#20: Don’t try to buy your way to a special day

It’s now the “holiday” season, which seems to encompass the entire quarter between the beginning of October through the end of the year. Costco had their Christmas trees up before Halloween  (short changing my favorite holiday, hrmph) and it seems the holiday music shows up on the radio earlier and earlier.

(We might not be practicing Christians but that doesn’t mean that we don’t celebrate the secular aspects of the season – which are truly inescapable.  And yes, we say Merry Christmas.)

While I love me some “Jingle Bell Rock”, there’s an obvious and calculated reason for the expanded holiday.  Retailers want to give us every opportunity to spend every cent of our money, wrapping the blatant consumerism up in a thin veneer of holiday cheer. The very genuine message of caring, giving and sharing of the season is conflated with greed and desire.

And it seems to have worked.

Yesterday I was standing in line at a big box retailer whose name rhymes with Smallmart,  listening to the mothers behind me talk about their kids. It went something like this:

“So what is your little brat getting?” the one mom asked the other. (I may be paraphrasing here.)

“Well, she wrote a letter to Santa and she insisted putting a stamp on the letter. So my husband stole it out of the mailbox and steamed it open after she slept, and the letter she wrote said to keep all the toys and that the only thing she wants for Christmas is a phone. She says she’s the last kid in her fourth grade class to get one and she feels left out.

“So what did you get her?”

“Oh, we got her the an iPhone X.

There are people who struggle to give their kids an idyllic holiday:  presents under a tree groaning under its weight of tinsel and ornaments, random magical creatures on various shelves and a stocking bursting with stuffers (which don’t even count as presents, apparently).  If those parents can’t afford that, they use their credit to finance the spree, spending months paying them off.  Even those that can afford it create an impossible expectation from year to year all the while some hirsute peeping-tom fat man gets all the credit.

It’s hard to blame the parents (much). We want our kids to have the best, and during your fleeting childhood we want to squeeze as many joyful memories into it as possible. I can get swept up in that urge. We are blessed to have some means, so why not?

But I think about my own experiences of Christmas. What do I remember? I can recall maybe one or two memorable presents over the years. My sense of the holiday season is a hodgepodge of sensations – the nip in the air, a warm breath steaming from my mouth, the smell of roasting chestnuts while walking down a New York street, the excitement of something FOR ME under the tree come Christmas morning. I have little memory for the “things” that were bought for me, so apparently any joy I felt from them was ephemeral.  The gift my parents gave me for Christmas was not the thing under the tree, but the constellation of experiences and the feelings left inside of me.

I’m a huge fan of traditions. But we try to emphasize the traditions that include time together as opposed the presents under the tree.  I don’t think trying to imbue significance and tradition around a holiday (or any day, for that matter) is pointless. But the legacy we leave isn’t in the things we buy but in the feelings we engender.

(Don’t worry though, I will get you that bike next Christmas.)


p.s. Let’s also not forget that there are plenty of people for whom the holiday season is a tough time – even disregarding those for whom Christmas has no appeal, secular or otherwise.  For some, it reminds them of the loss of a loved one, or a loneliness they feel. This time of year is something to be endured, not enjoyed. Be a little sensitive, okay?