It started in December of 2012. I was on my way home from my training as a Passion Test facilitator, and had been doing much deep thinking about what was truly meaningful in life, or more specifically, my life. That can be a dangerous thing for me to do.
We were a matter of weeks away from Christmas, and I had yet to do my shopping, but I tend to put it off because I really just don't like it. It wasn't just that Christmas had become so hard with all the losses over the past few years...my parents, mother-in-law...most deeply my son. But as I reflected, it had been a long time since I'd enjoyed it. I remembered back to my days as a child, and in my twenties, and Christmas was so special. We would wait all year, knowing that then might be the time we received those things we wanted so badly. And that would be if 'Santa' was able to afford it, as it wasn't always the case. That was when we'd receive the new clothes, the toys, the crafts...and you played with and cherished them until the next Christmas came around.
But the world is different now. We've become so disposable, and so unwilling to wait for anything. What we want, we get, so that come the holidays there is very little left on the wish-list. Add to that how incredibly commercial it is with the push by advertisers that the wish-list has become so big, so expensive or so technical, that it becomes a financial burden for families for months to follow, and in some cases years.
I thought about our large, combined family. For years we'd get each of the grandchildren something useful, or smaller, clothes or a toy. Then because we don't see them as often, or don't know what their individual tastes are, we'd give each of them a card with $50 in it so they could go and buy themselves something. But as I thought about this habit on the trip home from San Diego, I became very sad, realizing that the habit was only widening the distance between them and us, as we never followed up on what it was that they chose to purchase, who they were becoming, if they even appreciated the money that was received. My heart told me it was time for change, to bring a different meaning to these large family gatherings, and a stronger connection to those we love.
There was another catalyst to my wanting to make change as well. Whenever I am away from home, I worry, as I'm sure many others do, that in our absence someone will break in. It's not that we don't have insurance to cover everything we have...stuff is replaceable. But what I always tended to worry about more was my 'treasures', those things I've held on to as the family historian, or the pack-rat who attaches so much memory to items, knowing that if someone came in and vandalized our home, those 'treasures' would likely be destroyed and they were not things that I could replace.
The final thing that had me thinking was that I'd spent the previous two years in the clean up of my parents estate spending days on end going through the boxes and shelves of a home that held our family history for four generations. With that came the sadness that so much of this 'stuff' meant something to someone. Of course there were things that were clearly valued that you could tell why, but there were more things that were kept for reasons we can't know, and there was a certain sadness of getting rid of someone elses 'treasures'. I learned much from that process, and several things came out of it. One being our new Christmas tradition.
I decided that year that from now on we all have enough 'stuff', and in so many cases we have way too much. I want to pass along things to our kids that have meaning, at least for me, and I hope that in doing that I can provide a deeper meaning for them in terms of what I value, but also what is now their history, as they are now part of my family. So I started that year, looking around the house at all of those things that I have my heart attached to, and began picking out one thing for each person in the family, our children and grandchildren. My husband Cecil did the same.
When we had picked out something for everyone, I then wrote each of them a letter to go with the item. I explained to them why this item was so close to my heart, who it had come from, how I'd ended up with it...any story attached to it that I wanted to share.
It was such an amazing experience, because as I wrote those letters and shared those memories, all of my lost loved ones gathered around me and became part of the celebration of all the wonderful memories I've had the privilege of collecting on this journey. In sharing the stories I was able to share them with my own grandchildren and they could begin to see the people that were so instrumental in laying the foundation of who I have become. My own grandparents, my parents, my son as well as Cecil's parents.
The second part of that Christmas's gift was creating a certificate for each of the grand-kids to fill out telling us what they would like to do in the next year with either their Grandpa, myself or both of us, that we could do together to create a memory. This part made me very nervous, I will admit, because we could have had 12 kids all say they wanted to go to Disney world, and we'd have had to find a way to make it happen, as we'd opened the door. But they didn't, instead we had wishes like going to a movie together, going put-put glow golfing, a camping trip in the summer, having manicures together, me teaching one to play guitar and a day of baking together.
I had been very nervous that they would look at this decision at our Christmas gathering and wonder what in the heck I had in my mind, passing along all this old 'stuff' and not receiving the expected $50 (which note to self, would have worked out a lot cheaper in the end, but we wouldn't be where we are now as a family). Instead, everyone felt it was our best Christmas ever, and the best part was it lasted so long into the New Year as we arranged dates to follow through on all that we'd promised we'd do together. That time spent together has created an entirely different connection, and I'm loving it.
One of my greatest memories is from after the day Haley and I had our baking day, making cupcakes for Grandpa's birthday at a campground in Kenora. The family knows I'm not a baker, but we did it, even though some of the cupcakes turned out a little dark you might say. She said not to worry, she's just put more icing on those ones. When we were done she asked me if we were going to do certificates again the upcoming Christmas, so I asked her if she thought we should. She said yes, that was the best Christmas ever. That coming from a nine year old was a compliment that warmed my heart so much, and so we did.
I love so many things about that decision. I love that we are challenged to keep that list in mind, and arrange our lives around making sure it gets fulfilled and the time we promised is spent. I love that when the kids come to my house now, they are looking at everything differently and asking the story behind things, engaging in a completely different way. I love that we are creating memories, because from where I stand now, looking back, I remember so little of the things that people gave me, but so much of the memories we made together. That is what I want for them.
Last year, to make sure everyone had something to unwrap, we got each of the kids a gingerbread house kit..the one year old right through to the eighteen year olds. I made sure that we had lots of extra decoration and had everything set up, so that after the tobogganing, eating, snowmobiling and unwrapping was done, everyone headed down to the tables in the garage and we spent the next two hours putting together those little works of art. The kids loved it, the adults had no choice but to help, and we as a family had fun...together. To me, that is what the spirit of Christmas is about.
Thanks for letting me share.
It takes time and energy to become who we truly are! In life, so many things can get in the way of our figuring that out..but the time comes in each of our lives where we need to be able to do that if we're going to live happy fulfilling lives that are authentic reflections of our best selves. These are just things I've learned along the way. I hope that they might help you in your own journey into being Truly You!