How To Be Festive With Less-tive
I don’t feel very festive this year.
I’ve usually debuted holiday music and decorations by now, but this year the holidays just seem…like noise. The closest I’ve come to festive is wearing sweaters and boot socks, thanks to my default setting of “always cold”; otherwise there’s no pumpkin spice in my mug, no cutesy stockings for my rabbits, no wreaths made of bells jingling on my apartment door. Yet.
“Decking the halls” (the same ones I’ve been wandering aimlessly for nearly two years) feels complicated at best. With all the shortages—gifts, decor, and honestly our own individual energy levels—and the continued risks of the pandemic, it seems that we’re entering into another season that’s more stripped down and scaled back. I’ve been wondering, then, what the holidays look like when we must remove the products we’ve been conditioned to believe are the cornerstones of the season. How do we cultivate a festive heart in the face of less, whether we’re minimizing on purpose or not?
Feeling Festive With People
While some of us may desire those raucous holiday parties, others among us need a softer place to put the year to rest. (I know I do—I spent three days socially recovering from Friendsgiving). The good news is that there’s actually no part of the word “festive” that requires the noise. It can mean something much quieter.
This is why I’m stripping my schedule down in December, seeing and speaking to friends at my own pace. Instead of calls or cards or coffees, my intention is for every single one of my friends to end this year feeling loved and seen by me.
I’m also forgoing the gift lists and guessing this year, as I’ve done in the past, and opting to spend a day baking bread and cookies to mail to my family. Gift giving is not one of my strengths, so I’ve learned to embrace that my presents will be more about…presence. Even if it’s across state lines.
Ultimately, while we may feel pressure to give the right stuff, perhaps it’s simply “giving” that bolsters our festive spirit. What can we give this year? Our energy, our time, our listening ear? Can we give someone the gift of honesty about how we feel about them with no strings attached? An “I love you” and “thank you for everything you do for me” is a gift too, especially when we feel like we have little left to give.
If you’re still feeling the pressure of gifts, may I suggest these free DIY gifts, or experience gifts (that also make for great last minute ideas too!) You might find it helpful to ask for no gifts, or set expectations in advance of what you’re able to gift this year.
Creating A Festive Home
While I’m a sucker for sparkling decor and elaborate light displays, I recognize that everyone doesn’t have the space, time, or energy to start fresh. I’m not pushing it, either. This holiday I’m using the same old decorations I’ve always had without trying to add to or change them. It’s more predictable and feels nice to be delighted by the same baubles year after year (plus, need I even say it’s more sustainable?).
Instead of piling on new decorations, I’m filling my home with music that suits me, wearing socks that are soft, and lighting candles or diffusing oils that awaken my senses. My crockpot is coming out of hibernation, full of seasonal soups and spicy spiked cider.
Consider this your reminder that we’re not getting graded on how cheerful our homes are. Because a festive home isn’t about what’s inside of it or how it looks, but how it feels when you wake up or walk through the door. So, even little things like setting aside a chunky sweater to wear tomorrow or preparing the kettle for your morning tea can feel sweet after such a bitter year.
Embracing A Festive Heart
Finally, cultivating that festive feeling doesn’t need to be more than simply noticing our needs during this season. You do not need a boozy toast or brand new car topped with a giant ribbon; instead, marking the milestones each year has brought (joyful or solemn) can be a festivity unto itself.
Focus on what lies within the boundaries of your own skin. Connect with yourself by embracing rituals like journaling (I particularly love the idea of “noticing”), reading, or playing a musical instrument. Small moments of creation and tradition can offer you recognition when you’re not feeling seen. And if you don’t have any traditions yet, there’s still time to make some. These traditions are like little anchors that help us during drifting and turbulent years.
Don’t forget to be present in your body, too—embodiment is powerful this time of year. Stretch. Gaze out of windows. Dabble in lotions and fragrant potions, and turn on your favorite holiday playlist if you’re up to it. Ignite your senses to wake your body to the moment—whatever has happened this year has happened.
Or, perhaps, you find yourself feeling particularly lonely as the year winds down—these darker days have a tendency to fill up with longing, and that’s okay. You can find comfort and company in yourself, although it can often be difficult. When I’m feeling alone, a simple affirmation that “I am okay” or sometimes just “I am here” can soothe me like a warm blanket by a toasty fireplace.
And if you’re grieving, know that you don’t need to force celebration. Some years, celebrating the holidays means collecting your gratitudes like spare change from between the sofa cushions. Perhaps after this year, there’s nothing but stale Doritos and that sock you’ve been missing. If this is you, celebrations can look like simple acknowledgments: of another year gone by, another friendship made or mended, another facing of something difficult.
When all else fails, breathe deeply and follow in nature’s rhythms—the longer nights invite us to rest more, the cold encourages us to hold our loved ones close, the snow and storms remind us that it is okay to stay home. Nature is not producing or blossoming in winter—and we don’t have to, either. Let nature lead you through the season. Unlike us, she knows what she’s doing.
Wherever and however you celebrate, and no matter which hardships you’ve faced this year, know that if you’re having difficulty feeling festive—you are not alone. It’s okay to scale back, and to soften your expectations. For me, I think I’ll still hang the jingling wreath and untangle my Christmas lights. But more importantly this season, I want to unwrap those things that make me feel most myself and illuminate the passing of another long and difficult year.
And that, my friends, is festive enough for me.
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. Born and raised in Indiana, she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her in her colorful Los Angeles apartment journaling, caring for her rabbits, or gaming. Read more of her creative writing over on Notes To Self!