Holiday Musings

I officially broke the seal on Christmas last Friday and purchased the first holiday gift of the season. I didn’t really mean to, but this particular item struck me as something Bubba and the girls would get a huge kick out of. So I got it and brought it home. It is sitting in my underwear drawer, buried beneath a pile of boot socks and in order to diminish the paranoia that someone will find it, I suppose later today I’ll go dig out the wrapping paper and ribbons and Christmas labels and camouflage it for real.

And once the holiday wrap is out, it’s all over. I will begin accumulating gifts and wrapping them as they show up on my doorstep (I do 99% of my gift-buying online – I hate shopping except for groceries and love that I can click a few buttons and have things show up on the porch for days afterward).
I have favorite sites for books, weird stocking stuffers, and lovely gifts for friends. Before kids, I loved to browse through craft stores and small, independent clothing or book stores, selecting just the right gift for everyone on my list. Inevitably, I would over-purchase, forgetting that I had Gift A at home in the closet for Susan and buy Gift B for her because it struck me as the perfect thing. As our family grew, both with our children and our siblings’ children, Bubba and I realized that the expense was getting out of control. Not to mention the fact that our kids (and everyone else’s) had one of everything and didn’t need a dang thing.
A few years ago, we agreed (through much angst and negotiation) to draw names for the adults in the family on both sides and just buy for the children. In doing so, I also made my plea for minimal gifts for the kids. A science kit or craft kit, perhaps. Maybe one article of clothing and a nice book instead of an entire outfit and a series of books. Outings are nice – tickets to a play or an IOU for a pedicure with Grandma don’t clutter up the closet and are fun to look forward to. I was cast as the Grinch in some instances.
It’s not that I don’t want my kids to have a lovely holiday. It’s that I don’t think they need stuff to make it lovely. And I know that Bubba’s parents and mine waited a long time for grandchildren and they see it as their Universe-given right to spoil them, but I think we’re sending the wrong message. Here we are three days before Thanksgiving and instead of seeing messages about gratitude and communities coming together, the media is trumpeting Black Friday Sales and economic forecasts for the holiday season. I love giving gifts as much as the next person, but I seem to be the one in the family who keeps trying to come up with ways to minimize the consumerism every year.
Eve had to do a project for school this week that highlighted a cultural difference between a South American country and the U.S. She chose to interview a family friend from Argentina about the way they celebrate holidays. In the beginning, it was fun to think about the fact that Christmas happens in the middle of summer for them and she had to remind herself that Argentineans have no reason to celebrate Thanksgiving. As the interview went on, however, it became clear that the differences run deeper than that. Leandro spoke about the importance of family gatherings on Christmas, New Year’s and Easter and the way that they are centered around togetherness and food. Yes, the Easter Bunny has made it’s way to South America, but thus far, he plays a fairly minimal part in their celebration of the holiday itself. It reminded me of my childhood Christmases as we traveled to Southern California to be with my mother’s family. My mom’s parents and her four siblings lived in Santa Barbara and there were four cousins for the four of us kids to play with. I don’t honestly remember how they managed gift-giving. I do recall my mom sewing matching dresses for the girl cousins one year, but other than that, I have no clue whether she and her siblings exchanged gifts or not. For me, the memories revolve around going to the beach and playing hide-and-seek in my Aunt Barb’s huge house. The gifts were those moments spent with my cousins.
So while Bubba and I continue to seek out ways to connect with our families over the upcoming holidays, I struggle to find ways to divert my girls’ attention from the fanfare of gift-giving (or, to be honest, gift-getting) in favor of those spontaneous moments that are generally more rewarding in the long run. I’m not sure what they are yet, but here’s hoping we can continue to emphasize the less tangible aspects of the holiday.
6 replies
  1. Dee Ready
    Dee Ready says:

    Dear Kari,
    I know how hard cutting back on the gifts can be in a family. I have no children or husband and so it's my brother's family of wife and four children who entice me into buy! buy! buy!

    One Christmas I realized, as you have, that in the midst of a plethora of gifts, the children and the adult, too, sometimes forgot exactly what this feast celebrated: the birth of a child to impoverished parents and the promise of peace among all people.

    So that year, instead of buying "stuff," I donated to an organization that gave livestock to people in the "Third World" so that they could earn some much-needed money and set up their own business. I thought this was a grand and glorious way to celebrate the feast of light and grace and peace.

    My family thought otherwise. The next year, they asked me to give them "real" gifts. I thought I had, but everything in life seems to be enfolded in definition.

    Now, however, all of them are older. The adults no longer give gifts to one another. It is the young children–grandchildren and great-grandchildren who gets the books that I so want to share with them.


  2. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    You sound a lot like me — loving the holidays and the gifts and all that stuff — but simultaneously turned off by the rampant commercialism. It started for me today, too, with a visit to Cost Plus that left me exhausted.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Before I moved to the US I had never heard of a wish list – for birthday or Christmas! Relatives gave us what they could afford, ann only if they were present during our celebration, otherwise no need to worry. Then I saw how things were here, and I have to admit I didn't like all the consumerism.
    Nowadays (about twelve years later), I guess the economy back where I used to live improved a lot. Because of all the clues I get from relatives and friends back there, consumerism is also getting pretty big there, which are not good news. But what I see here in the US is that people are at elast willing to share with less fortunate people from around the world, and that alone shows a bit of progress.
    I guess we have to feed on these baby steps to keep motivated and spread the word!

  4. Deb Shucka
    Deb Shucka says:

    I've always been sad that Thanksgiving gets such short shrift because it's the holiday that has the most heart. I think if we were able to focus more on what Christmas really means somehow, it might help. I know, knowing the mom you are, that you'll be able to teach your girls the deeper meanings of this time of year.

  5. graceonline
    graceonline says:

    My grandchildren have so much stuff that gifts are quickly lost in the piles of toys and books. They need nothing, so gifting them is always difficult. I often use the money to buy organic clothing, because it's so pricey their moms and dads can't afford it, and in doing so, I'm assuring that the organic cotton industry continues to grow and fewer farmers in India and elsewhere must die from pesticide use.

    Our 3-year-old granddaughter is old enough to begin to understand gifting and toys, so I'm thinking about taking her to pick out a toy for a child who might not have much of a Christmas this year. Almost everywhere we go, there are bins asking for toys and food.

    Thank you for another thoughtful piece.


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