Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Bowing out of Christmas
I know I haven't posted in a while, and I will start doing that again. Today I just want to say something about Christmas and the holidays in general. For a long time, I've wanted to make Christmas less commercial by making home made gifts and doing things for people rather than buying something. I feel that a home made gift, a photograph, a poem, scented bath salts, cookies, a scarf, etc., are more thoughtful and heart-warming than most things you can buy. I mean, if we were in the tax bracket where my husband could surprise me with the keys to a Maserati, I certainly wouldn't turn it down, but I just feel that the commercialization of Christmas has become an extraordinary burden on most of the middle class and below, especially as the prices of electronics and especially cell phones has skyrocketed. It also sets up unrealistic expectations of what people deserve and it skews their self-worth.
In the past, I've always wanted to be generous with people during the holidays, irrespective of whether they could return the favor. I really just wanted them to enjoy my generosity with no expectations of a return gift. I now know that it creates an awkwardness to the situation that cannot just be wished away if the recipient just chooses to not worry about it. This year, because my position is being reduced soon, I was not able to exchange gifts with anyone except a small something for each of my children and our holiday plans were shot.
When I put that out on social media starting around Thanksgiving, some of my friends did what I would have done. Here is some money. Buy your family Thanksgiving dinner. I understand the sentiment because I couldn't enjoy my Thanksgiving knowing that another friend could not. I've actually done this before. And here I was at the receiving end. Wow, now I know how it feels. While I wholly appreciate the gesture and sentiment, now I know why it doesn't feel....good. Not exactly. It's not that I'm not thankful, don't get me wrong! I guess it's a situation that unless the donor is anonymous, it just makes things forever awkward. Money makes things awkward in a way that even gifts do not. If you're a person that feels entitled, I assume this would not be a problem, but for most people, it is.
The same sort of thing happened for Christmas. And believe me, if I wasn't feeling very stressed about the lack of money, I might have been a stronger person and returned the gift. Wow, now that would make hard feelings, right? I mean, what is the proper etiquette to not cause hard feelings? I'm not sure there is a way to accomplish this! So, I invited people over for Christmas dinner and bought a big old turkey and all the trimmings and cooked away. It was one of the best meals I've cooked in a long time. Everything from the turkey to the stuffing to the gravy came out fabulous. You should have been there. Really. I did all that cooking and no one showed up. We were eating turkey until we started to gobble ourselves! Oh, I did spend the extra money on a good crock pot so that we can cook some soups and stews during the cold winter months, if the cold ever gets here. :) That helped me get through December, though, and now I'm carefully navigating January.
So, here is what I'm taking away from this humbling experience and walking in someone else's shoes. As our Christmas gets more commercialized, I get more and more uneasy about the holidays. I actually enjoyed not having to worry about buying gifts for everyone this year and trying to figure out what I could afford vs. their smile factor. I never liked buying people junk just to buy something. I take care to at least try to buy something perfectly suited for them. Their smile was my reward. I've also lived a hectic life with work and school and raising kids, commuting, etc., and I haven't had as much time or energy to put into making homemade gifts as I would like. I want to work towards that end. I want a simpler life. I want to be generous in spirit since I'm not in a position to be overly generous monetarily. It took me a while to come to this conclusion.
Our society has blossomed into one that is more and more dependent on expensive electronics and telephone plans. Our phones graduated Phi Beta Kappa and can now communicate with us. Our televisions are enormous and high def. Our kids don't just play video games, they get plugged into a whole society of gamers playing the same game at the same times and are able to talk to each other via headsets. But all of this costs. Our home phone used to cost around $25/month and people didn't call long distance very often. Now our family plan is more than $200/month and we can call practically anyone, anywhere and at any time. I was enticed to get a smart phone because I reasoned that I had a portable navigation device and I could load it with music like an iPod. I can also take pictures, post them immediately on Facebook or other social media or look something up on the web. Everything is at my fingertips. But, I'm locked into a 2 year plan and my job is being cut back. So, now what? I'm kind of stuck!
I also wanted to mention that I've learned something else during this situation. Once you stop giving/receiving gifts with people, some of the magic of Christmas is diminished. I will not lie. It really was not nearly as fun as it's been in the past. So now what? I think we need to work on making Christmas a more meaningful experience. If we're not going to throw money at it, we need to invest more love into it. This is what I'll try to work on for next year. Is that my resolution? I really didn't make any, but okay. Yes, that's my New Year's resolution. :)