My partner's family holds their family Christmas on Boxing Day, and this year we received an intriguing invitation to start a new tradition. The Rawson family had recently agreed to give a donation to charity instead of giving Christmas gifts; a few days before we were due to meet, my sister-in-law, Jo, came up with another new idea: to evolve the old tradition of exchanging boxes filled with gifts into a new tradition of sharing boxes filled with personal thoughts and insights and wishes.
Coming from a Jewish family, Christmas was never part of my childhood identity, and when I 'married into' the tradition, I was struck by many contradictions. In particular the much commented on commercialisation of Christmas. I always found it odd to hear people talking about Christmas shopping as if it was an expected duty (read: burden) – 'Have you done your Christmas shopping yet?'
There's no doubt that there are benefits to be had in spending time reflecting on other people and what they would love to receive, and there is lots of fun to be had in unpacking surprise parcels, but so often this becomes a tedious process with gifts rapidly relegated to the 'give-away' pile, even as we are falsely beaming and prettily thanking the giver... (As for the financial strains...)
So I was delighted when the family agreed to each donate to a chosen charity instead of indulging in more 'stuff', and particularly delighted when Jo's email arrived, inviting us to reflect on four things, and bring them 'in a box'.
The four things (representing the four sides of a box), were:
1) who or what has inspired me in 2011,
2) what has challenged me in 2011,
3) what I am grateful for right now, and
4) what is my heartfelt wish for 2012.
Jo also requested that we share our chosen charity.
This experience was so beautiful that I want to promote it far and wide, hence this blog post.
We all sat in a big circle after eating our yummy main course, and each person revealed their four things in turn. It was an opportunity to hear about the difficult and wonderful things, the highs and lows, in one another's lives over the last year. There were tears and laughter and applause as we listened and honoured each person's journey, and it seemed to me that we struck chords and depths that would not have occurred if we had not undertaken this sharing.
Some of these things would certainly have been communicated one-to-one in personal conversations, but to have the whole family witnessing each other's joys and pains in this way was quite profound. It was particularly special in that the process gave equal time, attention and limelight to those in the family who are shyer and less likely to speak out. Some of those who weren't able to be there had emailed their four points to be read by others, so they were more 'present' than they otherwise would have been. All in all, it was a moving and marvelous day, and a tradition that I hope is here to stay.
It's true that our family had no little children present (they live interstate), and I know how much many adults enjoy watching the littlies unwrap their gifts, but even so, this is a tradition worth introducing into any family, I feel. When people share their hearts authentically and vulnerably, as we experienced, time stops; everyone is brought into the here-and-now and a great feeling of love for each other is generated. And love is really the most priceless gift of all.