One rant deserves another. Ok, it’s Christmas time. It’s the holiday season. And because a lot of the blogs I enjoy reading are about frugality, personal finance, etc. a lot of my blog feed is full of Anti-Christmas shopping/presents posts, some angry ones too. Adam Baker from Man vs Debt even went so far as to link to several Anti Christmas Spending posts that share his opinion in a sort of angry Anti –Presents Blog Carnival. And, while I personally feel that Christmas has been exploded into an ugly money-sucking thing, I also feel these Anti-Christmas Spending people are missing the point too. I say it again and again, in life you need balance.
A lot of these posts talk about how no one even remembers the Christmas presents they got or no one cares about the Christmas present you gave them. Excuse me? Are you mad? You might not remember actually opening that GI Joe action figure on Christmas day but I bet you have fond memories of blowing him up with your brothers and “burying” his broken body in your backyard. You might not remember the packet of Hot Wheels cars you got on Christmas in your stocking but don’t you remember racing them down the hallway? You may not remember you got the Barbie Dream House on Christmas, but don’t you remember playing dolls with your brother and decorating the little house with little handmade items or found objects? You think you got a bike on Christmas, but what you do remember are the hours you spent flying around free as a bird with the wind in your hair. Those things you got on Christmas, generally fueled a whole lot of memory-making. Why are we so quick to go from one extreme to another? I agree the spending mania is bonkers. I agree people really go nuts around Christmas for no reason at all but there are ways of doing Christmas properly.
I think about my own Christmas celebrations growing up and I remember a lot of experiences and things: I remember decorating the Christmas tree while listening to a Disney Christmas record for instance. I remember this crazy little Santa figure that rang a silver bell and walked around. I loved that guy. And hell yes I remember eagerly anticipating Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought me.
My parents were (and still are) a social worker and a teacher (my mom was a stay at home mom for a few years too). Money was not exactly growing on trees around my home. I remember Christmas, more than birthdays, was the time they “splurged” on us. And I knew kids who got more presents, shinier presents, etc. I didn’t feel any less loved or anything so ridiculous as that. My parents made sure we felt loved year round. Christmas was just the time of year we got toys.
And those traditions I remember so fondly? That tree needed to be bought, as did the decorations and lights that adorned it, and the Disney record we listened to, and the egg nog we drank, and the silly, walking, bell-ringing Santa too. Christmas always felt really totally special and awesome. And yes, things contributed to building that feeling. They didn’t create the feeling but they contributed. To ignore that is foolish.
Now, it’s my turn. I’m a mom of a seven year old, four year old, and two year old. And I’ve pretty much followed my parents’ example. I rarely, if ever, buy my children toys, games, etc. outside of birthdays or Christmas. This year, even the birthday got somewhat bumped in favor of a trip to Disney. Christmas is the year I stock them up on toys, games, books, etc. And I don’t go bananas, spending more than I can afford or anything like that. I have a budget. My grandmothers usually give me money to supplement my budget with. And you know what I think the real difference is? I really think about their gifts.
I sit and browse ads, aisles, websites for hours. Yes, the older ones made lists this year but I also listen to them year-long. I know their likes outside of whatever the flashiest ad on TV is. So I really plan out their gifts. I don’t just walk into a store and say, “Ok let’s see how much crap I can get for $300 and call it a day so I can get this over with.” My Christmas shopping tends to extend for weeks because I’m searching for very specific things in very specific price ranges.
And you know what else? I do this for my friends and family too, thank you very much. I deplore gift cards. I think they’re soulless– same as cash. I understand why my 85 year old grandmother would rather write me a check than go to a store to buy me something. She’s old. It’s exhausting. But me? I’m sorry, I don’t have any excuse.
This year, I am making many of the presents I will be giving. But there are some presents I will also be buying. And for both, the ones I give and buy, I really try and put thought into them. I think of what the intended recipient needs at this point in their life, what they like, what they would love to get themselves but never would, what would look good on them, etc. Even the presents I make require the Mighty Dollar’s participation. I’m not just making presents to make something and get it out of the way. I’m making things I really think the Intended Recipient will like, need, and/or want. If I don’t have the right materials for it, I buy them instead of just making things with what I have to get it out of the way.
You want to know how to fix Christmas? It’s not about not buying things, it’s about putting thought into what you buy. I think donations to charities are very nice and appropriate—for some people. But to say I’m giving charitable donations to everyone in my family because I’m anti-consumerism and anti-stuff is not taking my recipients into consideration! It’s a reflection of what I would appreciate as a gift. Even if I took the extra step to consider an appropriate charity for them, it’s still not entirely taking the recipient into account. Does the recipient actually need something? Is there something they really want? You want to donate to charity, donate to charity—on your dime, on your time. I think that’s just a pass too and it’s not right. You’re just getting yourself off the hook because you’re “doing something good for the world instead of greasing the consumerism machine”. Please.
My point is this: no matter how anti-stuff you want to be, how anti-consumerist you aim to be—that’s not the point of Christmas either. Christmas isn’t a time for you to take advantage and spread your message, forcing it on your loved ones. What is it about then?
The bonds that bind. Friends and family. Coming together and, yes, presenting them with a token– that shows your affection and understanding of them. That doesn’t ever automatically equal a dollar amount—that’s just another easy route out. It’s not about, “I love you so much, I spent x dollars on you!” The guy that walks into the Louis Vuitton store and asks for the newest, most expensive bag is just as guilty as not taking the time to understand his wife’s true needs and wants as the person who brushes a gift off by buying a Best Buy gift card for x dollars, or making a donation to a charity in someone else’s name for x dollars.
The problem is not spending, it’s spending blindly, hurriedly, with the goal to get x number of gifts under the tree by such and such date so you don’t feel bad. The problem is not gift-giving, it’s careless and thoughtless gift-giving. These things are most decidedly not meant for the intended recipient, they’re just guilt-soothers. I have gotten a lot of truly wonderful gifts at Christmas time—gifts I’ve truly wanted, cherished, and appreciated. Gifts that show the person has been paying attention to me, has taken an interest in me. Gifts that show those conversations we have are actually registering in their brains, not running in and out of their ears.
If you really pay attention to your loved ones, I can guarantee you will absolutely think of something that will be cherished by them—at any price range. That’s the right thing to do at Christmas. Be thoughtful. Be patient. Be creative. Gift-giving, too, is an art. Just because it’s been tarnished by so much treacherous marketing doesn’t make it something to simply cast aside.
I think of the Japanese when I think of gift-giving, who incorporate it into daily life. They have intense rituals surrounding the subject which you can find more info on here but the best advice I can give the Anti-Stuff crowd for Christmas comes from them: “Choose perishable/edible gifts. In general don’t buy things such as ornaments, vases, and kitchenware; it’s already assumed that everyone has these things. To do so may imply that you don’t approve of the other person’s taste. Also, most Japanese houses are very small and don’t have extra space for useless junk.”
By the way, they also put a lot of time and thought into the presentation of the gift. If you think about it, this makes sense. It can enrich the experience of receiving the gift and is something they do not have to keep as it is either disposable or something purposeful (a small purse, bag, etc.). So shake off the bah-humbugness out there and spread some holiday cheer, after all there’s more than one way to fight a Consumerist Christmas.