Tuesday, December 26, 2006

It's beginning to look...nothing like Christmas!

One day after Xmas, all is merry, all is bright. This holiday was different for us, than in years past, for many reasons. The most obvious is that we find ourselves three time zones away from home. Oddly enough, we're getting just the kind of weather we'd expect if we were back in Oakland: moist, chilly, unpleasant. But no snow! I'm not sure weather to sing Hallelujah! for the mild winter, or ask for my money back. The area has experienced record temperatures all month, and now the debate has turned to weather there will be any significant snow this winter.

But back to Christmas, the truly big change was our financial picture. With zero income, and substantial debt piling up, we decided to forgo the usual orgy of present giving. We told family members a couple months ago not to send us anything, and that we would not be sending anything. What little money we had, we planned to save for travel.

I was a little bummed, at first, about the prospect. No matter what anyone says, Christmas memories have always centered around that mad tearing open of wrapping paper Christmas morn. But, as the month wore on, I began to feel, well, liberated. As I chatted and emailed with friends out here, they inevitably were talking about how stressed they were, dashing to the store every day, rushing to the post office, stressing about the money. And it occurred to me, "Oh yeah, I don't have to worry about that this year." What a relief it was.

By coincidence, the New York Times ran a column along the same lines on Dec. 16:

BASIC INSTINCTS; Skip the Stress And Donate To Charities
EVERY year during the holidays, you hear the same old shop-worn advice for avoiding financial stress. Set a strict spending limit for each person and stick to it; plan ahead so you do not shop impulsively; coax your family into a modest exchange of gifts; hunt for bargains online, and so forth.

Here's a radical suggestion: how about a gift-free holiday season?

Some people will always revel in the spirit of receiving and spending that descends this time of year. But many others are fed up with dashing through the mall, spending more money than they have on loads of stuff other people may or may not need or want.

Sorry to put it so bluntly, but when I hear that shoppers spent over $18 billion the weekend after Thanksgiving alone -- a small slice of all holiday sales -- and that the average consumer takes three to six months to recover from her holiday spending hangover, I wonder if anyone is connecting the dots.

The article continues:

Patricia Danser, who runs a private animal sanctuary in Deming, N.M., says that she and her husband have done a number of things to ''avoid the massive materialistic frenzy of the holidays'' -- including delivering presents to children in a nearby Mexican town and donating money in honor of friends and family to an organization that protects manatees.

Ms. Danser does not see her efforts as a way to cut costs, but it does make her happier to know that the money she spends will do some good in the world.

GIFT giving has become such an entrenched part of the holidays that many people are reluctant to suggest alternative ways to celebrate, for fear of appearing Scrooge-like. Sheri Schmidt, a lecturer on racial studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, says ''it took a bit of bravery and persistence to break the cycle of obligatory gift giving'' in her family. But when she finally suggested a moratorium on holiday gifts to her three brothers, ''they were so relieved,'' she said.

For the last few years, Ms. Schmidt and her family have given presents to six needy children, in lieu of their six more affluent nieces and nephews. It is not that they spend any less money, she says, ''but we have so much fun picking out the toys for those kids, knowing what a difference it will make to their Christmas morning.''

Indeed, it will be hard to go back next year. Instead, it's easier to imagine going further away from it. Yes, the kids will make it tougher. But on the other hand, Liam was just as excited this year that we gave him a floor puzzle and spent three hours building a fire truck from an erector set as he was about anything else under the tree. So, maybe it won't be as hard as I think.

1 comment:

Mickey Ellinger said...

i come from a large family that was always longer on kids than cash. my most vivid positive christmas memories are the ones where my parents made our gifts - indian costumes one year, a giant erector set made out of dowels and stuff another, a real desk from a used office furniture store, and i got to pick out the color we painted it. a chemistry set, but not a bought chemistry set but real equipment that one of them scrounged from a friend's lab. we made a big issue out of christmas (we were a family of believers, catholics even), but it was about doing special stuff instead of getting a lot of stuff. to this day the family in austin does a christmas eve/christmas night sing with a pinata for the kids.