I do have lots of happy Christmas memories. Lefse eating contests, drives to look at lights around town, the songs, the parties, the ideas of peace, love and good will toward others. The movies can be fun – whether one of the timeless variations of “A Christmas Carol,” the classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” or more recent fare such as “Family Man.”
But not the presents.
I hate Christmas presents.
Oh sure, as a kid it was fun to have the anticipation – though usually the anticipation was greater than the actuality. Indeed, three or four days after Christmas the presents were already old, and the cool toys didn’t seem to work like they did on the TV commercials. But my real dislike of presents came about when I was nearing adulthood.
Some of it comes from my own inadequacies. I put off buying presents until the last minute and my wrapping skills are atrocious. Once when my son was six I wrapped a present for him to take to a birthday party. Apparently the mom there was so impressed she said, “Oh, I see you wrapped this yourself!” No, he’d not have created the mess that dad did!
I hate shopping at Christmas. I hate the feeling I have to buy something. Not because I don’t want to buy something for others, but that I don’t want it to be blah, substandard and not really wanted. I want to find the perfect gift, the right one. So I wander through stores, get increasingly dissatisfied with what is available, resent the marketing and end up buying something I could have just grabbed five minutes into the whole debacle. I first noticed this back in college. I had scoured stores for days trying to find something good for my mom and dad. Finally, on Christmas eve only the liquor store remained open so I got my dad a bottle of scotch and my mom a bottle of vodka. At least it was something I knew they’d use!
I know my choices of what to buy others don’t reflect what they really want (or if it does, it’s only because I got a list and was less buying a gift than doing someone’s shopping).
I’m not just being bah-humbug. I actually LOVE the spirit of Christmas. Giving is a grand thing – if done from the heart in a way that helps those in need. But when it’s part of a grand dance of buying and giving gifts out of a sense of duty (kids expect it, you might insult loved ones if you drop it) it seems more a subsidy to corporate consumerism than any true nod at Christmas spirit.
Oh I know – some people have the superhuman strength to rise above such pettiness. Some will overlook how lame a gift is because they really feel loved and heartened that someone thought enough to buy them anything. Others give very thoughtful gifts – my ex-wife was good at that for all 16 years we were together. But most of us simply get substandard stuff, give substandard stuff, and then pay bills as the leaders of Walmart, Target and corporate America sigh thankfully as Christmas season saves their profit margins once again.
What if we just said “enough of this consumer oriented materialist anti-Christmas spirit bullshit!” No presents this year. OK, my kids would stage a revolt and I’d end up being tossed outside naked in the snow (they’re getting big enough to do that), so I would have to give them something. But what if in general we decided that Christmas is about ideas like love, faith, imagination, good will to all, peace and forgiveness? That’s something all people, Christian or not, should be able to get behind.
What if we came together with friends not to exchange consumer products but just to be together? And if a gift is to be shared, have it be something self-made and personal, given not for its monetary value or use, but as a thought? What if the money wasted on gifts that people don’t really want were given instead to charity, maybe helping feed the world, clothe the poor, or allow local organizations like, say, the Children’s Task Force, helping local children who are otherwise lucky to get a meal for Christmas?
So am I a bah-humbug scrooge? If so, it’s only to the extent that consumer excess obscures the real meaning of Christmas. Only to the extent that our rush to buy gifts, get the Black Friday deals and dash out mass produced Christmas cards (I don’t do those anymore either, by the way) drive me crazy.
What if we focused on what matters?
I can hear the bankers and merchants saying, “that’s exactly what we are doing – focusing on the bottom line, that’s what matters!” No, that’s what is wrong! Let’s all – Christian and non-Christian, agree that values of love, forgiveness, peace and good will transcend all material aspects of this holiday and embrace those. Let’s spend time on those, and not on the stress ridden Christmas shopping consumer marathon that Christmas has become.