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How You’re Ruining Christmas – And What You Can Do to Save It

How You’re Ruining Christmas – And What You Can Do to Save It

How You're Ruining Christmas - And What You Can Do to Save It

    You’re ruining Christmas.

    Not for me – how could you ruin it for me? No, you’re ruining it for yourself, for your family and friends, for everyone who loves you and who you love in return.

    You started in August, when you saw the first little corner of the Mega-Mart decked out with Christmas bows and dancing Santas. It was just a few little grumbles then, but by Halloween it had grown into a roar. Every Christmas decoration, every carol, every artificial tree display you took as a personal affront.

    “Can you believe it? Greedy bastards!”

    “Ugh, Christmas is so commercial now. Wake me up for New Years!”

    “Look at those people fighting over toys like animals. They’re disgusting.”

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    And on and on and on and on and on. We get it. You HATE Christmas!

    What’s that? You don’t hate Christmas? You say you just hate the materialism of it, the way it’s turned from a wonderful tradition into a buying frenzy, the forced gift-giving, the greedy little children waiting to open the latest whiz-bang-o on Christmas morning?

    I see. You hate that everyone else just doesn’t get it. Not like you do.

    OK, so: what are you going to do about it? Because nobody can ruin your Christmas but you. Not a thousand Grinches, not a million Scrooges, not a googol saccharine greeting card ads.

    How to save Christmas

    1. Give gifts.

    I know this whole “mandatory gift-giving” thing is a drag. Why can’t you just give gifts when you feel like, instead of when society tells you to?

    Here’s the thing: in every society in the world, gift-giving is an obligation. One of the highest obligations, actually. It is the fundamental basis of all human economic behavior. Here’s why: giving gifts ties us together in a profound way. It creates a web of reciprocity that binds us, one to the other.

    Consider what a student told me about his family’s gift-giving tradition some years ago. He has 4 brothers, all scattered around the nation, reuniting in the family home in Queens, NY, every Christmas. On Christmas morning, they meet around the tree, and each gives the other $100. Cash.

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    There’s a practical reason: they don’t all want to fly home laden with bulky presents, then fly away laden with new ones – and they don’t want to get home just to find that the present they picked out is unwanted. But if you’re doing the math, you’re noticing something odd. Each gives the other $100. That’s $400 out ($100 to each of 4 brothers) and $400 back ($100 from each of four brothers). It’s a wash.

    And yet, something happened there. It’s clearer if you ask yourself: why $100? Why not $20, since nobody was coming out of the exchange ahead? Or why not $1000? Or a million? After all, nothing’s coming out of anyone’s pocket, right?

    They give each other $100 because they’re brothers, and because that feels right for a gift for a brother. You don’t give nothing, because that’s like saying your relationship isn’t worth anything. You don’t give a crazy amount, because that’s absurd.

    The point is, quite literally, that it’s the thought that counts. We say it all the time, but they actually mean it.

    So you’re going to give gifts. Because you think highly of the people around you.

    2. Embrace materialism.

    I know, you don’t mind giving gifts, it’s the materialism of it. Why do you have to go out, braving the maddened crowds, overflowing parking lots, and bitter winter cold to prove to your family and friends that you love them?

    Well, you can make gifts, and if you’re talented at making things, by all means go ahead and make to your heart’s content. But here’s the rub: most of us aren’t. Good at making stuff, that is. We spent years developing a set of skills that allow us to get along in life, and making things isn’t really on that list. You can market the heck out of just about anything, balance the yearly books, make a global distribution network sing, or serve up platters of pasta like nobody’s business – but those highly developed skills don’t really translate to Christmas morning goodies.

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    Here’s what you are good at: you’re good at shopping. You do it to survive, and you’re still alive, right? I know that seems cold and detached to you, but seriously: it’s humanity’s oldest skill. 100,000 years ago your great-great-great-great[…]-great-grandmother walked through the savannas, forests, deserts, and river bottoms of Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia looking for food and raw materials, and every now and again she grabbed a nice melon or a juicy turtle thinking “You know who would like this? Sally in accounting would just eat this up!”

    That’s what you’re doing out there in the malls, craft fairs, and boutiques of the Christmas season: putting your own survival needs on hold for a minute while you consider the needs and desires of the people you love. Putting your skills to the test as surely as your woodworking father or candle-making aunt is.

    3. Sing a carol. Decorate a tree.

    It’s amazing to me that people can decry the materialism of Christmas in the same breath as they complain about hearing “Silent Night” or “Little Drummer Boy” over the PA.

    I mean, we say we want to strip away the materialism so we can get at the “real meaning” of Christmas. Well, here’s the thing: those Christmas carols are the meaning of Christmas. They’re songs about love, joy, peace, and happiness – all things that we’ve been trained to see as stupid. That’s right – we are a cold, detached, ironic, cool-seeking people who hates songs that talk about being happy as if it were something people could do.

    Put that in your corn-cob pipe and smoke it.

    Christmas carols are our Christmas traditions. Some of them are hundreds of years old. They connect us with our parents, and their parents, and their parents parents, and so on – to people who wouldn’t know a Tickle-Me Elmo if it bit them on their bellies like bowls full of jelly.

    Take away the gift-giving, and what we have are the songs, the red-and-green tinsel, the soft glow of the tree. Kids laughing. Seriously, you’re gonna bah-humbug Christmas carols?

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    4. Go to church. Or don’t.

    For some of us, Christmas is a religious holiday. Not all of us. Maybe not even most of us. But if you’re one of the people for whom this day is important because it marks the birth of Our Lord and Savior, by all means, go to church. Celebrate. Pray. Give thanks. It’s a wondrous thing, to have a messiah.

    But for many of us, Christmas is a day off from work, a day full of tradition and a spirit of giving that lets us be with our families. That’s not nothing! We live scattered lives – even if we live in the same city as the rest of our family, which is pretty unlikely, there’s a pretty good chance we don’t see them as often as we’d like. We don’t celebrate them as often as we’d like. And certainly not all together, in one place, with gifts and feasting and songs.

    Let’s say you give up the gift-giving. No more materialism for you! And let’s say you give up the carols. And the tree. See, I get all that. I disagree, but I get it. It’s overwhelming. It’s too much. I understand.

    But there’s your family, all with the same day off. Who cares why – you all have the day off! That’s a rare and special thing. So what are you going to do?

    You could do what Jews have been doing for the last two millennia: catch a movie with your family and go out for Chinese. It’s great: the roads are practically empty, there’s always a great selection Christmas week (as studios rush to get their big Oscar contenders out before the year-end deadline), and Chinese food is delicious. What’s more, you’ll spend the whole day relaxing with your family, just enjoying each other’s company.

    Or create your own traditions. Go sledding or hiking or kite flying (for our readers in the Southern Hemisphere). Pull out the photo albums and play “What was I thinking?!” Play GiftTRAP or some other party game.

    4. Stop your whining and have a merry Christmas!

    The world is how it is. We’re consumers, and we live in a commercialized society. If that bothers you – and it should – by all means, devote yourself to changing the world. But start December 26th and keep at it until next November, when it’s needed. Everyone’s a critic from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and we do nothing about it.

    Becoming a revolutionary for the Christmas season isn’t helping. All it’s doing is ruining your holidays for you, and for everyone who cares about you. Instead of whining about how much Christmas sucks, how about applying some positive thinking to finding the special core that makes Christmas work for you, whether that’s the social relationships that Christmas gift-giving cements into something solid and enduring, the traditions that give us permission to imagine a world in which being good to one another isn’t an absurdity, or the time you get to  spend celebrating your family.

    It’s up to you. The stores are doing what they have to do to make money, which is their job. The mobs of shoppers are doing what they have to do to make their Christmas work for them. You’re the only one who can make Christmas special. You’ve got a week. Have at it!

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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