Why “Why” is a wonderful word which works wonders

Day 21 – A Sensitive Cynic’s Christmas Survival Guide.

We humans seem to really get hooked on traditions, rituals and ceremonies.

We just can’t seem to get enough of it all.

I guess it’s about bringing some sort of meaning and structure to our lives. Repetition is comforting isn’t it? It connects our present with our past and with our future. It’s something dependable and safe. It’s an attempt to feed the soul… to satisfy our unquenchable hunger for meaning, purpose, connection, belonging, hope.

It’s a heavy anchor of certainty in a sea of change.

Sometimes, we don’t realise when what we are doing has lost its meaning. We carry on doing the same old thing time and again. We do it that way because that’s the way it’s always been done. The tradition becomes a solid rock in a constantly changing world. The tradition may have been created in the first place to be like a protective shell – protecting and preserving something precious, or something useful.

But now it’s like an empty shell. Whatever it was protecting inside has long since disappeared.

We often create our own family rituals and traditions at Christmas don’t we? The traditional dinner, the tree, the mulled wine and mince pies, the same old Christmas songs album, the same order of events to the day.

I once heard a story about how the instructions for cooking the Christmas turkey were handed down through the generations, from daughter to daughter.  The main rule to be followed was :

 “Always cut off the end of the bird”.

Every year, for 75 years, this rule had been obediently, unquestioningly followed. That is until one day, the youngest, newly instructed daughter got curious. She contacted her great-grandmother and asked her:

“Why do we have to cut the end off of the Christmas turkey great-grandmother?”

Great-grandmother chuckled…

“Why, it’s quite simple my dear. We couldn’t fit it in our tiny oven in those days. You don’t need to do that now do you? Not with your nice big modern oven?”

All those years, and they’d been following instructions that were completely pointless, in the name of tradition. Until one person chose to say one very important word: “Why?”

My mother tells me that as a child, “why” was my favourite word, I suppose like many children. The incessant stream of “why’s” bombarded towards my poor mother was almost enough to shut her brain down entirely.

I’m 37 and I haven’t changed a bit. Well, except for the fact that I’m not usually asking my mother “why” but asking myself instead.

I question everything.

  • Why do we do that?

  • Is there a point to that?

  • How is that still relevant?

  • What are we doing that for?

It’s like I have a “bullshit detector” that sniffs out meaningless practices and outdated rules. I often end up smashing the useless empty shell of ritual that I’ve become trapped inside, and then look for a brand new one that suits better.

It’s not that I’m against rules and traditions, rituals, practices and ceremonies. I think they have their place. I’m all for structure and order and rhyme and reason.

But to have the rhyme without the reason? It’s just not logical, Captain.

Rules that are relevant and serve to benefit us? I’m a big fan of those. The ten commandments in the Bible are timeless rules which are still as relevant to my life today as they were thousands of years ago.

But rules for the sake of rules? Well, there goes my bullshit detector again. I’ve nothing against them, as long as they are a means to an end, rather than just the end…..it mustn’t spell the end of the story, the end of debate, the end of reason. Keep traditions, practices and rules where they belong, as the means, and not the meaning.

Now, if there was a trend-bucker, a tradition-breaker, a ritual buster, it was good old meek and mild Jesus. He warned the religious people of the day against getting stuck in the tradition rut, saying : “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

Jesus challenged empty religious practices, he challenged rules for the sake of rules and he exposed those who loved tradition more than they loved God and people.

The religious people around Jesus constantly criticised him for it, to the point of plotting to kill him, such was their passion for rules and tradition.

Have a read of what he had to say about unquestioning adherence to rules and traditions:

Another time, on a Sabbath day as Jesus and his disciples were walking through the fields, the disciples were breaking off heads of wheat and eating the grain. Some of the Jewish religious leaders said to Jesus, “They shouldn’t be doing that! It’s against our laws to work by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.” But Jesus replied, “Didn’t you ever hear about the time King David and his companions were hungry, and he went into the house of God…..and they ate the special bread only priests were allowed to eat? That was against the law too. But the Sabbath was made to benefit man, and not man to benefit the Sabbath”.

Then as if to prove his point, he went and healed a man’s deformed hand right in front of them, on the Sabbath – the day of rest! How could he?!

One word of warning though, before you go and declare – “Scrap the Christmas dinner, the crackers and the presents – it’s all pointless!” We can be in danger of scrapping tradition for the sake of it too. Sometimes, in the name of “non-conformism” we can get so obsessed with not being tied to a ritual or routine that we go out of our way to smash it unnecessarily. “Not conforming” becomes the goal, rather than part of the process of asking “why?“.

Just remember that right at the very kernel of the shell is supposed to be love.

Does Aunty Joan always have to have Christmas dinner at 1pm and watch the Queen’s speech at 3, but Aunty Pat wants to eat at 12 and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” instead, and everyone else just wants to eat at 2pm and then go down the pub? Well then, we have a problem. I don’t know the solution, but I do know that we have to lovingly consider preferences and the importance of rituals to others around us.

Sometimes, adhering to a tradition is simply this – it’s an act of love. It’s saying “this is important to you, and so it’s important to me”. But if preferences within the family conflict, it’s important to be lovingly open to compromise and communication. More about that in the next few days….

Thought for the day:

After Jesus’s death and resurrection, there were many practices that were no longer necessary. Many of the old rituals had been put in place there because of the huge rift between man and God. No-one but the High Priest could go into the “inner sanctuary” in the temple, the most Holy place, and be in the presence of God, because of that rather old fashioned word – “sin”. How could fallen, imperfect man approach a Holy God? There had to be all manner of animal sacrifices and rituals to observe before coming into this most Holy of places.

But when Jesus died on the cross, we are told that “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”

This was a new era.

Jesus had basically opened the way for man to connect openly with God. He’d volunteered himself to be the once-for-all-time sacrifice, on the cross, to deal with that rift between God and mankind.

This means that we have no need to go via a high priest to get to God. We have no need to observe rituals and practices which were only meant to be there before Jesus came and sorted it all out. He came so that we could have freedom and life, not be slaves to outdated rituals. Jesus is the new “High Priest” – the way through to the presence of God.

We can read in the bible that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”

He said he was the “way to the Father”, the “truth” and the “life”. He said:

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Hmmm, you can understand why a few people might have got a little tetchy hearing him make such bold claims about himself. Many people still do. But ultimately, either we say he was right, or we say he was wrong…. there isn’t really an opportunity to sit on the fence on that one and just call him “good”.

My point is, that Jesus came and ushered in a whole new era. He wanted people to leave behind their old “slaves to the law” ways, and to embrace the freedom he offered.

He wasn’t saying “do what you like”, he was saying “get to the heart of why those rules are there. Think about it, and let love be your guide”. We are given the following rule of thumb as our yardstick:

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

 Listen to what Jesus said about the futility of hanging onto useless rituals of the past:

 “No-one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” 

 I can’t help but feel that too many of us still hold onto things which belong in the past. All too often, the baby in the manger gets boxed in and swaddled too tightly to be able to be the wild, living, breathing force of change in our lives he was born to be.

Task for today:

At Christmas, I want, more than anything, to celebrate the freedom that the birth of Jesus brings to me. I want to do that by observing traditions that express that freedom, rather than ones which confine it.

Today, I’m going to ask myself two hard but much needed questions about the plans I have for celebrating Christmas:

 “Why?”

 and

“Where is the love?”

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Bible references:

Mark 7.8

Mark 2

Mark 3

Matt 9.16-17

Hebrews 4:15-16

John 10.8-10

John 14.6

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Green cravings and crazy carolling in queues

Tomorrow (day 21) was meant to be a repeat of last Sunday (day 14). However, I’m switching it today because I’m feeling really in need of some good nutritious food, and the task was all about making time to feed myself properly.

You can read the post on preparing for a healthy Christmas here:

https://mannaofspeaking.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/eat-your-greens-drink-your-water-and-be-healthy-enough-to-be-merry/

Also, I’m unexpectedly out without much phone battery. It’s my Christmas Survival Guide and I can change it if I want to.

I have just enough battery to tell you that yesterday I was so busy focussing on getting some final gifts made and posted that I didn’t eat till 4pm. Two friends arrived to go acappella carol singing around town and I literally chucked a boiled egg and soldiers down my neck and dashed out with my parcels to post.

We sang in the hairdressers, the butchers (well I sang outside the door avoiding the smell…I am a sensitive vegetarian after all), we sang while walking into the bookshop and were offered oranges and pastries in return. We sang outside the chip shop along with some young girls out singing for charity. We sang outside the fruit and veg shop, and we sang on the high street.

We queued in the post office with parcels to post last minute, and did a sort of mini flash mob to calm stressed staff and parcel posters.

We knocked the door of a friend of one of the singers who I had never met before and they invited us in to sing to them around their kitchen table, with my husband and children trailing behind us. They made us so welcome, and were genuinely moved by the random act of kindness we had sprung on them.

We didn’t do it for charity, we just did it because we wanted to. And it was more fun than I could ever have imagined. People smiled, took pictures, and just looked so happy to share a bit of musical joy with us.

Is this, I wonder, a taste of the infamous “Christmas Spirit?”

In a time of rush rush rush, and depressing news and pictures of fights in the shops on Black Friday, this was heart warming, and told of the unquenchable thirst we all have for sharing, for joy and for community.

I will treasure those memories for a long time.

So today, I’m feeling a little in need of an injection of green energy. I made myself a salad for lunch, rather than rushing some quick snack. It felt really good.

So, now that my presents are posted, and today’s blog is posted, I can get in the kitchen when I get home and recharge those worn down batteries (my phone battery too). I want to be ready for the week of festivities – not to mention a crazy burst of cleaning and tidying – that lies ahead.

Grated Expectations

Yesterday’s post was all about delegation. And so I delegated today’s post to my other half, as if to test myself out on how well I could let go

Honestly though, by the time I’d reworked and edited his work, I could have done it myself, seriously.

Ok, no, just kidding you.

Or am I?

Day 19 – A Sensitive Cynic’s Christmas Survival Guide.

Guest post by Jason Excell

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Unrealistic expectation is an old enemy of mine and one that I know all too well, so when my wife asked me if I’d like to contribute to her Christmas Survival Guide, I knew the perfect topic to go with.

I expect she knew that would happen 😉

Picture the scene:

I leave the office for the day, feeling happy and just a tad smug because I love my job and I’m exceptionally good at it, I find it extraordinarily interesting and it pays well to boot.

The short bike ride home allows me to enjoy the sensation of using my toned muscles and gives me a chance to reflect on the fact that I pretty much have all the answers and that my life is lovely and wholesome and neat.

After putting away my bike in the spacious shed resting on my neatly trimmed, bright green lawn, I walk into my perfect little house to be greeted by my happy children (taking a break from their homework) and spy my gorgeous wife sitting at the table waiting for me to join her for dinner.

That idyllic existence is not my life (with a couple of exceptions – my wife is gorgeous [why thank you – Ed.], my children are mostly happy and I do own a bike), but rather it is the existence that I expected to have when I was a child looking ahead into adulthood. Some of that was just me and what I thought being a grown up was like, some of it was Hollywood and its perfectly-crafted happy ending. And part of it was believing the masks of faultless joy that we all tend to wear outside of our own four walls. Whatever the cause though the point is that my expectations were way off the mark, they were unrealistic, ill conceived and doomed to failure.

I’m not saying you can’t achieve your childhood dreams – though I was sure that when I grew up I would be a wrestler, a boxer or a writer and I’m too old for two of those now – but lets be honest, there’s nobody out there who has all the answers. In fact, far from having all the answers I find that I actually just have more questions, though with age comes perspective and the ability to find it amusing – “hey, I know nothing!”

Expectations that can never be met then – that’s something that I struggled with immensely for most of my life, until a couple of years ago actually. It boiled down to this; in approaching a situation, an occasion or an event, I would have a picture in my mind of how it would go (usually without a blemish) and of course it would never work out that way – the sulking that would follow my unmet expectations (yes I was a sulker) was the stuff of legend.

A good example for you is marriage – as we grow up, books and films often imprint upon us the script of wonderful, effortless, joy filled marital bliss, but when reality bites you find out that marriage is really hard work that requires dedication, compromise, self-sacrifice and whole shed load of grace. I firmly believe that Hollywood (and a few other spinners of yarns) has a huge red hand in our society’s rocketing divorce rates, but that’s a blog for another post…(seriously, don’t get me started!)

Okay, so I expect you’re wondering what this all has to do with a Christmas survival guide. Well, to my mind, there aren’t many occasions that we approach with such high (and let’s be honest, unrealistic) expectations more than Christmas right?

I mean think about it – we gather our (frequently extended) family together in one room (disaster recipe if ever there was one) and expect everyone to get on beautifully.

We expect (and feel expected) to be able to produce a meal of Hagrid-sized proportions covering at least 3 courses all of which must be prepared to perfection and is to be served at the exact right temperature, on a table set with posh tablecloths, beautiful decorations and festive napkins (shaped like swans to make people say “ahhh”) along with the stunning silver cutlery that someone in said extended family bought and sees the light of day but once a year.

We expect to give wonderful and thoughtful presents and we expect to receive the same in return.

We expect our children to open a pile of presents, be stuffed full of sugar, be bombarded with excitement and yet behave wonderfully, always minding their manners and being grateful for the socks and pants that somebody wrapped in such an exciting way.

We expect

We expect

We expect

See a theme emerging here?

Why is that? What is it about Christmas Day that it has become such a high bar of Little House on the Prairie-esque faultlessness? The honest answer is that I don’t have an answer (bet you didn’t expect that!) But I do know that down that path lies misery. If you allow your mind to paint with vivid colours of perfection on the canvas of expectation then you will probably find yourself  feeling a bit let down come Christmas evening….feeling a bit flat, a bit empty at the whole anti-climatic day that you had built up so much. Honestly, read through that list of expectations again real quick – it sounds to me like a pressure cooker of stress and time squeezed madness that would crack even the Brady Bunch.

Reality check – there is no such thing as the perfect Christmas (despite what Hollywood tries to sell you!) There I said it! And I say that because other than Jesus, there is no such thing as a perfect person. We don’t live in a perfect world – life is messy, people are flawed, mistakes happen, wires get crossed.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not pointing you down the path of pessimism here, not asking you to hop on the cynical cycle –  that’s the other extreme and when I mentioned winning the battle a couple of years ago, it wasn’t by becoming a realist. Like I said, people will mess up, life isn’t perfect, things don’t always go to plan, but in all of that, there can still be an abundance of joy and happiness – just not if you’re expecting perfection from perfect people in a perfect world.

 So, I expect you’re wondering – How then is it possible????

Well, for me the key was my relationship with God. By spending time with Jesus in prayer and in His word, the bible; He showed me not only the problems with the expectations that I had of others and of myself, but also how to respond when my expectations are not met.

Unrealistic expectations of yourself or of others has a tendency to result in anger, resentment and unhappiness (said in a Yoda voice that was – “hmmm”). This is because expectations are often centred around something we need, or think we need. We all have needs and it is important to us that those needs are met. But the problem lies in expecting a need to be met by the wrong person, situation or thing.

Let’s imagine, for example, a man who lost his mother as a young boy. He may look for that mothering need to be met by his girlfriend or wife in later life. Clearly, this is an expectation that she can never meet. Were she to try, they would end up with a a very unhealthy relationship.

Then there are some needs that we have that only God can meet – plain and simple – and if you project those needs on anyone or anything other than God, that will always be doomed to failure. I believe that we are all created to have a relationship with our creator, which makes that a very key need that only God is able to meet. Sadly though, many try to get that need met by a spouse, hobbies, alcohol, or “insert word here“.

So the first key thing is to look at the need/s that sit behind the expectation and for those needs to be met in the right way and by the right person – I started to look at my expectations and ask myself if they were centred around a need – and if so, was that a fair expectation of that person?

You’d be surprised at how many weren’t fair at all.

The second key thing to look at is realism. I know somebody who has an expectation of themselves to be able to do something the first time they attempt it and if that fails (and for obvious reasons it usually does) they won’t bother trying again. You don’t need me to tell you that that clearly qualifies as an unrealistic expectation, but what makes me sad about that is….. imagine all the things they might be exceptional at if they just tempered their expectations with some reality (and seasoned it with a sprinkling of grace).

Where does that come from? Why is that bar so high? In their case I don’t know, but as I mentioned earlier Hollywood has a  lot to answer for as far as my expectations used to be. So take a look at your expectations – are they fair? Are they realistic? If somebody had the same expectation of you as you have of them would you be okay with that, could you meet it?

Thirdly what do you hang on those expectations of yours? As I’ve said I used to be a sulker – if my expectations were not met that would literally ruin my day or my relationship – I must have been a nightmare!

The bible tells us of a Messiah, a promised saviour who would come and lead God’s people. The Jews expected that saviour to arrive as a king, probably on a gold-embossed chariot and wielding a hefty sword with which to smite their enemies. Their expectations of what their saviour would be were so engrained and dependent, that when God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ (the Messiah) they could not accept it and… well, you know the story.

How reliant on your expectations being met is your happiness, peace and joy? As for me now – I’m working at being like the apostle Paul, and finding contentment in all things because my most essential need (that relationship with God) is being met.

Finally – cut yourself (and everyone else) some slack! God really impressed upon me a couple of years ago the amazing depth and completeness of His grace and forgiveness. If God had expectations of me, believe me I would fail them, time and time and time again, but right there, even when I fail, He loves me and forgives me for it all.

As I’ve absorbed that, reflected and meditated upon it, as I’ve really let it sink in, it has had the effect of not only making me better at forgiving myself, but made me better at forgiving others too (often for doing nothing wrong except not living up to my expectations!)

Believe me when I tell you that there is tremendous peace in that, there’s immense freedom and I’m a nicer person too (bonus!) Try it – you won’t be disappointed.

So then, back to Christmas – let’s condense it down into a mince pie of meaning (sorry). If your hopes for Christmas Day are around the perfect presents, the awesome dinner, the harmonious family gathering….well, the chances are; you’re heading for festive flatness, friend. Approach it however with your needs in the right places and with the right people, with your expectations firmly centred in what is realistic, with your happiness not dependent on everything being perfect and with a heart to forgive when they aren’t, then you just might get the Christmas you expect.

Thought for the day

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.”
― Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

Task for the day:

Hmmm, I get to set my wife a task? Nice! Well, here it is:

Revisit your “Blue Skies Christmas” that you were tasked with on Day 1. Have a look at each thing you wrote down and run each one through a checklist of Need, Realism and Dependency. Make sure you’re still happy with what you went with and that you can approach the day with an air of expectancy that’s grounded in reality.

 Also –

Complete the jobs that I normally do while you’re typing away like Jessica Fletcher….

Delegation is a beautiful thing

‘Tis the season to be jolly brilliant at…

shopping

baking

partying

hosting

feasting

crafting

home-making

looking deliciously enticing in a Christmas jumper

amongst other things.

Sounds like a recipe for burnout to me. And I’m not talking about the Christmas cake. I prefer this one…

‘Tis the season to be jolly good at:

Delegation.

Oh, that is a beautiful, scrumptious word. Isn’t it just? It’s also a loaded word. Why? Because wrapped up in that word is a whole load of letting go. It requires a massive shedding of the skin of pride and self-importance. It’s about losing the approval of others and letting go of that need to be admired for what one can do. It’s loaded with fear. Fear of letting go of control. Fear that it won’t get done to my standard, my expectations. Fear that someone else might get the praise instead of me. Fear that someone else might do it better than me. There’s a whole world of loss wrapped up in that one word.

That’s why they call it the art of delegation. Because it’s bloody hard. But if you can do it, you will discover a whole world of GAIN. Jesus taught an awful lot about the topsy turvy-ness of loss for gain and gain for loss.

Thought and task for today:

You know, Christmas is a great time to practise the art of delegation. So I will be asking for help in the kitchen, accepting offers of “bringing dessert” and allowing others to do things their way, even if it’s not quite how I like them. It’s all about compromising for the greater good. The greater good might start with “just avoiding burnout”. But delegation is so freeing. It frees me of pride, of people-pleasing, of perfectionism and of trying to be a domestic goddess. In short, it trades the art of making Christmas “the me show” for a beautiful sense of team work, community and togetherness. And it’s good for our souls to let go of control.  If someone else wants to be a show off and is clearly fishing for praise for their pavlova, then fine, I will indulge them, and squeal with delight at every single spoonful.

It’s like that as a musician too. Often I will want to do a song “my way”, but ultimately, when you’re working properly as a group, the song has to be an amalgamation of compromise; a jumble of my ideas and someone else’s ideas. So it doesn’t turn out how I would have done it alone, but it becomes something greater, through the process of letting go, and somehow, my “losses” become gains.

So, my task for today is to ask my husband to write tomorrow’s blog post for “A Sensitive Cynic’s Christmas Survival Guide”. It can be on whatever he wants it to be, as long as it’s got a Christmas thread running through it. I’m letting go of control. I might just go one step further and let him do the Christmas food shop alone. On second thoughts….

Bringing gifts from ajar…

 Day 17 – A Sensitive Cynic’s Christmas Survival Guide.

So, my task on Friday was to spend a few days getting all my presents sorted, and then to write a blog about it. Of course, I knew that would take me more than a few days, so Day 16’s “step” was a blank sheet of paper.

The “Thought for the day” was, er, blank, and the task for the day was also (surprisingly) blank. Blank as blank can be.

By strange coincidence, I had rather a blank day yesterday. My mind was blank, my new post page about my gift ideas was also, you know, blank.

I needed that. Needed a blank day. Don’t we all? I still haven’t got all my gifts wrapped up, but I have finished writing my ideas up to share. I don’t need all of them, so I’ll probably save some for another year. I’m guessing most of you will have all your gifts wrapped up by now, I mean it is only 8 days till Christmas! But even so, the ideas can always wait till next Christmas….

Oh yeah, before you read on, just need to give you a SPOILER ALERT! If you are in any way expecting a gift from me this year, probably best not to read this post. You wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises would you? Or worse, read my ideas and think – she’d better not be giving me that.

Firstly, and I don’t mean this to sound smug in any way, but we got most of our kids’ presents in October and November. This is because toy shopping is my nemesis and I am motivated to get organised early because of fear. Fear of toys. Fear of shops. Fear of prices going up (which they do, I’ve noticed after about the middle of November).

So, yeah, toys. I won’t bore you with my moaning. All I will say is, “they were so much better in the good old days”. There, I said it. So many toys these days don’t require imagination, they fall apart easily, they are cheap and nasty and…. oh, sorry, yeah, that soap box was just asking to be stood on. I’ll just get down now…..

So, to manage my “issues”, we have a very rigorous procedure which has been refined over the years. It works very well. Here it is:

  • Kids go through the catalogue with my husband (who still hasn’t lost his childlike excitement for toys).

  • He types up wish list items on a spreadsheet, with prices and links to items on the website.

  • The kids number them in order of preference

  • We both independently look at the links and at reviews.

  • We both type independent verdicts (hidden from each other) along the lines of “yes”, “no”, and “maybe”, with some extra information if needed, such as:

    -“What the heck is that?”

    -“Yes, as long as I get to use the nerf gun on it every time it makes a noise (Furby Boom).”

    – “It’s me or him, there’s no room for two dinosaurs in this house (six foot inflatable T-Rex)”.

Oh, what fun we do have….

Then, we see how the yes’s and maybes look against the budget and reserve for collection at the store/order online. Job’s a goodun. Except when they change their minds completely in their Santa letters a month later. Yeah, that always happens without fail. Every frickin’ year.

Most normal people do not buy their kid’s presents like this. But we are not a normal family. We are a family with one geek who loves toys and shopping, and one shop-hating, toy-phobic miser. So it works well for us.

So that’s the kids sorted. But what about everyone else? Well, I came up with a sort of theme this year. It all started when I went to the school Christmas Fayre. Children are tasked with bringing in a “jolly jar”. We basically have to fill an empty jar with fun little items like sweets, small toys etc to be raffled off. Kids love them, well, as long as they don’t get a really rubbish one – there’s always the odd one of those.

So I thought to myself “Aha! I will make jolly jars for everyone! And for those who live far away, I will make jolly bags! (Ok,so “Jolly Bags” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so smoothly, but still…)

Now, I love jars. I’m literally obsessed with them. I’m like a jar squirrel. I hide them everywhere and forget where I put them, much to the frustration of my husband. So he won’t be too jolly if he receives a jar. He can have a bag instead.

What to fill the jars with? Oh the possibilities! They are literally endless! Here is my favourite one, which is what I’ll be giving a lot of this year :

Spa in a Jar 

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…..Filled with an assortment of home-made or bought creams, bath stuff, herbal tea bags, body brush, essential oils etc. I’ve been busy experimenting with a new kitchen activity: making my own body products as gifts. It’s been so much fun, and way better than fighting my way through the shops. But if you’re out of time, shop-bought body products would work nicely too.photo (56)

Here are some of the things I made to go into it:

Hard lotion bars (in homemade wax paper bags) – Made with Shea butter, bees wax and olive oil, and coconut oil infused with chamomile and calendular and lavender.

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Soothing balm (Coconut oil, beeswax, lavender oil, Vitamin E oil)

Lavender bath soak (Epsom salts, pink Himalayan rock salt, coconut oil, rose petals).

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Bath “tea” in home-sewn muslin bags (which my children helped sew). Two different ones made with oatmeal, sunflower seeds and lavender buds, and also epsom salts, rose petals and chamomile flowers.

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 Two other really great ideas I haven’t tried yet are – “Ginger and coconut oil sugar body scrub” and “How to make 100 natural body care gifts in an hour”.

I had a few other Jolly Jar ideas:

  • Jar for the car – Fill it with handy journey items – Some money and loose change. First aid, snacks (with a long shelf-life), cloths, nappy sacks (handy to put rubbish in), small bottle of mineral water, pen and paper, kids’ colouring book and crayons, mini travel games/cards.

  • Hairy Jar – Containing hair things accessories, bought or home-made. Clips, bands, pins, headbands, hair ruffles.

  • Chocolate Jar – Need I say more? Ah yes, but to make it more creative, I would make my own RAW chocolate for them (much healthier) and also include instructions and ingredients for them to make their own, plus optional silicone moulds.

  • Man Jar  – (Actually, Man Bag sounds so much better than Man Jar. So you could make him a lovely masculine bag (blue of course.) Ok so I’m not a fan of “genderizing” items, but if you’re stuck for something to give a man, this is just a thought… Mini packs of lego, travel toiletries, shoe laces (tied around the top) a torch, pocketknife, socks, bookmark, matches, oh and a tea towel 😉

Just to clarify, I (a girl) would love to receive a “Man Jar”, bar the Lego. Not because I don’t like Lego, but because I can’t follow building instructions. And obviously I would LOVE the jar itself. (Mmmm, more jars….) By the way, I found Ikea to be a great place for Jars. And cheap too. Being in Ikea was like being in jar heaven. (Other Jar sellers are available…just saying).

So I was saying that I made bags right? Well, did I mention that I haven’t really ever got the hang of the sewing machine, or even really done that much sewing before? Well, my boys love sewing so I decided I had better start learning. I *really* struggle to visualise written and verbal (and even pictured) instructions – I mean, it’s a real problem. So I needed a bit of help from the other half (you know, the one who has two people’s share of instruction-following skills), but I am so happy to say that I’ve managed to make bags and hair bands…without tears and tantrums (Ok, that last bit was a slight tinkering with the truth, alright?)

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I also made a toddler “bag of discovery” out of cute material with trains on it and inside I put –

  • small toys

  • A kaleidoscope

  • A cute sensory play box full of trinkets like shells, marbles, buttons, shiny things (With a note to say: NB: Small parts – Strictly to be played with alongside a responsible adult!!!)

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  • Homemade sensory playdough – with rose petals and lavender buds, glitter and lavender oil, wrapped first in wax paper and then shiny material which they can play with.

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For children, we filled a loo roll (yes, the ultimate Blue Peter item) with the following: A homemade bookmark, some dried fruit, some marbles and a headband (for the girls). Then pushed in the loo roll ends and tied with a bow:

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The teachers will also get a jar. Teachers must be able to find a million uses for a jar! Inside they will get some of the toddler playdough, AKA “Stressbusting doughball”. They can sniff and squish the lavendery dough every time my child drives them nuts. Everybody wins. They’ll also get some post-it notes, a book mark (tied round the top) and some of the above body care products.

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So after all that, I’m feeling pretty shattered, but a lot better than if I’d set foot inside the shops. Kitchen and sewing based tantrums are a little more private than Black Friday based ones….

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