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Knitter, a confession: This is the time of year—mid-December—when I always hope to have cards sent out. Traditionally, this is also the time of year that I admit to myself holiday cards aren’t going out in time, and maybe I’d better look ahead to February and think about sending valentines instead. I’m good at giving myself permission to postpone things, even in years when “things” are “normal” and I might have been able to “predict” the need to buy stamps and send greetings.

This year I’m extending my support for postponing and abandoning traditional efforts to you and the community at large. There’s something about the winter holidays that encourages excess. Our inner maximalist encounters few natural limits. Even in a plague year, I’ve sensed the forces of biggification gathering steam for the final stretch: Finish big!, they’re saying. Tie the year up in a bow, never mind the contents! 

Must we, this year, live up to standards that were set in simpler times? Nothing has been simple this year, nothing uncontroversial. Everything was contested. Was there even one moment that we looked around and said to ourselves, “Wow, we’ve straightened up and are flying right and can now celebrate with grand gestures?” I can’t remember that moment.

So no, we need not fret about living up to standards that made sense in the ancient past, aka 2019. If we don’t want to go all out, there is still time to send our regrets to wherever these expectations come from. Hear ye, no need to:

  • go big
  • do everything perfectly
  • make up for all the hardships and sorrows of the year
  • share your fruitcake with people who will never appreciate its glory

Instead, we could say a polite No, thanks to biggification and extravagance. Maybe we take what time off we are getting this year to, I don’t know, take time off and just enjoy small things. 

If you are thinking right now, Enjoy small things!? Even small things would be a long hike north for me right now, well, I hear you and I say: If you want to just crawl to the end of the year, that’s all I’ll be doing and I’d love company.

So here it is: permission not to push hard, close the books and finish all the things so you can then pull together festive extravaganzas and everything riding on them.

If you live for the holidays and are more than ready to make merry, I applaud you and appreciate your spirit. If you need to let yourself off the hook this year, though, I cosign your hook-letting-off 100%, because it helps other people let themselves off the hook and this year, more than ever, there are people need that so badly.

If you are going small and doing new and different things to mark the end of this year, I would love to hear about them! And I wish you a very peaceful season.

IMAGE CREDIT: Bos met versierde en verlichte kerstbomen, Willem Wenckebach, 1898, Rijksmuseum. Used with permission.
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By Leuchtturm1917

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew.

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  • Thank you for the words of wisdom. It’s okay to let go and go small.

  • Your words so hit the spot this morning when there’s a pile of unwrapped presents waiting for the post (last posting day tomorrow), two projects to finish before Christmas eve, and don’t get me started on the sweater, cardigan and the experimental work on my loom! I am so grateful for your help.

  • So small! And how you wrote it! Just touched my ❤️! Besides the craziness of Covid, we sold our business of 20 years, got new jobs, sold our home of 29 years to down size, moved to a dear friends while we waited for the closing on our new downsized home and in that time, he passed away. We are just in our new home with boxes to the ceiling! My Christmas Tree is a small rosemary plant shaped like a tree, on my coffee table, with gifts around it. Some times, small, simple, is best. Guilt-free as well!
    Thanks for your support!

    • I hear you Cindy. We moved last year to be closer to our grandkids. And with packing up the old house then unpacking the new house. We had our son’s small Xmas tree he had in college with lights and the only ornaments where what our granddaughter made for us and that was perfect! And with moving to a new state and only knowing our kids and son in law parents it was a small Xmas 2019 but it was fun. It’s all in your heart!

      • 4 years ago I moved across the country in late November to be close to my grandbabies. 4 years later I have a life here that includes a knitting group, a book group, and a cycling group and I get to enjoy loving up on the grands often. So worth it. Best of luck in your new surroundings!

    • Cindy, I truly hope your holidays in your new home are warm and wonderful.

  • Yes ! A quiet holiday. Not cooking and cleaning for 24 people gifts mostly ordered on Line and not wrapped. No deadline knitting which I did decide o last year… i will take many deep breaths of contentment this year and zoom to see happy faces including mine! Wonderful words from you!

  • “Just crawl to the end of the year” is still too much for me. How about crawl under the covers and not come out till January! This is my first Christmas since 1982 without my husband and it is so joyless:(
    Everything makes me sad

    • I can understand. This is my 1st Christmas since 1957 without my husband. I didn’t want a tree but decided my grandson would be disappointed. Take care of yourself.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. Please remember that grieving takes a long time and many forms. Allow yourself all the forms that work for you.

    • Warm hugs and moral support for you. So sorry for your loss. The loss of a long time partner is especially hard. My brother passed away this year and we’re trying to make sure someone is with my 90year old mom. We can’t travel.Can you stay with family or friends so you are not alone. I talk to God when I need support. Prayers and warm hugs for you.

      • Thank you to all who replied with sympathy & support I truly appreciate your words and thoughts. I know I’m not the only one dealing with loss & grief at this time; over 300,000 (in the US alone!) families are suffering as much, if not more than I. It’s absolutely heart breaking. Let’s keep them all in our thoughts and prayers

    • I feel your pain. While I didn’t lose my parents prior to Christmas, both got ill during the holidays and then both were gone before the end of March. It’s very raw but the paiin does dull with time. Your Christmases may not be the same again but they will not be joyless forever, unless you choose them to be so.

    • I am so sorry for your loss. I’m sure everything is heartbreaking. I hope you can find a bit of joy in your memories to help get you through the holidays and all the time after that.

    • My heart is with you today.

    • My heart aches for you and I’m so sorry for your loss. Know that there are others “out here” who know your pain and sympathize deeply. You will find your own quiet ways back to joy—maybe a new, different kind of joy—eventually. You are in my thoughts.

    • I am so sorry that everything is so joyless for you. I think it is that way for many people this year. I send my sincere condolences and the hope that you find joy in small surprise places during the new year. Take care, stay well.

    • My heart goes out to you.

  • First time in 39 years my husband and I will spend Christmas without family. Cards are mailed, gifts bought and mailed, A tiny fake white tree rather than the big one. We keep adding lights to our outdoor display to bring cheer to others. At Thanksgiving I felt inadequate when I heard about a friend who cooked and delivered Thanksgiving dinner to her quarantined student 100 miles away – why didn’t I get inspired to do that. Looking for a way to make the holiday weekend special this year or at least different from any other day. #CovidSucks

    • I too am adding lights to the outdoor display. We live in a neighborhood that invites walking. I hope that sharing our holiday decorating is bringing some happiness to others, especially the children. And, I am trying to fix all the light strings properly. Inside we have spent time sorting and storing the ornament collection. I am reminding myself that i need to appreciate having the time to do all the things on my “things I will do when I have the time” list.

  • I’m buying less and staying in I’m not having any company I’m not making tons of cookies I’m cooking simple dinners I’m not going to the mall! I’m looking forward to the snow tonight! I’m praying for peace on earth and the health of our world

    • Reading this allowed me to fully exhale. Sounds perfect. I just decided I’m not baking tons of anything either— just a few mincemeat tarts because I enjoy them, not because others expect it.

  • The first Christmas was a quiet, humble event. Maybe this year is the year for a quiet, humble, and therefore more meaningful Christmas. When the cacophony is gone, the Christmas light shines all the more brightly.

    • Amen!

      • I love your words to allow ourselves to just “be”. Rather than the gym, my husband and I take walks and it’s been so nice to observe the season changes in the yards and gardens in our various neighborhoods. Now we’re bundled up and watching wreaths and lights appear, and waves from people driving by. May never go back to that gym

    • Amen! Soon the gifts from the Science Wise Men will have arrived for all of us. Meanwhile, let us remember that sunlight traveled 93 million miles to get to us, it still shines on us every day even if somedays “clouds get in the way!” May the lights of Chanaukah and Christmas shine on you and your loved ones and also upon all those who care for us.

  • Since we moved away from extended family five years ago we have been having small celebrations. And I love it! My rambunctious 5 year old grandson makes more noise than my very loud family. Since I’m still tired from two knee surgeries this summer I will be taking it a bit easy. Thanks so much for all of your newsletters; they are so inspiring.

  • Interestingly, I sent Christmas cards for the first time in YEARS. (It had been a chore I crossed off as just putting me over the edge when working full time and raising kids.) This year, it felt like a joyful act to connect with friends and family who now seem so, so far away.
    My only deadline knitting is for my two children. Everyone else gets stuff from the “Christmas closet” of knitting.
    We don’t have a fireplace, so I light lots of candles every night. I walk the dog to the sounds of British choral music. It’s my little slice of meditation every morning.
    To all who have suffered loss this year in any way, I hold you in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Yes Yes Yes. Those Christmas cards have meant more to me than any other year. Hearing from old friends and seeing pictures of their families has helped the loneliness of the past months fade a little.

    • “The Christmas closet of knitting” — *lightbulb moment* thank you!!!

  • This is nothing short of brilliant. May we all find the strength to let this holiday go instead of being sad at how diminished it will be.

  • Cards from the store went out at the beginning of the week, sans the rubber stamped sentiment: Another Christmas miracle, I sent cards. There will be a few lovely home produced cards for people who need better or were overlooked in the first cut. The big you for each grandchild was mailed in the summer months, a Lego advent calendar and their birthday and Christmas things sent in November. More clothes they will love, books they can read at this time. We Zoom With Grandma Sunday at 3 our time each week and will wear out matching Christmas jammies and read to each other, again via Zoom, Christmas Eve, from 3 different states.

    • I haven’t mailed holiday cards for years. However, this year I have begun to send electronic cards. Maybe my friends are just being nice, but they seem to like them. Has made me feel better about the holidays as we won’t be sharing it with family as we have for many years.

  • I appreciate this post very much. My Christmas present of 2020.

  • In memory of our son Chris who died in 2012, I knitted colorful and warm, wool hats for teachers who work with our daughter-in-law at a local elementary school. This project kept me going from February until after Thanksgiving. Playground duty gets cold on snowy winter days and teachers are the unsung heroes this year. I wanted to do something for them. Otherwise, my husband and I are having a very small Christmas and it’s okay.

    • That is so sweet! Yes, yard duty in winter is never fun. They will be very much appreciated. I retired a 6 months before covid hit, so thankful.

      • My two children, who are also teachers, will not be able to get home for Christmas. They live in London, England and very northern Alberta. So our holiday will be my husband, our dog and I in Ontario, Canada.

  • Gorgeous prints!

  • Thank you, I needed this!

  • Every year as Christmas nears I find myself longing for silence, for the long deep quiet of winter – all while rushing and filling it with sounds and people and events. This year I finally have an excuse to keep it simple. And it surprises me how often each day I have to talk myself down from the edge of taking on more. It is against my nature to keep it simple, and yet it’s what I yearn for. So this is the year to see what the deep stillness really feels like. Wishing for peace and hope for all.

  • Thank you for your writing and for that lovely, *lovely* image of the trees. That picture is exactly what I want at the solstice.

  • We bought a tree on December 5 and got it put up a day later. Several days passed before we put lights on it. That’s still all it has. Ornaments have just seemed too high a hill to climb this year. And what I have found is that a tree decked only with lights is a beautiful thing. It seems somehow fitting to end this year with a tree and a Christmas stripped down to their essentials – light and love and, dare we say it, hope.

  • Apparently stores are selling out of Christmas lights this year, so while we may happily choose to KISS, we can at the same time enjoy the efforts of those who are leaning in the other direction.

  • Tamales for Xmas this year. Artisan vodka, oatmeal raisin cookies, lots of books and some yarn. Maybe a phone call to ack east relatives.

  • Best “add” this year is Candletime. It’s a holiday invented by an acquaintance, and here’s how it works:
    Starting Nov 1, at the end of each workday, sit down with a candle and a beverage. That’s all. Enjoy the light, the tea/water/tequila/whatever it is, and pause everything else.
    So, it’s sort of an “add” but also sort of a “subtract.” We don’t manage every day, but many days, and it’s been a GREAT way to communicate and share and practice this togetherness with no agenda with the family.

    • Love this!

    • Lovely! I don’t usually do decorations, but I was just toying with the idea of one candle in the window every night. I’m going to start tonight! Especially since we have a snowstorm coming…

  • Beautiful drawings. We’re definitely going small this year.

  • This year, instead of a 12 foot tree I opted for a 2 1/2 foot tabletop tree with faery lights and tiny glass balls. I love it and it is perfect for 2020.

  • The private small Christmas within a private forest image touched me today. I imagine little elves running around decorating the forest floor for all the secret animal inhabitants. Go small is okay by me. Thank you

  • Thank you so very much for your words of wisdom this morning. This was so much needed for me and greatly appreciated. I pray for things to get better for all of us. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone.

  • thank you so much for this! I have been leaving the house early to be alone and write before I begin my work day. it has been so helpful to take time and reflect on the day, the season and my feelings about all of it

  • Just the ticket. Sometimes , just Getting through the day is an accomplishment THIS YEAR. Life will recover but right now it’s okay to survive and not have to thrive….

  • Fabulous forest photo with caption in my native Dutch!

  • I love you Max! This piece is perfect. If even you, who I admire for having it all sorted, hasn’t managed to send greetings cards that makes me feel so much better for my general lack of effort towards cards and decorations this year. Thanks for the let off, it’s greatly appreciated. I hope you have a relaxing holiday.

  • Oh how I love this sentiment! Thank you very much! Enjoy the season however you celebrate it!

  • Having that problem with Christmas (holiday I celebrate) cards was the usual pattern for me. This year I am writing one postcard a day for forty days, November 15 to December 24. It’s a lot easier than a card sending binge, and helps me focus each day on someone I value and want to keep in touch with.

    • This is such a great idea! Thanks for sharing it ♥️

  • I LOVE the painting. I’ve made mini loaves of different sorts of cake that I will hand deliver, and I’m mailing my siblings some cookies. That’s pretty much it. Staying home. Maybe I’ll get Chinese food from my favorite restaurant!

  • I think this year more than ever we need to send cards. It brings me joy when I receive mail, especially from a friend, relative, or even an acquaintance.

  • Beautiful artwork to match the sentiment here Max. Thank you. My small tree is in the basement and will stay there until next year. I have strung lights in my home and a few minor holiday items. I will take walks and sleep well this holiday, even as everything feels so so strange in this world.

  • Thank you for this. I really hope that Americans take “going small” to heart – small gestures that will really send a gift to everyone (including we Canadians who cannot open our border until the situation in the US is under some kind of control) are staying home, no gatherings outside your household, and wear a mask for essential shopping, etc. So easy and will make such a difference.

  • Max, this beautiful painting gave me a few moments away from work to slip into an enchanted forest. Thank you for the way you pair art with wise words.

  • thank you helped me to step away from the idea I should make tablet for all 16 houses in my street…. and to lie down this afternoon

  • Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts and encouragement. Just finished 8 nights of Hanukkah – lots of candles, lots of light shining in our front window every night. No parties, no kids, no grandchildren, no nieces and nephews. A very quiet and different celebration this year, but still a celebration in spite of Covid lock down in Toronto, Canada. May we all be alive and well to celebrate our holidays next year. Stay well, stay safe, stay strong. This, too, shall pass, and we will be together again in health and happiness.

  • Thank you for this ❤️ Simple Holiday for me one without the pressure of traveling or entertaining. I will try to get out and walk .

  • This year I kept the decorating to an absolute minimum: switched out the front door wreath; put up the tree; put out our one most treasured sentimental Christmas decor item; stockings in a basket under the tree (because I couldn’t seem to abide the “cluttered” look they would create hanging on the living room bookshelves). This minimalist approach was such a refreshing change, all done in about two hours. The house looks festive but not crowded with seasonal decor, and the small block of time to achieve it was so appreciated.

  • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and “I needed that,” the one above, sent to me by a good friend, who knits with her sister and her friends, now just the two of them, I think.

    I may sign up, but for now I’d love to send THIS email to friends to whom I did NOT send cards this year!!

    Aleta H.Robinson
    Clemson, SC

  • This year of Covid, I decided to call everyone on my Christmas card list in lieu of sending greetings. What a terrific decision as I listened to stories of isolation and
    of solace from neighbors a block away to cousins in Ireland. It reconnected us to
    the important things in life – family and friends. So far, I have talked my way through the “M”s in my address book (about two-thirds), and am looking forward
    to last page….

  • Funny that you mentioned fruitcakes. I still haven’t shipped mine.

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