What happened when our family created a new holiday (hint: you might want to try the same)

“Let’s make a new holiday,” my older son said one night while we were finishing up with a bath.

“What kind of holiday?” I asked. I was skeptical. Between birthdays and anniversaries, hallmark holidays and days-off-school holidays, candy-laden holidays and gift-giving holidays, our calendar is already pretty saturated with celebrations. Frankly, after a while, they all seem to blend into a blur of sugar-glazed parties to cover up all the inherent stress and chores, unrealistic expectations and shortcomings.

“We’ll draw names and exchange small gifts with each other, spend time together doing something fun,” my son suggested. “And then just continue on with our normal day.”

I stared at him. “Huh?”

“Just small little gifts…like maybe a book or something?”

I stared at him some more. He dried off, put on his pajamas, and wroteGiving Day in big letters on the calendar.

Over the next few days, we talked about what Giving Day would look like. We would draw names and give a small gift, either inexpensive or handmade. We would do something together as family. And we would volunteer or give to someone outside of the family. Giving Day would be about giving, not about getting. As an aspiring minimalist, the last thing I want is more “stuff” in the house, much less another chore on our already-too-long list of obligations. And I desperately wanted to prevent Giving Day from turning into a Buy-Me-Something Day.

Our first Giving Day was about six months ago, and true to form, not once has our new holiday gone according to plan. In fact, in many ways, Giving Day has been a comedy of errors. There were loud grumbles and fights when the boys delivered their homemade cookies to the neighbors in the rain. Our plans to volunteer as a family were derailed when our water heater broke and my husband had to stay home to wait for the plumber. My younger son cried when his brother’s hand-drawn picture wasn’t what he hoped it would be. And when we tried to pay for someone’s meal anonymously, the restaurant blew our cover and the whole thing was more than a little awkward.

In the past few months, Giving Day has slipped off its monthly place on the calendar and become more of a whenever-we-get-our-act-together holiday. It seems that I’m not only failing at the compulsory holidays anymore; now I’m failing at our own made-up holidays too.

In an odd way, however, our Giving Day debacles and snafus seem rather fitting and appropriate. Like most holidays, the reality of Giving Day rarely lives up to the idea of it, but in many ways it represents everything I want to teach my children about holidays, generosity, and family.

Giving Day is flawed, messy, and imperfect. We bump elbows and get on each other’s nerves, but for a day, we show up, bring our whole selves, and spend time together. We fall short of our expectations, but we try again next time. We give awkwardly, but enthusiastically and with a full heart. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are about?

A lawyer-turned-writer, Christine is the author of Open Boxes: the gifts of living a full and connected life. She writes at www.christineorgan.com and you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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