Choose to make memories of presence, not presents

Being on the other end of the holiday season – the planning, the organizing, the endless cooking – I’m starting to understand the concept of holiday fatigue.

For Thanksgiving, when friends found out we were staying put in St. Louis rather than traveling to visit family, we had multiple offers to join in festivities. We’re blessed to be surrounded by so many friends, and it added a deeper meaning to the celebration. After the second day of festivities, however, I was worn down. In that moment, I remembered all the holiday visits and plans we had growing up. The timed visits to different houses, the car rides and looking for Santa in the night sky, the exhaustion and excitement of climbing into bed at an hour certainly past our bedtimes.

Holidays are filled with family traditions and get-togethers. But all of the behind-the-scenes action gets lost in our memories. When I think back to Thanksgivings past, I have to search in my mind to find memories of the long grocery list and early rising so that my dad could get started in the kitchen. Instead, I remember watching for a gap in the cars driving outside of our house. When that happened, we knew it was because our great-grandmother was driving and she was slow. There would be a line of cars waiting behind her. I remember the buffet-style line of food, the easy clean-up of holiday divided Styrofoam plates and playing afterwards. Perhaps it’s meant to be that way. After all, the best memories are about shared times.

And maybe that’s why, as an adult, I’ve decided that my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. There’s no fuss; just food, family, friends and laughter. I heard one of the broadcasters on the radio mention that once mid-November arrives and Thanksgiving preparations begin, it’s all holiday from there for the next month. And he was right: three in succession. When I mentioned this to a friend, she sighed deeply. With a 6-year-old daughter, it was something she knew all too well. The holiday ads with their savings were piled on countertops, school kids had already been talking about what toys they wanted, and Christmas lists were already getting started. It was, she told me, pure exhaustion.

The reason why Black Friday and Cyber Monday have resonance is because we buy into the commercialization of the Christmas holiday. Yet, I’ve begun seeing a variety of social media posts on changing our mindset about Christmas. Simplifying life has become a trend for young adults. I saw the same meme contradicting holiday ads pop up across social media posts: “Buy presents. Be present.”

Crossing out the presents emphasizes the point about memories: we don’t remember what gifts we received each year. Young adults are also realizing the heavy debts they carry around, while trying to start a family and maintain a career. In a public service announcement-style post, we’re reminded: “We don’t have to continue holiday traditions that leave us broke, overwhelmed and tired.” It’s not about the number of gifts under the tree; it’s a celebration of our Savior’s birth. The gift we receive each year is our salvation. That’s enough.

If memories are truly about the time spent together, being present is the most important element. As we forge ahead on the holiday path, it’s important to remember the choices we can make. We choose to overspend on holidays, to tire ourselves out. As we reflect on what we uphold as traditions, keep the memories we want to make in mind. Make new traditions that simplify the holidays and only stress over the ones that truly mean something.

Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at hbozantwitcher@clarionherald.org.

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