“Over the past century our nation’s Christmas celebration has changed dramatically, turning a delightful folk festival and important religious celebration into a multi- billion dollar commercial venture.” — Jo Robinson & Jean Staeheli, Unplug the Christmas Machine
In the late seventies Jean Staeheli and Jo Robinson, two Portland, OR, writers, mothers, and homemakers, were asked to develop a workshop on handling Christmas Stress for a small college in their area. The school was seeing an increase in problems with both staff and students during the holidays.
The two women sat down and wrote out a brief outline, not knowing at first how it would work. What emerged was a series of exercises that would help each participant determine their values about the holiday season and then to take inventory as to how their holiday activities were either pulling them away from, or moving them towards, those values.
“The response was overwhelming,” Jo recently told me. “People were crying; they were just riveted by it.”
The workshop had touched a tender nerve – people were overcommitted, stressed, and glassy-eyed trying to keep up with their regular responsibilities and the burdens associated with creating a Christmas celebration that has turned into harried, commercially influenced venture.
Their first workshop notes turned into a book, Unplug the Christmas Machine, A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season. Since the first edition came out in 1982, the book has never been out of print.
“It still works,” Jo said, “The reason for its longevity is that we’re not telling people what to do, instead, we’ve provided a structure for them to find out what kind of celebration works for them. . . We give people permission to keep the celebration simple, more in harmony with their values.”
Here are some tips they suggest:
Make an inventory of all of the tasks you do to preparation for the holiday. This can include everything from baking and gift- wrapping, to travel preparations and helping out at church or school. Include everything you can think of. Next put your initials beside each activity that mostly falls on your shoulders. Next put an ‘X’ after all the items that have little value to you.
Using the numbers 1-10, rank each of the following value statements according to its importance in your life. (1 is the most important rank) Christmas is a time to: Be a peacemaker in my family and the world; spend enjoyable time with my immediate family; to reunite with my relatives; to celebrate the birth of Christ; to create a festive, beautiful home environment; to show my love and generosity through gifts; to remember the poor, lonely, and needy; to be active in my church or other community; to celebrate with friends; to relax and be renewed. (Add other values you might have that are not listed.)
Write out a quick vision of your own deeply satisfying holiday celebration.
Create a Christmas plan with two or three goals to help transform your celebration to be in greater harmony with your values. Usually after we have evaluated our own values and desires in comparison to what we are actually doing at Christmas, it becomes evident what tasks need to be eliminated, delegated, or simplified.
Instead of baking a kitchen full of Christmas treats, for example, we could select a couple of our favorites. We could have a talk with family and friends and reduce expectations about gifts or time spent in celebrations that have little meaning for us. Involve other family members in helping. Own your right to say no.
Commercialization has had a huge impact on the Christmas holiday. Thirty years ago Christmas was a $20-billion-dollar-a-year industry. This year $12.3 billion was spent on holiday shopping on Thanksgiving and Black Friday alone. $1.2 billion was spent online on Black Friday. In 2012 $586 billion was spent over the total holiday in the U.S.
“Christmas has turned into a celebration of gift giving,” Jo said, “no matter how great a gift is, in just a little while it is nothing. To see all the energy pointed towards what you are going to get for Christmas is not healthy. It’s not good for our kids.”
She notes that we have become so busy ‘doing’ during the holidays that we lose the time and energy to spend time with the children in our lives. Jo and Jean’s research showed that the things children long for most during the season, despite what they ask for, is to have time with their parents and other important adults.
We can create a Christmas we love, starting right now by crossing a few things off the list that we are NOT going to do, because they are not the things that matter. It may require some sacrifice, by sacrifice is just giving up some of lesser value for something of greater value. As we let go of those things that matter least, we create a space in our live to experience the depth of satisfaction that comes from being true to our own values.