:

    1). I am reviewing, not complaining.

    2). I am TOTALLY sure that this gift had absolutely no hidden agenda and that the gifter just read the cover and thought it would be apt.

    3). It is actually a great gift, because I got a good blog post out of it.

    4). There is almost no chance that this person will ever read this blog.

    and finally:

    5). I never promised to be consistant. So there.

  3. ROTFLMAO!!!

    So Kim, how do you really feel?

    I love it when you get a bee in your bonnet! Your energetic indignation is expressed with a rich and vivid vocabulary and some pretty hilarious images!

  4. Anon - Those pesky bees get in my bonnet a LOT, too! Thank you. So well intentioned and SO misguided.

  5. This might be one of my fav blogs. Firstly, I wonder who could have given you this book gift. Probably not somebody who reads your blog or you would not have written it, ha-ha. Secondly, it would be EXTREMELY STRESSFUL for me to conduct a Native American ceremony and a bit disrespectful, I think, because it would not be genuine.

  6. Christa - No, I'm sure that the person who gave this book to me doesn't ever read my blog. And you are right about conducting a Native American ceremony being disrespectful - it is one thing being interested in other cultures, but aping them when they are not your culture just seems condescending to me.