'Tis the season--and it has been since October The 12 days of Christmas have overflowed into three months, unleashing the holiday spirit and its attendant commercial blitz well before Halloween. Whether one celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or something else, those who haven't composed laundry lists of gifts and begun to deck the halls by November are considered downright Scroogish.
Bah, humbug, says Cori Pursell, 45, a mother of two from Overland Park, Kans. For the past six years, she and her husband have made a concerted effort to rein in the holiday hoopla. "Rather than focus on the shopping calendar of Christmas, we're focusing on the spiritual aspect," Pursell explains. "We've decided to not even put up a tree until the third week of Advent, and we don't decorate it until the week before Christmas." Other holiday trappings have gone out the window altogether. Several years ago, the couple stopped swathing the house in knickknacks and frills. This year, they're eliminating Christmas lights. Gift purchases have also been reduced. Instead of giving presents to every last cousin and aunt, they give charitable donations in the names of a few close relatives. The Dear Santa lists made by their two sons, ages 3 and 8, are limited to three gifts each.
But the Pursells' revamped holiday celebration isn't just about taking things away. It's about adding things--meaning, closeness, spirituality. The family has gone caroling at a local nursing home and visited a soup kitchen. "What influenced my husband and me was thinking back to what we enjoyed about Christmas growing up," Pursell explains. "It was never the number or size of toys we received or how many cookies my mom baked. It was about family being together and observing the holiday. That togetherness creates the warmest, most lasting memories."
Pursell has not only recalibrated her celebration, but she also helps others do the same. Last year she started a "simplicity circle" that gets into high gear during the holiday season. A woman in her group, a Buddhist, has eliminated toys with batteries or ones made of plastic from her secular celebration in an attempt to introduce her children to simpler pleasures. Another, an environmentalist, won't give any gifts that aren't made from recycled or natural sources. Others, following Pursell's example, have cut back on the tonnage of tinsel and toys.
There are signs that Americans, in general, are looking to pare back the excesses of Decembers past. When Gallup polled 1,000 adults last year about their projected holiday spending, the average estimate was $776. Although that's not exactly a Bob Cratchit budget, it's down from an average of $857 in 1999. One in 5 people planned to spend less than they did the year before.