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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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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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