Greenpoint: Amid big holiday rush, still room for simple and small


On Dec. 1, I turned on my car radio and heard my favorite Christmas song, “2000 Miles” by The Pretenders. It was the first time I wanted to hear a Christmas song, and I thought maybe this weekend, while my husband is away, I’ll cheer myself up by looking for a tree in the woods to bring home and decorate.

He’s gone to his Floridian homeland to check in on his brother and old friends, and to get away from the dread of winter. His winter dread doesn’t help my seasonal cheer, and my cheer doesn’t appease his winter dread, so maybe it’s best for me to decorate the tree while he’s gone.

Last year’s lonely pandemic Christmas knocked our traditions out of whack. We are hopeful that this year the kids and our usual Christmas visitors will be with us again.

Our Christmases are generally simple because we are pretty much allergic to shopping and wastefulness but still love the festiveness. We sing carols to the animals on Christmas Eve. Every year I make a wreath for the front door from the firs in the hedgerow and every year the goats eat it, sometimes before Christmas and sometimes after. It’s a tradition.

When the kids were little, we deemphasized the commercial nature of the season, with advertisers’ insistence that you have to buy a gift for everyone you know and that more spending, more getting, more ripping open packages is equivalent to more holiday cheer.

Without a television, that wasn’t hard to do. We focused on music and baking, gathering greens and berries from the woods to decorate with, bringing cookies to friends and neighbors, and reading aloud in the light of candles and the Christmas tree. Of course we exchanged gifts, and Santa filled the stockings with fruits and chocolates and the kinds of things elves can make in workshops. When we spent holidays with family, we liked to arrive a little later on Christmas Day, after the nieces and nephews had torn through their piles of presents and calmed down a bit.

Eventually the kids went to school, and we wondered how much our homey holidays would be changed as elementary teachers made writing wish lists to Santa part of the curriculum. I remember the hallway hung with first-graders’ letters, written phonetically and decorated with pictures of reindeer and elves. I liked trying to sound out their long lists of requests — specific brands of toys and full-sized ATVs, computers and televisions, but also dolls and puppies and Matchbox cars. I found my eldest’s: a request for a wind-up bird with a key, and a drawing of the same. It made me smile — plus I knew of a shop that had small, old-fashioned wind-up toys in the back.

There’s been a lot written on ways to simplify the holidays. Suggestions include putting a finite number on the amount you spend or the number of gifts you give; seeking out secondhand treasures; making your own gits; giving “experiences” instead of stuff; or consciously reducing your waste footprint in food, packaging, wrapping and driving.

Everyone has their own traditions for the holidays, but the ones I like least are stress, debt and extra trash.

Keeping things small works for us, but that’s because we do that all year long. Not everyone likes making things and shopping at thrift stores. But there are ways to keep your own traditions and stay conscious of our planet’s needs, too.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Dec. 19. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: Life and Arts


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