How Readers Break The Rules At Christmas

By Sunday, December 9, 2012 6 0

Diamond-Cut Life is about more joy and less stuff. It’s written by a mostly joyful person (me) who feeds her happiness by Breaking The Rulesputting people, nature and God ahead of buying more stuff. That’s a fairly subversive thing to do and promote these days. It breaks the culture’s unspoken rules that we’ve got to consume a whole lot to be happy.

This diamond-cut path of subversive simplicity is very fun. But it takes some strategizing and skill-building, especially at Christmas. It takes putting our heads together.  

After I posted How To Break The Rules At Christmas, Alice promptly commented that a few years ago she started breaking the rule of serving a big Christmas dinner, and “hasn’t looked back”. The reason was that her family had been nibbling treats all day, and hadn’t been hungry by the time she served an expensive prime rib dinner with all the trimmings. So, since the snacking wasn’t going to stop, Alice decided Christmas dinner would be salad, sandwiches and a soup that had simmered in the crock-pot all day while she relaxed. “Everyone seems to love it. I love it, and I save a lot of time and money in the kitchen”.

Tess, a happy introvert who is single, wrote that she longs to break the rule of sociability at Christmas. “I invite relatives round, then resent the invasion and long for peace and quiet!” She reflected it might be passive-aggressive of her not to speak up to her relatives  (I had warned people against passive aggression) but added cheerfully that “the odds of any family member of mine reading this comment are very remote.” Tess said her ideal Christmas is “Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, then a long, slow day full of delicious nibbles, DVDs and books. Gorgeous. That’s what I’m aiming for next year!”

Barbara commented: “I love that you are encouraging us to identify our values, then go about the hard work of living them. I’d add just two caveats. First, avoid being judgmental of others who aren’t ready to shake things up just yet. Remember, those are YOUR values you’re living out and everyone else gets to have their own set of values, whether they choose to examine them or not. You may have committed to a vegetarian diet years ago, but your mother may still equate that golden brown turkey with all the trimmings with showing her love and nurturing her family., be kind to yourself if you don’t always succeed at living out your values. Maybe, after 3 years as a vegetarian, a heaping pile of mashed potatoes drowning in your mom’s turkey gravy speaks comfort to you in a way you can’t pass up. Or, maybe you’ve decided not to give presents this year, then spot the most perfect thing ever for your sister, and give in.”

Juliet wrote that many people “aren’t prepared to compromise at Christmas, or see that it can be special in different ways to different people”. In that vein, I’d note that while most people don’t want to work on Christmas day, others feel better when they do work. For example, Tim, employed as both a minister and a nurse, wrote, “Christmas days when I am working, I feel closer to Christ. Not being with my patients or parishoners [on Christmas] leaves me kind of sad. The challenge for me is to somehow find Christ while not serving others – and that is something with which I still struggle.” 

I replied to Tim (I reply to most DCL comments within 1-2 days) that I envy his dilemma. I am strong on self-care, and my prayers are typically to become a more consistent giver to others. My most memorable Christmas was in ’88 when I volunteered at a Catholic Worker house, serving brunch to low-income folks. The tradition I’ve been cultivating for nine years now is throwing an annual Christmas open house party; in fact, this year’s event starts in six hours. It’s grown to where we hire a person to supervise and play with the children who come. However, my house doesn’t put up (or own) any Christmas decorations. We don’t feel any need for them. Festivity for us means people. Interacting.  

Colleen, who plans to adopt siblings from Uganda next year, commented, “throwing out or keeping a tradition depends on who you’re celebrating with. For an all-adult Christmas, a ‘no gifts’ policy is great” She went on to note that children are different, and that gift-giving can be a “tangible expression of God’s love, and thus understandable for children. This doesn’t mean excess. And it all comes secondary to celebrating the birth of Christ”.

I agree with Barbara that our new rules that break the old rules sometimes need to be broken, themselves. At Christmas 2001, I was single, and made a decision to not date anyone in 2002. Dating was always distacting, and I needed to focus on work, writing and debt repayment. Not dating was a great decision, the most productive possible rule, at least for me. 2002 went swimmingly: I found a good new job with medical benefits, started getting  my writing steadily published, and paid off my old grad-school loan in full.

Then, in late October 2002, I went to a workshop on renewable energy at Portland’s Ecotrust building that was led by this smart, warm, interesting guy named Thor Hinckley. We exchanged email addresses and he promptly invited me to lunch. I threw my no-dating rule out the window and, like Alice with her simplified Christmas dinner, never looked back.

Thor and I are celebrating ten years of marriage this April. Sometimes rule-breaking can be the most joyful possible path.


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  • Joyce
    December 10, 2012

    In our family of 7 siblings, Christmas was spent with every one of them..and their children and spousesat my sister’s house (downstairs bathroom for my mom with ALS). When Mom died, my sister decided to scale the food portion back to snacks (vs a full course meal). We siblings were fine with it but it was our children who were upset. Even though they were teens, they didn’t fully grasp all that their parents went through to put on that huge feast. They eventually got used to the idea but the first 2 years were difficult for them. They will understand some day.

    • Alison Wiley
      December 10, 2012

      Joyce, good story. I often reflect on how easy it is to feel entitled to what turn out to be luxuries (like huge meals instead of modest ones). Entitlement would actually be a good topic for a future post. Thanks for writing in.

  • LeRainDrop
    December 9, 2012

    Loved this post! Thanks, everyone, for sharing your great ideas. I really liked Barbara’s comment, “First, avoid being judgmental of others who aren’t ready to shake things up just yet. Remember, those are YOUR values you’re living out and everyone else gets to have their own set of values, whether they choose to examine them or not.”

    • Alison Wiley
      December 10, 2012

      I admit I have a hard time with folks who don’t examine their values at all :)

  • craftygreenpoet
    December 9, 2012

    Yes, we always need to know when to break our own rules!

    • Alison Wiley
      December 10, 2012

      — Yes, a skill called ‘discernment’ in some circles . . . a skill I’m always working to build.