Yes, I know that recently I wrote all about holiday cards and how even in early November, time is of the essence. This post may seem contradictory, but really it isn't. This is my annual day to rant about the commercialization of the holidays. Every year it seems I post this sooner, as the line of demarcation keeps getting drawn further and further away. This year I know I saw Christmas items moving in as the end of summer sale was starting to clear the aisles. They were already playing holiday carols on the weekend Today Show (I don't know why I was watching that either). Read on and take action.
Conversations with friends have reminded me that sometimes we all need to step back and remember what we are celebrating. I suppose I should step back here for a minute and state for the record that I love Christmas. I love the decorations – from the fancy themed department store window displays to the Charlie Brown Christmas trees. I love the music – my holiday collection is huge and I know it drives some people nuts. I love the traditions – from hanging stockings to special recipes that have been handed down several generations. I even love the cards – from finding just the right one down to the stamp that goes on the front. All of these things connect us to others and remind of where we come from. What I can’t stand is the notion that you have to spend, spend, spend – because that my friends is what tears us apart.
Don’t get me wrong, for those that have more money than they could ever know what to do with, I say go for it, especially if you remember the little people along the way. But most of us, aren’t close to having those kinds of problems. I’ll say it again because it still rings true: Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice is every day that we have a roof over our heads, food on the table, and people who love us. The terrorists don’t win if you spend beyond your means and literally spend the next decade or more paying off the interest payments. When families are forced to live paycheck to paycheck so they can keep up with the Jones, no one wins. It truly is that simple.
If you sit down and get kids to open up, they really don’t want (most) a new bike or the latest video game system. Children want to spend quality time (a little one-on-one) with Mom or Dad (or both). Remember that when the urge strikes to go over your budget – think about how many late nights you will need to spend at the office to pay for it.
That doesn’t mean I am totally against the whole present thing either – I just think it should be done within the spirit of the season and your means. How many times have you received a present that a) was so not you, it wasn’t even funny, b) felt guilty because you knew the giver had spent too much, and/or c) wish they really hadn’t? True, there is something to the notion it is that thought that counts. But if you believe that, then be thoughtful this holiday season – to all parties concerned. Because, again be honest, how many times have you a) bought someone something because you felt you had to, b) had no idea what to get someone but got them something anyway, and/or c) went over budget because of these feelings of obligation and guilt? The holiday season shouldn’t be so painful. That’s not what they are about.
Fret not. Hope is not lost. Here is my updated guide to enjoying the season. It’s not too late to catch the true spirit of the holidays. In fact, there is plenty of time to turn the tides and make this the best holiday season yet!:
- Coupons. This was my Mom’s favorite and better received that you might think. Gifts of time (a day with you, baby-sitting, errand running, a week of your kid’s chores, etc.) are always appreciated. If appropriate, kisses and back rubs are nice too. Don’t forget to put expiration dates and if you like, make some redeemable for a particular time of year when you have more time/money.
- Use your talents. If you love to cook or knit or sew, the ideas are limitless. If you have a knack for music, put together a mix of your favorite songs. Did you take an amazing photo this year? Find an inexpensive frame and presto! If you have a dozen or so you love, make a calendar.
- Write a letter. Not one of those awful over-the-top-my-family-is-better-than-yours end of the year holiday updates though. Tell someone how you really feel. Let them know you care and think of them. Also what you hope for them. It is one of the simplest things to do; yet you’d be surprised how much this can mean to another. Speak from your heart and spelling and grammar won’t matter.
- De-clutter. There is nothing wrong with giving a gently used book if you think the recipient would love it. Ms. Manners and other etiquette experts all agree that there is no harm in re-gifting (as long as you don’t make the grand faux pas of giving it back to the original gift-giver). In this category you may want to add passing down a treasured heirloom or even a family recipe. Just think of the goose bumps you would get if someone presented you with grandma’s pearls or Aunt Ida’s infamous eggnog recipe.
- Donate. Give a gift to your favorite cause (or a cause the recipient believes in) in their name. Most organizations are happy to provide you with a card or letter for the recipient. Plus you may be able to earn a deduction on your taxes (no harm in that).
- Do their homework. No, don't go digging up an essay so your niece sails through English 101. Here I am thinking about someone on your list that is going on a vacation or perhaps moving to a new town. Why not put together points of interest, restaurants, and other places of note. Trust me, this could easily be the best thing they ever received.
- Draw names. If you have a big family I have heard this works great. Everyone draws a name and a limit is put on the amount spent. This would also work well in families that have seen a sudden rise in little ones – this way the adults don't feel left out.
Oh, and don’t forget Buy Nothing Day. Instead of going to the mall the Friday after Thanksgiving, resist the urge to spend any money. As the site says, for 24 hours every November we remember that no one was born to shop. There has to be something you would rather do than risk your life looking for parking at the mall.