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Christmas Lite

Usually this column dispenses advice about nifty items you can buy to make your life easier or a task more energy- and time-efficient. This month, we go a different route—in recognition that for many of us our closets are already overflowing, our bank accounts may not be, and our time spent with those we love is far more valuable than anything sold in a store.

So what’s some advice for an unplugged Christmas—full of meaning, but unplugged from piling more and more presents under the tree?

Start with the gift of time. Make space for the holiday things you love to do—be it baking cookies together with Christmas carols blaring, watching a favorite movie, going for a winter walk in the woods. We all have friends or family we wish we could spend more time with. Pick a date. Go to visit. Make it happen.

Give the gift of yourself

Some folks decide they won’t give gifts at all for Christmas. Some give only homemade items or free labor—a jar of jam from the garden’s bounty; a promise of babysitting; a song performed just for you. Some extended families or groups of friends join together in service to others—working with a charity to help another family.

Don’t worry if your house or your life isn’t magazine-perfect. “Good enough” works too. Last year, one woman hauled the tubs of Christmas decorations in from the garage—then ran out of enthusiasm for the hours of work involved in decorating the house. She stacked the bins in the shape of a tree and put a star and some twinkly lights on top. Christmas will come whether you get the outside lights up or not (and think of all the energy you’ll save).

Some families develop their own holiday traditions. For some it’s tied to faith—worshipping at the late-night Christmas Eve service at church, or reading aloud from the Bible the story of Jesus’ birth. For some it’s filled with sensory pleasures—an evening spent listening to favorite Christmas music; a holiday meal with special recipes prepared year after year; or the scent of pine and hot apple cider filling the house.

Don’t let picture-perfect expectations get you down

There are years and circumstances that may not be particularly merry—it’s not uncommon for illness and grief and separation to be part of the holiday season too. Make space for the realities of life—for friends who may be closer than family, for sadness as well as joy. Unplug from the expectations. Keep what works for you, and let the rest go.

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