Toronto Star

Don’t stress about presents

Best family gift this year? The lack of pressure might surprise,

- Brandie Weikle Twitter: @bweikle

This is a good year to take your foot off the gas when it comes to the holiday season.

After nine months spent improvisin­g and worrying through a pandemic, it’s not the year to hold ourselves to a standard that includes Instagram-worthy holiday decor, mountains of frosted cookies and perfect gifts for everyone you know.

This period in our lives has brought so many new burdens that it would be unreasonab­le to add to these the usual set of pressures manufactur­ed through Normal Rockwelles­que holiday mythology, television advertisin­g and those neighbours with the most enormous front-lawn inflatable­s.

As it’s looking, our holiday plans will be made automatica­lly simpler by public health orders to keep festivitie­s within our own households. Without big crowds to cook for and a calendar jammed packed with too many events — some fun, some obligatory — our schedules should be far less hectic.

That’s as long as we don’t mess things up by trying to overcompen­sate for not getting to go to Grandma’s house, or for 2020’s disappoint­ments in general, by going overboard on the parts of the holiday season we can control.

“We do not have the mental capacity to carry any expectatio­ns of having the perfect holiday or anything like that,” said parenting author, educator and speaker Ann Douglas. “We should have trashed those expectatio­ns years ago, but if anybody still has any kicking around, let’s just … put them in

the cold storage for a very long time, because that’s just not possible this year.”

Her own holiday plans are limited to baking one kind of cookie, putting a small display of holiday houses on a shelf and using the black and red napkins she ordered for the table.

Now, based on what I’m hearing from parents and seeing around my neighbourh­ood — admittedly an unscientif­ic overview — some people may actually be finding happy distractio­n in going big on things like holiday decorating. After all, there’s not that much else to do and since home is where we’re spending the season, why not deck the halls?

The point is to do so only if it brings happiness, not because you think you should or because everyone in your social feeds seems to have a tree or menorah up before you. My

hope is that the genuine struggles so many of us have had this year — sickness, grief, loss of income, separation from loved ones — will help crystalliz­e just how inconseque­ntial things like holiday decor and big-ticket presents really are.

Just as some of the fortunate among us have enjoyed silver linings in having a less jammed calendar all year long, so too may we discover that, as a consequenc­e of not being able to have big gatherings, we’ll have a much more restful

holiday season.

Douglas said she can’t help thinking that she’ll see people posting on social media that they were initially pretty bummed out about the restrictio­ns but that they “ended up just playing Connect Four and having hot chocolate and it was actually really nice.”

Amy Leask, a mom and business owner from Milton, normally has a pretty full calendar this time of year between celebratin­g with family and their employees.

But there are some good things about the simpler agenda this year.

“We’re not running around as much … You don’t have to dress up and you don’t have to prepare things. You know, you’re going to be in your pyjamas for part of the day. And there’s a little bit of ease in that.”

She said while it’s sad they likely won’t be with their families for Christmas and Hanukkah, she, her husband and 10-year-old daughter, Ruby, are “rolling with it.”

“Our decisions throughout the last nine months have been based on what’s going to keep us and our family safe, and we’ll continue to do that.”

They’ve planned an online celebratio­n with their staff at work and, just as they held a virtual party for Ruby’s birthday with extended family earlier in the pandemic, they’ll likely do the same during the holiday season.

Meanwhile, they’re leaning into hands-on fun — “We’re baking; we’re doing crafts” — and stuff they can do in their car. “We’ve already been to two Christmas movies at the local drive-in theatre.”

Leask points out that for those of us who haven’t had to juggle front-line or precarious work, there’s been time in 2020 to re-evaluate priorities, including some of the ways we previously filled our kids’ ambitious extracurri­cular schedules.

“And it’ll be really interestin­g to see in future holidays. Are we going to be as crazy next year, even if we can go out and celebrate, or will we have found that we really like the extra quiet time?

“If there’s one really good thing about the last nine months, it’s that we have spent more time together as a family. The pace hasn’t been frantic. And, you know, I knew my kid pretty well before this, too, but we’ve had some amazing conversati­ons, and my husband as well.”

Now that the holidays are here, said Leask, “I’m looking forward to being able to sit together and actually talk and relate to each other. And that’s a bit of a gift in all of this.”

“If there’s one really good thing about the last nine months, it’s that we have spent more time together as a family.”



 ?? DREAMSTIME ?? Because of the pandemic, many families will be enjoying a low-key Christmas this year, spending time with their households and playing games like charades.
DREAMSTIME Because of the pandemic, many families will be enjoying a low-key Christmas this year, spending time with their households and playing games like charades.
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