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Karma Christmas

Each year, these compassionate yogis create their own holiday traditions of comfort and joy.

By Alan Reder

Cecile Andrews
Living Simply

If your picture of a "simple living" holiday season is a gray blend of Scrooge and self-denial, you haven't met Cecile Andrews. "Of all the people involved in simplicity, I think I'm probably the most hedonistic," laughs Andrews, whose book Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life (HarperCollins, 1997), Seattle Times column, workshops, and on-line organizing have spawned simple living study circles all over the country. "We're supposed to be celebrating and spending time with our friends and family—and to me, that's what the holidays symbolize."

As she sees it, however, society's shop-'til-you-drop concept of Christmas undercuts joy instead of spreading it. So when the holidays come, Andrews tests alternative ideas in her own life, and then shares the best ones with her friends.

Via her workshops, writing, and Web site contributions, Andrews helps like-minded souls weather the confused feelings that arise when you make big changes in tradition-steeped times. While her study circles meet year-round, their purpose—to help members to support each other in making lifestyle changes—comes into sharp focus as the holidays approach. "People get very anguished about talking to their families and saying, 'I don't want to spend lots of money, nor do I want to have lots of stuff,' " Andrews notes. In the circles, she says, "They get support for not feeling like they're crazy or bad, because during the holidays, there's this real guilt."

For the upcoming season, Andrews expects to spread her own holiday cheer by throwing several small parties—offering throw-together fare such as sandwiches and ice cream sundaes. She plans to give singing parties, too. The concept? Gather small groups of people who can really enjoy each other, rather than throw one elaborate shindig that wears out the hosts. Gift-wise, she'll be sharing things that matter a lot and cost a little: books, subscriptions to alternative press magazines, "green" goodies such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, games that families can play together, and items purchased from local businesses and socially responsible retailers.

Despite the lighthearted tone, there's a serious subtext to all her efforts. "Simplicity is not going to go away," Andrews asserts. "We have no choice. We're not just doing this for our own lifestyle-we're doing this for the environment. Sooner or later, people will see that we just can't go on consuming as we are."

Learn more about Andrews's work at her Web site, The Simple Living Network, or at
Liz Koch
Supporting Families

Yoga teacher Liz Koch and her family do not take their comforts lightly. For 14 years now, they have brought Christmas to parents and children who lack the means to create the holiday for themselves. "I never had the intention of doing good," asserts Koch, who lives in the mountain town of Felton, California, with her husband and three children. "It was more that I was just thankful for what I have."

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