The current economic climate has brought about the perfect time to reassess what Christmas is about. I recently read this posting that I wrote almost 2 years ago. I decided that now is a good time to republish it. The following has been edited and updated for this year but the message is the same. I even fixed some misspellings, and rewrote some poorly constructed sentences. I hope this post gives you something to think about.
Christmas means different things to different people. At its core, Christmas commemorates the birth of Christ. It is a Christian holiday. I believe that unless you are devout in your celebration of this birth then you have no business celebrating Christmas. Otherwise it’s no different than celebrating Hanukkah. You may as well. You’re guaranteed eight gifts that way.
I have not forgotten the magic that Christmas can bring, but from where does that magic come. We are often more prone to charitable gifts during Christmas. So to some less fortunate child, or family, a Christmas miracle could be one toy, or one meal.
Many of us get emotional during the holidays, mostly due to the memories of our childhood. Some never had a Christmas. Some never had a happy Christmas. I”m not sure which is worse; never having one, or never having one that lives up to the hype.
A few years ago, I had my own economic downturn. Giving gifts that year wasn’t within the realm of possibility. Yes, I could have given home-made gifts. But, I would have felt inadequate and guilt that comes from NOT giving.
So I decided to take a different approach. No Christmas presents? I approached the people with whom I normally exchange gifts and told each one the truth (do people tell the truth anymore? – I’m used to it, but I find that many struggle with it). I told them I can’t afford to buy presents and I would appreciate it they didn’t buy me a present either. I can’t pretend I have the money to do it, and if I spend money on gifts, I won’t have money for Rent, or Food, or to put gas in my car. And I don’t want to feel the guilt of getting a gift when I don’t have one to give. I don’t believe that my “plan” was received very well, but I had no choice but to move forward with it.
The most important gift in the world, in my opinion, is your time. I wanted to spend time with the people I love. Laughing, relaxing, telling stories, playing cards; all of those things that we rarely have time for. Since most of my friends and family aren’t consistent church-goers, we weren’t celebrating the birth of the Messiah. No, in previous years we weren’t celebrating anything, and giving each other mounds of presents because of it.
In as little as one day after opening gifts, maybe less in some cases, most kids can’t remember who gave them what. They were already bored with the toys, and the adults usually think “thank god that’s over”. How sad is that. Such a build-up and in a flash, it’s over. Some are happy it’s over. Some are disappointed that they didn’t “get what they wanted”.
In recent years many of the people I know were ready to take down the tree and decorations by the evening of Christmas Day. And as we reflected on Christmas, we realized introspectively that we spent too much, probably went into credit card debt, and even if you got great stuff, something was missing.
After the time when I stopped giving out Christmas presents I didn’t feel that way anymore. Christmas had taken on a different meaning. As I said before, the gift of time, and laughter, I think, are such valuable commodities. What an incredible relief it would be, don’t you think, if you never had to worry about the traditional gift giving aspect of Christmas? I know people who say that they truly like the chaos of shopping for Christmas gifts. I think they are lying to themselves. I think they are trying to recreate a fantasy that is unattainable. The magic of the perfect childlike Christmas is unattainable.
To me, it’s not that gifts shouldn’t be exchanged anymore, just not gifts that come with a receipt. I have always believed that birthdays are special. That is one person’s special day and that should be the day they get all the attention and a gift or two. And I also believe in buying people things that you happen upon and give for no specific reason. I bought a family member a certain gift, just because I knew they liked it, not because it was their birthday or Christmas or any other holiday. Those, to me, are real gifts. The unexpected act of kindness. But giving wrapped gifts is NOT necessary at Christmas.
So I am asking you to participate in a new kind of gift giving for the holidays. Stay out of the stores and off the online shopping sites. Make a promise to yourself, and to those you love, to spend time with them during the Holidays. Why do we keep perpetuating the myth that a “present” equals “love”. And if you decide to spend more time with the ones you love playing cards, relaxing, enjoying food, and most of all laughing, then maybe you will begin to see what is really important. You will be able to see it because your mind will not be consumed with guilt over whether or not you spent enough money on so-and-so, and “oh I hope he likes it, I don’t think he’ll like it” or “maybe I should get her something else, or something more”. Rid yourself of that Christmas guilt and put your energy into memorable, intangible, important things.
We need to stop buying into Corporate America’s idea of Christmas; the kind of Christmas that makes Corporate America rich. They wait all year for Christmas because it makes up something like 60 or 70 percent of their profits for the year. And you wouldn’t believe how they try to get into your head, and your heart, so that they can get into your wallet. Stop the insanity.
If you believe in God, then you should know that God doesn’t keep track of the presents you give; God only cares about gifts you give that can’t be wrapped. If you don’t believe in God (nobody says you have to – I don’t) then all of this should make perfect sense to you already.
I welcome your comments.