With Christmas less than 2 weeks away, I thought I’d post an excerpt from my book, Simple(ton) Living, about the subject. And just a reminder, my book’s on sale for the holidays and can be ordered here.
Keep it simple over the holidays
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
– Leonardo da Vinci
Port Albert, Ontario—The holidays can be one of the most stressful and expensive times of year. Every year my panic-prone mother would work and spend herself into a maddened frenzy as she coordinated the Christmas festivities. I will never forget one Christmas when my brother, Nicholas, and I decided to relieve some of her stress by volunteering to fetch the family Christmas tree.
Legend has it that years ago our Dad had brought home a pathetic-looking tree that made Charlie Brown’s look like something out of It’s a Wonderful Life. The tree was so miserable that Dad was forced to use his staple gun to affix additional branches to it. Nicholas and I were determined to find the perfect tree for Mom to make up for that long ago traumatic experience.
With saw in hand, we struck out into the bushes surrounding Port Albert. We trudged through the deep snow all morning, dismissing tree after tree. They all failed to meet the high standards we had set in order to please our mother. And then, hours later, like a frigid mirage, we found it.
It was a gorgeous spruce tree in the bush near the Nine Mile River, two or three kilometers from our house. Checking the tree from every angle, we agreed that this had to be the tree we brought home. Unfortunately, it looked about five feet too tall to fit into our living room. We were unwilling to let such a prize go so we decided to cut it to the necessary size.
We were confronted with a dilemma, however. The top section of the tree had a sizable hole among the branches. Not wanting Mom to relive her experiences with the Charlie Brown tree, we decided that we would lop off the top of the tree and bring home the bottom section where the branches were thick and full.
Since the tree trunk was so large it took quite a while for us to cut it down with the flimsy handsaw we had brought. When the mighty spruce finally did come down it was already mid-afternoon and we still had the long haul back home ahead of us. That haul involved dragging the tree out of the bush, across a farmer’s field, through another little bush, up the side of a steep ravine, through two more farmer’s fields, down a deep ditch, across Highway 21, and then down the gravel road to our house.
After less than a hundred meters of trying to carry the behemoth, we quickly realized we might have bitten off more than we could chew. The tree was impossibly heavy for the two of us. Another problem we faced was that the wonderfully thick and full branches we were so excited about were now poking us in the face and jabbing us in the back. When we reached the base of the ravine we both collapsed. There was no way we were going to be able to carry the tree up the embankment. I volunteered to walk home and fetch some ropes which we could use to aid our efforts.
Nicholas was happy to stand guard over our tree and I scampered up the ravine and made my way home. I returned some time later with a couple lengths of chain I hoped would aid in our efforts. Attaching them to the tree, Nicholas and I climbed to the top of the small cliff and hoisted the monster up. Owing to the steepness of the ravine wall, there was no snow covering it and by the time we got the tree up, it was thoroughly covered in mud.
Slinging a chain each over our shoulders, Nicholas and I, the brotherly beasts of burden, began the trek across the wind-blasted farmer’s fields. When we finally arrived home our backs, hands, and feet were aching. Mom and the rest of the family were away shopping, leaving Nicholas and I with the responsibility of setting up the tree before they returned.
Before we did anything however, we had to address the problem of the one side of the tree being covered in mud from dragging it up the ravine and across the fields. Using our collective genius, we filled buckets of water and doused the tree until most of the mud was removed. With that task finished, we were confronted with the problem of how we were going to fit this enormous evergreen through the back door.
Not wanting to dwell on such a monstrous problem on empty stomachs, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat first. After lunch we somehow managed to bully the tree into the house and into the living room using brute force.
With the tree now indoors we were starting to realize just how large this thing truly was. We had to cut a bit more off the top so it could stand up and we had to push most of the living room furniture to the very edges of the room to make it fit. As we grunted and groaned, attempting to maneuver the colossus, something unexpected happened.
While we had been munching away on our hard-earned dinners, the water we had used to clean off the tree had frozen. Although Mom tended to keep the thermostat close to freezing, it was, nonetheless, warmer indoors than it was outside. The ice started to melt. Before long it was pouring rain onto our carpeted living room floor. We did our best to blanket the floor with towels and garbage bags but in the end we might just as well have taken a fire hose to the place.
When mom returned from shopping she was in for quite a sight. Her soaked living room was now dominated by a huge, dripping wet Christmas tree that was virtually square because we had lopped off the tapered top. She could only stare, dumbfounded, at the monster before her. To our credit, we didn’t have to staple any branches to it.
The holidays don’t need to be as arduous as our pursuit of the perfect tree. We break our backs trying to manufacture the perfect Christmas but fail to realize that the holidays should be about quality time spent with family and friends. Instead we waste our time in crowded shopping malls spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need. In December 2004, Canadians spent an average of $804 each, spending a whopping $34.5 billion in retail stores according to Statistics Canada. There is little question that Christmas consumerism rules the day.
It’s important to remember that the dinners, the trees, the decorations and the gifts are all secondary to the chance to be with the people we love. Keeping it simple is the key to a relaxing and more meaningful holiday season. If that means not having the “perfect” tree, like the one Nicholas and I struggled so hard to get, then so be it.
Here are a few ideas on simplifying your holidays:
1) Make a no-gift pact. Make an agreement with friends and family to not exchange presents this year. Focus on what matters, like spending time with each other.
2) Christmas in July. If the consumer insanity and endless socializing associated with December has you stressing out, move your family Christmas to another month without the chaos.
3) Cut back. If you are set on exchanging gifts, consider simplifying by using newspaper to wrap them. Throw a potluck Christmas dinner instead of expecting a massive and time-consuming feast.
Funny stories. Good advice. Josh Martin is the author of the book “Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments.” Click here to learn more and to purchase a copy.