Simplifying Traditions

I think it was the lull of the Christmas jazz softly lilting throughout the house that brought on the introspection. You see, I had a few minutes before the cookies were done baking, and I was suddenly struck by the peacefulness of the house.

IMG_0045[1]I found myself considering whether we had been selfish to choose a quiet Christmas celebration this year over the chaotic festivities taking place at my grandmother’s residence. But as I took a moment to savor the fact that we didn’t have to rush anywhere or drive for hours, I embraced that sense of calm that comes with making the right decision.

As an adult, I continue to struggle with the expectations that come with the holidays. I’ve never been a fan of doing something just for the sake of tradition. Traditions are important, but they need to be justified—or at least enjoyed. The holidays, as portrayed by the American media, don’t make sense to me. And as the years go by, I find myself struggling against participating in holidays that have become so focused on excess.

I want simple. I want pure. I want to focus on what’s really important: family, friends, breathing deeply, and enjoying the moment. These are what make life worth living, not stuff.

It is this sentiment that really colored my view of the holidays this year. I was determined to focus on what was important.

Hence, this year my mother and I tackled Thanksgiving together, invited the whole family, filled the house with loved ones, and it was both wonderful and exhausting. Yet, the exhaustion was completely worth it because the focus of the day was how thankful we all were to be together.

I can happily endure the chaos of a holiday focused on family, thankfulness, and sustenance. Those themes make sense to me. What I can’t seem to reconcile is the overwhelming focus on the acquisition of stuff. I say stuff because most of it we don’t need, and some of it we don’t even want. Thanks to the success of advertising and the pressure created by our capitalist, consumer culture, Christmas has become the antithesis of Thanksgiving—and I’m not even getting into the revolting tradition of Black Friday. No, instead of leisurely enjoying conversations with loved ones, Christmas with the extended family has become this tense holding pattern until the bell sounds and wrapping paper starts flying.

This is not the kind of holiday I choose to support.

Which brings us back to yesterday’s moment of reflection…

The guilt I felt over not attending Christmas at my grandmother’s was quickly replaced with a quiet joy. For on the previous evening, we celebrated with my parents and sister, and not only was “simple” our theme of choice, but somehow that requirement made the gifts more personal and thoughtful. Some were crafted, and others were purchased, but they were far from the realm of “stuff” purchased just for the sake of having something to give. And it was evident that our company, our care for one another, was the focus of the evening.

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So as I look back on yesterday’s pause of appreciation and prepare to say “good bye” to the holidays for another year, I can gladly say “good bye” and not “good riddance” because I feel like this year finally rekindled something that was lost: the beauty of simplicity.

That is the kind of Christmas I want to celebrate. That simple gathering that focuses on people and incorporates small gifts from the heart….that’s what I want to embrace and look forward to each year.

And so, as your holidays draw to a close…it is with a full heart and a quiet house that I wish you joy, peace, and simplicity.

The Introduction

The truth is I have a great deal to say about life and many questions to ask about its intricacies, which lend to a larger discussion about what makes for a fulfilling existence. Yet, I have to admit that I’ve been struggling a great deal with the introduction. How do I introduce myself without saying too much? How honest can I safely be—and believe me, honesty is very important to me.

There have been a great many debates lately about freedom of speech versus public image. And I do understand the value of both arguments. I have the freedom to speak my mind, but I have the responsibility to choose words that don’t ruin my public image…as a teacher.

Ah, “there’s the rub…” I promise I’m not a Shakespeare-crazed, Hollywood stereotype of a teacher; it just fit there.

Yes, my participation in that controversial profession makes me question and evaluate every public statement I make. I think my hesitation stems from a disturbing progression in education; as teacher accountability for test scores rises, so too does accountability in other areas of life. Much of this has to do with social media, which offers us the freedom to connect and speak out. This power of voice also publicizes us in a way that presents our personal lives for judgment.

As a grown woman, well above the drinking age, I continue to remain hesitant about posting pictures at celebrations where alcohol might show up in the frame, even though I am not friends with students, parents, or administrators on Facebook. For teachers, there is always the chance that someone’s friend’s cousin’s parent might see me holding a beer and report me to the county. This teacher folklore continues to make its rounds and unnerve even the more outspoken. That single image could very well be the end of a career because it calls into question my accountability as loco parentis (the surrogate role of parent taken on by a teacher during school hours), even though it seems a separation should exist between my personal and professional spheres.

Hopefully, you see the basis of my frustration with how much personal information to put forth if I want more freedom for honest words.

In any case, it finally took an invigorating jog with the dogs and that preemptive introduction to decide that what matters most are the ideas and not necessarily a complete biography of me—although I’m sure plenty of details to that effect will be shared at some point or another.

So, with much ado, I welcome you to an on-going discussion that explores life’s intricacies, questions the nature of a fulfilling existence, and revels in the pursuit of such a life.