January 05, 2012

A personal view on the ideal Christmas

A few years ago, my holiday traditions consisted of the following steps.

Each year, shortly after Thanksgiving, I would kick start the season with a trip to the art supply store for fancy paper and scrap booking elements to hand-craft the best greeting card ever. The elaborate design had to out-do my previous ones; the forty duplicates would take a week to complete and had to be mailed the first week of December. My schedule also included adding Christmas lights to our existing collection and ensuring that our house out-shined all the neighbors. We would buy the tallest tree we could afford and fit on the car (given the fact that our living room had a 14 ft. ceiling), and each year I would accumulate new ornaments to decorate it. Weekends were spent shopping for gifts, and included a stop at the Dollar Store for stocking stuffers. I spent hours paper-wrapping countless presents; I planned feasts and outfits for both Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Advent was basically filled with activities aimed at psyching us up for the “big day”. Mall parking and a quest for unbeatable excellence was source of much underlying stress, extending far beyond the month of December. But I considered myself a dream-maker and worried about meeting expectations; expectations that I had created for myself, I now realize.

My holiday season no longer consists of participating in such activities or aiming for perfection… yet, I experienced the most “perfect” Christmas this year.

We opened the season with Scott using up air miles to surprise his mother with an impromptu visit (an early gift), while I stayed home with the kids, planning the “Holiday Cheer”. An afternoon of baking (eight types of cookies) went a long way. Scott brought some to work, Leo took some to a school event, and we filled jars for the kids' teachers’ gifts. But that week, I also used the cookies as treats for an afternoon cocktail with my girlfriends, a coffee hour with my walking group, a mulled-wine evening with the neighbors, and spiced-cider play dates for the kids, all through which I felt pure "Holiday Cheer". We also used the pretext of Advent to volunteer at the food bank (I discovered a real taste for the line work ;), and Leo had fun designing our family’s "Holiday Greetings" video.

We wasted no time at the mall and a week before Christmas (previously synonymous with high stress), we left for Hawaii, a trip fully funded by renting our home during the Holidays. Keeping it a surprise from the kids until departure time was the tough part.

“Public Recycling Bin” by Leo

Soon after landing on such small and pristine land surrounded by turquoise ocean, the question: ”Where is away?“ (“as the term throw“away” suggests) instantly hits you and makes you wish for speedy Zero Waste regulations and implementation, especially considering the amount of Styrofoam used on the island (a sad sight I had long forgotten). Residents can recycle cardboard, newspaper, glass containers, plastic bottles and cans at local Recycling Centers, but Zero Waste is not easy: Bulk at the local organic store was pre-packaged in plastic bags, and the farmer’s market mostly sold packaged products (in #5 containers). That said, our cloth bags (mainly for coffee, produce and loose buns) and containers (the rental’s Tupperware for buying cheese and deli) were happily accepted everywhere we went. We concentrated our efforts on buying produce (especially the great fruit! we love the rambutans!) and local products, which always offer a way to avoid packaging or at least alleviate its carbon footprint. I did not see any liquid in bulk, but fresh coconuts there provide the ultimate eco-friendly drink 😉

“Coconut Cutting” by Leo

Don’t blame me for not visiting the local landfill to investigate... On vacation, my time was carefully spent snorkeling with turtles, foraging guava fruit, zip-lining with the kids (an experience gift from grandma), barbequing with friends, drawing sunsets with Max, sharing “pupus” with the locals, blowing the conk shell at sundown, stringing popcorn and cutting out scrap paper to decorate the condo’s artificial palm tree into a Christmas tree.

On Christmas Eve, we went to mass in a small chapel. The window seals lined with candles that flickered with the flow of the ocean air,we sang carols in English, and carols in the native Hawaiian tongue. Some even danced the hula ;) At the end of the service, the power went out, and as we found our way out by candlelight, home-baked star cookies were handed out. This was a magical mass I won’t forget.

“Sunset” by Leo

For dinner, we went to a restaurant on the beach and the next morning, Max and Leo found a handful of presents in their shoes (the French substitute to stockings), none of which generated even the smallest amount of waste (just a few thrift store items), and the promise of more family activities together. We then spent the day boogie boarding in the waves and snorkeling.

I came home refreshed, grateful to have renters afford us such a lovely trip. I feel like I have taken the unbeaten, scenic detour through the holidays. Next year, I hope to able to travel the same path. The season used to feel like the slow removal of a Band-Aid. Today, it felt like a pleasant massage.

How did you do?