I hated Christmas.
No traumatic events caused this feeling, and I actually DO enjoy spending time with my family.
But, you see, I started working in retail when I was 16 and every Christmas season for the next 15 years slowly but surely sucked all the Christmas spirit right out of me.
Unfortunately, folks don't hide their holiday stress from retail workers like they do from their families. No, when confronted with the overwhelming array of meaningless - but mandatory - gifts, some folks get down right nasty... and all to the festive harmony of Muszak's "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Over and over again.
And for me too, it really was the present buying that caused much of my personal anxiety. I couldn't skirt the gift-giving traditions within my family, and I didn't really want too. I wanted to celebrate the season with my loved ones and show them how much I thought of them, but I didn't want to do that by purchasing a bunch of meaningless stuff.
The perfectionist inside of me was going crazy trying to find the right present for every person on my list.
For my first attempt to quash my gift-giving anxiety, I vowed to start shopping early. While it was nice to get all my shopping done before the hordes really hit the shops, it seemed to only extend my feeling of dread. My stress over finding the perfect gift was activated during October, a month I had previously found delightful and full of beautiful outdoor fun.
The next year I tried making charitable donations in honor of everyone on my gift list. While this was certainly a helpful way to spend money, it made Christmas celebrations with my family a bit glum. The donations to the animal shelter brought tears of sadness remembering beloved pets recently lost, and the donations to Southern Poverty Law brought conversations on the terrible state of many of our fellow West Virginians.
I needed a gift giving strategy that was fun for me to execute AND meaningful - but not depressing - to my loved ones.
Was it possible to actually experience joy while shopping for gifts that would be appreciated by my friends and family?
I was instantly filled with excitement when the idea finally came to me; I would curate an art show for my friends and family! Each piece of art I purchased would be chosen because it reminded me of a special person in my life and on my list. All the works would be displayed together in one exhibit that my loved ones could visit before accepting their gift right off the gallery wall.
Art has always been a passion of mine, and finding a way to incorporate local art into my Christmas celebration seemed like a win for me, my loved ones and local artists.
Shawn, my creative husband, and I got busy brainstorming a name for our upcoming art show. We quickly realized that our friends and family were each so unique that it was impossible to group them all into one theme.
The name for our show finally came to us in the form of a weather forecast: Snowflakes.
Each snowflake is similar to the others, one could even say they were related somehow, but each one with its own quirky uniqueness. So we called our art show “Snowflakes."
We set the date for our opening reception and chose a local community center as the venue.
And then the fun began! For the next six weeks, we procured the artwork. We visited craft shows and local galleries like Tamarack, Art Emporium and Apartment Earth where we found many great prints and a few originals, and when there was something very special we wanted represented in the artwork, we commissioned work from local artists.
I commissioned a drawing for my mother of her pet Pomeranian, Prancer, dancing in a pink tutu. The artist, Brenda Pinnell, entitled it, "Hold Me Closer Tiny Prancer." Shawn found a print from artist, Paula Clendenin, that she had originally created on an ipad. We purchased it for my tech-savvy cousin, Sam to put in his first apartment. For my nature loving father, who was soon to be a grandpa, we purchased three beautiful photos of baby birds. And the fun continued.
After we carefully hung the art on the walls and labeled each piece, our friends and family started showing up for the opening reception, which was complete with wine and hors d'oeuvres.
The joy I experienced while curating "Snowflakes" paled in comparison to joy that came at the actual show.
It was easy to tell from the looks on friends and family's faces that they where enjoying the experience. Reading the art labels told them why we selected each piece for each person, and everyone left with their own meaningful gift.
I believe it made them feel special and loved, which is exactly what I wanted for Christmas.
Are you interested in curating your own holiday art show? It can be done on almost any budget. Get your helpful buyer's guide and art label examples by signing up for my email list.
Next month I'll be writing about planning for a hygge-rific winter. Sign up for my emails to stay in the loop.
Amy McLaughlin, your personal retreat co-curator at Lafayette Flats Retreats. Find me on Instagram posting about self-care, wellness and mushrooms. Yep, mushrooms.