JANUARY 6, 1997

 The Edwards Agency

Opinion

Guest Column

A true winter holiday story

Guest Column by John L. Hoff, Th.D.
Ten years ago, a dozen friends gathered after the winter holiday season to discuss how they might make their next holiday time more to their liking. These friends were from a multi-residential, multi-generational learning community called the Goodenough Community, serving the Greater Seattle area for the past 25 years (206-323-4653). They represented a variety of faiths, situations, and attitudes.
   Among them, they know that from Thanksgiving through Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwaanza, New Year's, and Epiphany was a stressful and costly period in the calendar. They also had memories of better celebrations in years gone by. They had already researched the seasonal difficulties and could document that improving the season was a worthy goal.
   They learned that materialism and consumerism were destroying the season for many folks who felt they had to keep up with the wealthy "Jones family." They discovered that prices were often raised at this time of year, that many businesses count on making 50-80 percent of their annual sales in November and December. The pressure to buy and to consume is as its peak. They knew that overspending for Christmas created after-effects of broken budgets and discouraged households.
   They'd done enough reading to know that stresses of the season made some people physically ill and others mentally so. They knew there was a dramatic increase in drinking, acting-out, domestic disputes, driving accidents, suicide, and depression. In short, their research documented what they knew from their own experience--that this is a festival of light with a very dark side.
   And so ... this group of friends began "the true holidays campaign." Their first task was to improve their own holidays that year. They did so by slowing down the pace of life, focusing on relationships, and valuing occasions where they could talk more, listen to each other's hearts, and share stories, music, and enlivening activities.
   They gave gifts they made and gifts that kept giving all year long, such as theater tickets, promises of trips, visits, and companionship. Afterward, they agreed they had indeed deepened the peace and joy of the season and lessened the stress and financial drain.
   The next year, they put out a little booklet based on their experience to help other people apply their now-proven process as a method for improving any holidays. Other friends were so appreciative they asked for more of "those holiday booklets" to give to family and friends. So they looked around for funding for their True Holidays Campaign" booklet. Fortunately, Puget Power liked their idea and printed 5,000 copies.
   For several years now, these booklets have done their work in many, many lives, some ending up across the country. There is a multitude of touching stories of how individuals, with help from family members and friends, have improved the season and restored traditions that bring relaxation and peace, conversation and joy back into relationships.
   Over time, they have come to say a little prayer inside as they hand out that little booklet: "Forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us. And help us do better this year. Amen."

John Hoff is Co-Director of the Goodenough Community.