By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
My friend goes to a fortune-teller every December to find out her fortune for the following year. Surprisingly, her first question is about Christmas and not her future.
“Will I have a good Christmas?” she would ask.
I don’t seek predictions about my Christmas. But I do agree with my friend that having a nice December makes a world of difference for the New Year.
December is a meaningful season because I make it so. If getting Christmas gifts and attending holiday parties is all that matters to you, I am afraid you have a shallow personality. What I try hard to attain is to feel relaxed and renewed after the holidays.
It truly has little to do with gifts or being invited to fun parties.
In the past few years, I have been shopping less during the holidays despite the appealing sales. I have also skipped Black Friday shopping as long as I have lived in America. My happiness doesn’t depend on material things. As we grow as a family, we don’t follow the gift giving ritual too much. Contentment develops because we have each other during the holiday.
For people who get mad at their spouse for not getting them gifts or buying the right gift, my advice is, let it go. If I want something, I don’t drop a hint to my husband. He has bought me the wrong stuff or in the wrong color. Not getting me a gift during Christmas doesn’t mean he loves me less. However, it reduces his stress and mine if he doesn’t give me things that I don’t really want. Lately, he has become smarter by buying me tech items, such as the new iPad. The same goes for me. I hate shopping for men in general. I don’t have time to think about what to get him, so I’ve stopped trying. And he’s cool with that.
I found that I am much happier that way, and he feels less guilty for not getting me the usual woman things like clothes or jewelry. The question is, does Christmas really mean just exchanging gifts or is there a more profound meaning behind the season?
What is a priceless, thoughtful gift to your loved ones, and meaningful to both parties? It’s doing something sweet for someone you care about, which cannot be measured in dollars. It’s someone doing something that I need without being asked.
The best gifts I received from my husband this year is that he planned three trips to fit my schedule and needs. A picky and demanding traveler, he chose the right time, hotels, and flights for me, including the recent trip to Hong Kong to transfer my mom to a nursing home. I didn’t do any planning. My son who works in Hong Kong, insisted on cooking us a meal, picking us up from the hotel, and washing all the dishes afterwards. The meal was special as this is the first time he ever cooked for both his parents. He is a great cook.
As I age, I appreciate close friends doing simple things for me, rather than buying me gifts. I take pleasure in reciprocating. I am just grateful that I have the ability to do it.
Gratitude is a formula for happiness. And I practice it every day. I read once that practice doesn’t make it perfect, but it requires practice and more practice.
So here is my list of essential gifts, (which cost little to nothing) that I create during the holidays.
1. A free schedule
December is a slow time for business and news. Doing nothing is quite a luxury, slowing down is a gift. I don’t have to be on the run every day. It’s nice to have free days on my calendar.
It gives me a chance to enjoy activities that I don’t normally do in the first 11 months of the year, like going to the movies with my family or dining with friends.
2. A time for reflection
Having time to reflect is valuable for personal growth. What did I do right? What can I do better? This holiday is for soul searching. I am amazed at how much my staff and I have done together during the year.
“No, use the word ‘accomplish,’” my friend would correct me. “You have accomplished a lot during the year.”
So I just sit back and count my blessings, as well as good deeds we have done.
3. Giving back all year round
Most folks who haven’t been giving back during the year will look for charities to send money before the New Year. I don’t need to, as I support different charitable groups and scholarship programs all year round. I also volunteer on a couple of projects during the year.
So no more volunteer work in December. I just focus on rest and relaxation.
4. Singing and listening to Christmas music
Back in my Catholic high school days, students always sang Christmas carols in December. When we performed, it lifted our spirits and I literally felt the joy of the holiday.
How do you listen to carols, rock music, or classical orchestra for this festive occasion? I use YouTube on my iPad. I listen to famous orchestras from London, and all over Europe perform the most popular Christmas music. It’s a treat to hear them performed with violins, cellos, and pianos, or punk rock for O Holy Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, Carol of the Bells, Little Drummer Boy, Do You Know, A Mad Russian’s Christmas, and many more.
5. Create, create, create
Give yourself an opportunity to create. I used to create Christmas ornaments. I even asked my staff to decorate their compartment to compete in a contest. Once, I asked my staff to do a gift exchange. The winners were those who made the gift. The first-prize winner knitted a scarf for another colleague with the color she likes; the second-prize winner made a wooden sword for a male colleague and spent hours polishing it.
This year, one of our staff members, Mandy Luong, decorated the base of the Asian Weekly’s Christmas tree. We used to cover the bottom with wrapping paper. She placed all the extra ornaments at the tree’s end, and the result was beautiful.
Also this year, I designed my own pants. No, not really. I had ink marks on my pants.
To get rid of the ink, I glued plastic jewels on the pants. Instantly, I created a new pair of stylish pants. It’s fun to paint, draw, or remake things.
6. Use your heart over your head
When shopping for your friends and family, put your heart into it rather than your head. It’s not the cost of the gift the matters, it’s the thought that counts.
The element of surprise is good one. I just got a gift from my former event manager. A set of tea bags from her Taiwan trip gave me a chuckle.
“When I saw the tea gift, I thought of you because you like women of power,” she said.
The tea is decorated with all the global women leaders. She was thinking of me on her trip. How sweet. And I love the gift.
7. Prepare fantastic meals
I have friends who love to bake fancy cookies for the holidays or throw large parties.
Do so if it gives you joy. But if you feel it’s become a burden, skip it. Let someone else do it. It’s often nice to have a change. Or do a potluck. It’s more fun if your friends can chip in.
8. Have fun planning
This is also a good time to decide where you want to travel. On my list, I have Australia, Norway, Milan, and Jerusalem for 2017. How exciting! Ho ho ho, ‘tis the season to be jolly!
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.