A Mostly Minimalist Christmas

My family knows that I have embraced minimalism. They witness the gradual uncluttering of my home office, the extra time spent in the basement, and the extra trash bags set out each week. But I avoid any sort of proselytizing.

I never came out and said I wanted a minimalist Christmas, beyond saying there was really only one thing I would like as a gift (the John Lennon box set).

That feeling wasn’t anything new or necessarily tied to my current pursuit of minimalism. I’ve felt for as long as I can remember that Christmas was far too commercialized.

It’s a point of view I can probably ascribe to repeated viewings over the years of the Charlie Brown Christmas special. And to an “aha” moment I had almost 20 years ago.

We were giving Christmas presents to my two-year-old niece. On Christmas Day, we presented her with a doll and baby carriage. And she was thrilled. She was all smiles and hugging the doll as if it were the only thing that mattered in the whole world. If that had been the only thing she’d gotten that Christmas, she would have been perfectly content.

But it was just the beginning. Gift after gift was laid at her feet. Tearing through the wrapping paper of each successive present, I could see the joy in her face give way to a kind of numbness. Where the doll and carriage had been special, now nothing was, just a growing pile of things and very little time to feel anything special about any of them.

The image haunts me still.

But lo and behold, we had a mostly minimalist Christmas this time. And it was just as merry as any other.

My wife and I exchanged just a few things (including the Lennon set).  The kids got some things that they really wanted, but none of the silly “filler” items that used to be part of the deal.  Well, OK, they did get sea monkeys. But there were no outlandish, big-ticket items.

Perhaps nicest of all, the kids seemed to treasure the visits with family and friends as much as, if not more than, the presents.

Now, it may just be a sign of the economic times (I did get laid off this year, though we’re still financially sound). And there have been some marital fractures in our extended family recently, which did draw us all a little bit closer.

No matter. We all saw a Christmas that was more about what we had and less about what we got. And it was great.

[2011]