Have the holidays become mostly meaningless jingles and commercial hype for you? In A SIMPLE CHRISTMAS, Sharon Hanby-Robie, QVC's resident home décor expert, offers some practical tips to help change the way we approach the holiday. "Some people spell Christmas as s-t-r-e-s-s, but these holy days are gifts from God through which we stay connected to family and friends," writes Hanby-Robie. Think of this book as a good pep talk to remind you of things you want to do for Christmas --- and the things you promised yourself you'd give up!
Hanby-Robie starts by asking the reader to identify what they value most. "It is only by choice that we can redeem Christmas," she says. By choosing to focus on what we value, we can make decisions in light of what is most important to us. Mixing personal anecdotes from her own Christmases with practical advice and ideas for reflection, Hanby-Robie keeps everything she covers in line with making Christ and family the central focus of the holidays. Sections in the book cover attitudes, traditions, ambiance and activities, and gift-giving.
In a section on traditions, she offers some good ways to figure out what is most important to us. "Think of one childhood Christmas memory that you replay in your mind," she suggests. "Does it need to become part of your celebration this year?" Or, she suggests finishing the sentence, "Christmas wouldn't be Christmas if I didn't….". These are good ways to get started figuring out what traditions are most important to us.
I appreciated her chapter on depression, especially for those who tend to suffer from it around the holidays. It's a needed discussion of why the holidays are not happy times for everyone. Her prayer --- "Father, teach me to recognize the signs of those who need reminders of Your love. I know that in lifting others I, too, will be in a higher place. Amen." --- is a good one to keep in mind during the holidays. There's also a welcome section on blended families, interfaith marriages and keeping the holidays. And what about Christmas when you are alone? There are good insights on these lesser-discussed aspects of the holiday season.
Some of her tips you'll already know, but they are worth repeating. Don't lose your sense of humor. Let go of perfection. Don't travel out of guilt. Exercise. Get enough sleep.
However, you may be surprised by some of her advice. "Just because we love each other doesn't mean that spending Christmas together is the best thing to do," she writes in one chapter. "…The mere fact that you are already dreading the family holiday gathering is a tell-tale sign that things are not going to go well." Her questions are fairly open-ended, allowing each reader to personalize the text. "Ask yourself who energizes you," she instructs the reader in one section on deciding who to spend Christmas with.
However, she acknowledges that we can't all escape dysfunctional family gatherings, and gives some good survival tips. Practice answers to questions you know you are sensitive or touchy about. Have an exit strategy in mind in case things get too heated. Put your immediate family first. I would have enjoyed seeing some more concrete examples of each of these ideas, but with a little imagination you can flesh them out yourself.
In her section on decorating, I picked up a practical tip on stringing Christmas lights on the tree: go vertically, from trunk to tree tip, rather than horizontally around the tree. Ideas on gift-giving are also particularly valuable --- from using technology to best advantage, letting go of the "I have to reciprocate" myth, to gifts of time and talent. Surprisingly, there are excellent ideas about driving without rudeness during the holiday season and being a good guest, which were welcome reminders.
I didn't find the color photo section insert with ideas for decorating particularly helpful, and the oversized format of the book, although attractive, is less portable. A few paragraphs on the value of television shopping seem a bit self-promotional, given her occupation. But these quibbles were few.
As Hanby-Robie reminds us, "Celebrating Christmas is simply a time to remember that the Babe in the manger was born only because he was sent by God the Father to fulfill a mission for us, mere mortals. However we choose to celebrate, our goal should simply be toward a mindfulness of this great miracle." This practical book will be one to which you'll refer each holiday season.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on October 1, 2006