Some thoughts on the Holidays
*DAD AND RACHEL, DO NOT READ, AS IT CONTAINS SPOILER GIFT IDEAS*
We celebrate a non-religious Christmas (and I, the occasional dark grey sheep of the family, celebrate Hanukkah). We are a family of adult children (I’m the oldest of four), so giant gifts under the tree aren’t a huge part of our Christmas anymore. This isn’t to say that we don’t exchange gifts, but every year the gift routine evolves. Here’s kind of where it is now:
- My three brothers and I (and now our soon-sister-in-law-to-be!) pool our money to buy one awesome gift for our folks. In the past, this meant kitchen appliance replacement- that toaster oven that burned anybody who touched the top of it is long gone, and replaced with a better one, courtesy of the offspring. In recent years, we look ahead to their calendar in March: Our parents work at a boarding school, and they usually go somewhere awesome for spring break. We find out where they’re going, research an excellent restaurant, and buy them a gift certificate to a fancy-pants place.
- Said brothers-and-sis and I also all make a donation to Homefront NJ, our grandmother’s favorite charity, because she says that she is blessed with plenty, and doesn’t want any more things (LOVE her).
- I’m always stumped on what to get my grandfather, who also has everything he could ever want. This year I’m going to write him a letter telling him all the ways in which I’m proud of him, and how he has positively shaped my life with his love and generosity.
- My brothers and I have a yearly GIFT TRUCE: We agree not to stress about Christmas or birthday gifts for each other all year. Instead, when we can, we all go out for a sibling meal/outing twice a year, since we all live in different states now. It’s wonderful to prioritize our time together without the pressure of gifts.
- I have a Gift Truce with most friends, but every year I like to give something to my besties, Holly and Adam. This is usually food-related as well.
- With all other friends, it’s straight up quality time. “Let’s go walk our dogs after the New Year.” “Come over for a jigsaw puzzle and wine.” That sort of thing. No money spent.
Parents, grandparents, brothers-and-sis, best friends. I try to keep it so simple with gift giving. I find that the best way to do this is to set expectations with everyone in my life that I’m not a gift giving person, and that they should not buy anything for me. I think folks are happy to oblige. Every year my parents’ gift to me is a round trip flight from Kansas to New Jersey, so that we can be together for Christmas. This is a kick ass gift if you think about it.
I try to eliminate all of the elements of the holidays that induce stress for me: Decorating (why decorate when I can enjoy others’ hard work? :)), Gift giving, card sending (this excludes thank you notes, which are a must, unless you are a bum), Christmas pop music, and shopping of any kind.
I aim to keep the good things:
- Driving around to look at gaudy house displays.
- Making latkes, as a nod to my Joots (Jewish roots).
- Listening to my own curated Christmas tunes: The Nutcracker, Sufjan Stevens, Vince Guaraldi Trio, Ella Fitzgerald and South Park’s Mr. Hankey Christmas album (Hiiiiiiidey ho).
- Relishing my Christmas morning bagel with smoked salmon and a squeeze of lemon. (#Jew)
- Aunt Kate’s family Christmas party (cousins!!!!).
- Lighting a fire and watching our favorites… White Christmas, Home Alone, Love Actually, A Christmas Story.
- Listening to David Sedaris’s “Holidays On Ice” for laughs, and “The Snowman” by Raymond Briggs for weeps (ugh. ugh. I’m getting verklempt just writing about it).
And now for some random and rambling thoughts on the Holidays
I’ve also been thinking lately… Why do parents make the best Christmas gifts from Santa, and not themselves? Why not take the credit? In fact, why continue the Santa story at all? I think it’s weird to lie to your kid. Not that I think it’s a mean spirited lie, but I just remember how disappointed I felt when I learned that all of those heartfelt letters that I had written to Santa with the intention of my parents never finding them actually got read by my mom and dad. Or, fine, if you need to go with the Santa story, can’t Santa give modest, base-line presents that every other parent can afford, so that it looks like Santa is an equal opportunist? Then if you want to give a big ticket present, you can do it! From you!
Those lawn signs have started popping up again. You know the ones. Keep Christ in Christmas. At first I was annoyed by those signs, because I felt like they were saying “Christians only!” but now I realize that they’re saying “Don’t make it about the gifts”. And now I’m genuinely curious to know if there’s a correlation between how religious a family is and how modest the Christmas gifts are. Somebody should take a poll! But I never trust polls anyway, because as soon as a statistic is given on the news, I think bitterly, “Hey… I was never polled! And my friends didn’t mention getting polled either… So who are these people getting polled and coming up with these answers?”
Gifts that bring us together (experiences) is the goal. Not to give stuff. Stuff gets dusty, it takes up space, and people grow bored of it. Stuff distracts us from each other. And if you must get stuff, go to a thrift store like Savers and get some second-hand toys. It won’t make you a bad parent. It will make you an environmentally responsible one.
Remember that wanting comes from dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction is the aim of advertisements: “I’m not enough until I look like that, or drive that car”. So turn off the TV. Or pay for the kind that lets you watch, commercial-free. Not that I never want things, but not owning a TV helps me to feel more content with what I have. If less advertisement exposure is the resolution for 2018, think of how much less you and your family will feel like you want next Christmas.
And now for some AWESOME gift ideas that don’t require decluttering in 6 months!
- Gift a night of babysitting so that your friends/family can go out on a date.
- Skills! I sometimes gift organizing hours to deserving friends.
- Flights (again, thanks Dad & Rachel! Even though you were not supposed to read this post!)
- Charity gifts! What’s your favorite cause?
- Why-I-Love-You and How-You-Have-Changed-My-Life letters, especially to grandparents, who often have everything they need already.
- “Let’s go to the dog park next Tuesday and catch up while our fur babies play!”
- “Let’s go to Dean & Deluca and get really fancy hot chocolate and enjoy it right there!”
- “Let’s go take this cooking class!/Get our toes done/See that movie!”
- “Let’s not only go to the Weird Al concert in April, but upgrade to VIP tickets so that we can MEET HIM AFTER!!!!!!!”
The economy will not crumble if we buy less stuff. It will evolve.