guilt doesn’t have to be a holiday tradition

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!:

  • Set expectations. This is probably most important. Let your friends and family (including kids old enough to understand) you plan to do things a little different this year. Of course, be sure to share some of the highlights of the fun things you have planned instead, and let the excitement begin.
  • Get creative. Grab your local paper or go on line and see what’s going on this season. Maybe tickets to the Nutcracker (there is lots of great community theatre out there) and make a night of it. Where are the best places to see the lights? Pack some hot cocoa and bring your camera. If you belong to a church or synagogue, investigate what activities they will be offering (midnight mass isn’t always at midnight). Don’t forget your library. Chances are good there are fliers posted with music concerts, art making, and perhaps even caroling opportunities. Also many museums have free days around the holidays. Why not take advantage?
  • Get everyone involved. It’s no fun if someone does all the planning. Have a brainstorming session. Ask what they want to experience this holiday season. Make sure at least one idea from each person is included in your plans. Learning to compromise is important. Also assign age-appropriate tasks to help everything come together. Share the work of gathering information, ordering tickets, making reservations, inviting other, and so on, with the entire family so no one is overburdened.
  • Plan ahead. Sit down and mark out your plans, and make sure everyone in your family gets a copy. Remember that since you will not be shopping and running around like a crazy person, you will have time on your hands, so have fun and enjoy the simple joys of the holiday season.
  • Make a gift list Decide who you would like to give a gift and a budget.  Here are so no-to-low cost ideas:
    • 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.
  • Shop locally. Support your local artists at a holiday fair or family owned specialty shop in town.
  • Use the Internet. If you want to buy a big-ticket item or a must-have toy, do a search on Google. See who is offering the best price. Also use Google (or other search engines) to see if a particular retailer is offering free shipping or other specials. Click, click and you are done. Items can be shipped to your office to make things easier and keep from ruining the surprise. Also if you haven't discovered Etsy, the holidays would be a good time. Artists from all over the world offer amazing crafts and artwork, many at good prices.
  • Give back. Again, you should find some time opening up without all the rushing around or looking for parking at the mall. But just an FYI – soup kitchens usually have more people then they know what to do with on actual holidays, so try to pick a day when people are needed and you and yours will feel more useful. Adopting a family is a great idea if you can, or on a smaller scale most malls/bookstores/kids stores  will have trees filled with ornaments that represent a child’s wish. Also don't forgot about thanking the folks who helped make your holidays a little brighter.
  • It's okay to wish. Don’t be afraid to use wish lists. If you have generous family or friends who would like to get presents (especially for the little ones), it is perfectly fine to have a wish list. People who don’t have kids are often clueless about what to get, or afraid of getting something the child already has or in the wrong size. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily advertise it, but if they ask, why not make it easy? And of course, if you do use one, keep it current! Is your wish list current? Save yourself the hassle of returns.
  • 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.

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    17 Responses to guilt doesn’t have to be a holiday tradition

    1. Steve Betz says:

      Great post!
      I was absolutely appalled last weekend when I walked into a Home Depot and they had all their Christmas stuff out. It made me want to go bah-humbug.
      Living within your means seems to have gone out of style (and the recent crash of the sub-prime mortgage club is great evidence of people trying to squeeze every bit of "getting more" out of what they have — or don't have).
      I always try to make my gifts mean something — a reminder of shared experience between me and the giftee. It really doesn't matter how much something costs if it makes a connection with someone.

    2. HapaLove says:

      Yes, living within your means does seem to have gone out of style. I'm trying to bring it back, lol. 😉
      Last year I tried to set expectations about gift-giving, and I've learned that it can take a couple/few years to really sink in with some people. I'm sticking to my guns. Also, I really enjoy making things for people, but I'm trying not to overdo that, either. Less stress, more time with family and friends… Great post, I'm nominating for [TIG].

    3. you may like this, it's a year old, but timeless.

    4. chris says:

      I suggest you avoid Starbucks until you are ready. Last night my local one was all decked out. I know for a fact (thanks to my blog) that every year the day they roll out their holiday stuff keeps creeping up. Still I wanted to go and see the theme of their decorations this year. Couldn't help myself.And I totally agree on the gift thing. I am one of those people who if I see something and it reminds me of someone I get it. I usually can't wait to share so don't wait for a reason. Sometimes I get weird looks but overall I think little gifts like that mean more than some overpriced gift basket you picked out because you were rushing and didn't know what else to get.

    5. chris says:

      Good for you for sticking to your guns! Don't buy into the guilt (joy, comfort, love, are the true holiday traditions). I suspect these are adults you are talking about – how sad that they aren't able to respect your desire to celebrate in your way. Children I have a bit more tolerance of, mostly because any of them that watch TV are seriously programmed into big time spending. I was recently at a Staples where I overhead a mother of a little girl who couldn't have been more than 4 explain that it was okay if they didn't buy anything there. I couldn't even think of what a girl that age could really want at Staples.

    6. chris says:

      That was excellent! I'd encourage you to post it again. I think this is about the fourth or fifth time I have posted this. I update it and add to it. I think more than ever it is a message that needs to be heard. And the more options people have to work things out for themselves, the better.p.s. I just loved the posters on that site.

    7. a few more weeks… when I really start getting sick of the holidays…
      I love the posters too.

    8. MarsViolet says:

      Congrats on TIG! Good list of ways to bring more meaning into holidays rather than commerce and debt. I am a huge fan of BUY NOTHING DAY. I keep one of the posters on my fridge year 'round to remind me that happiness is not more stuff.

    9. chris says:

      Thank you most kindly!

    10. chris says:

      Thank you for the good wishes.That is a great idea about the poster. They have some pretty cool ones too.

    11. Zotta says:

      There's always the gift of time, spent together. Great post! Thanks.

    12. Dayna says:

      I am a huge fan of Buy Nothing Day too! Every year on the Friday after Turkey Day I sleeeeep in. Then I get up, eat leftovers, read the paper (I do like to look at all the ads lol) then I get SOME of the decorations out for Christmas. I set up my (fake) tree, string the lights and don't worry about the ornaments just yet. Decorating the tree is a big job that I don't like to spend a whole day on at once. I like to at just string the lights and enjoy it like that for a few days and then add a few ornaments each evening while I'm relaxing. Then I start on my cards. I have a goal of mailing my cards on Dec 1st so if T-Day is early like this year, I have a whole week to write and address a few cards a day till it's done. I love to ENJOY the day after Thanksgiving just puttering around – NOT stressing out at the mall or running from store to store for deals. I usually have about 1/4 of my shopping done by then anyway and I only give ONE thoughtful gift to each person on my list. I try to think about what they really like. If there's a gardener, I try to get something for him/her in September when the clearance sales are on. If they live to travel, I get something useful for their next trip such as a guide book or a travel journal. For the photographer, I like to give a memory card and a small album or some scrap booking supplies. And anyone who owns a small home based business appreciates new supplies like pens, paper, envelopes and labels :)I go to a Cookie Exchange with my mom's friends in Early December. Nothing fancy, but it's great to get 8 or so dozen different types of cookies to take home and package up for neighbors and service people like the bank tellers, hairdresser, the mail carrier, etc.I try hard to make December a fun and memorable month, not one that I just try to GET THROUGH!!

    13. chris says:

      Sounds like you have things under control. That sounds like a great way to spend the day after Thanksgiving. I am a big fan of leftovers too.

    14. chris says:

      I agree that it is about the gift of time. Either finding time to spend together or giving others time to themselves.

    15. chris says:

      Thanks to everyone for reading and for your comments and support. If it changes just one person's holidays, then it was worth it.

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