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Monday, December 10, 2012

Less really is more: The holidays should be much more than buying, giving, and receiving things

And now the holiday season is upon us and the hustle and bustle of activity is in full swing. There is tons of shopping for gifts, food, and planning the preparations for family, friends, and company events. Amid all the errands, cleaning, planning, and preparation, take a moment and try to remember from a child’s eye what the holidays are all about.
  It’s that time of year again where we buy all kinds of things that no one really needs and spend way too much money trying to show people how much we like/love them with material possessions. Okay, now everyone thinks I am a Grinch or a Scrooge, but it is quite the opposite. I am all about giving gifts; I just think the focus needs to shift. Remember the wonder and magic of the holidays from the eyes of your inner child.
If you are over the age of 40, you probably have very different memories than those of you who are under 40. Technology and our insane focus on consumerism have truly changed the whole holiday experience, for better or worse.  When I was a child, we had to actually GO to a movie theater. There weren’t VCRs or DVD players. We listened to records and later- cassettes or 8 track tapes. (And now is when I am starting to feel about a thousand years old.)

The advent of internet shopping and the pressure to buy more and more and more has put an often overwhelming focus on materialism that can drown the message of the season; and it can make a person nostalgic for a simpler time  before the advent of video games, cell phones, and very expensive electronic toys for kids of all ages came on the scene.
One of my greatest childhood memories of Christmas was the anticipation and wonder of waiting to open gifts on Christmas morning, and then when we got older we would open them on Christmas Eve. As a child, and even a teenager, there were no gizmos and gadgets. Gifts were pretty simple and straight-forward- a bike, a doll house, puzzles, board games, jewelry, clothes. And my parents had to actually go to a store and buy those things! They didn’t have the convenience of shopping online and having things sent to our doorstep.
Some Christmas gifts I can remember receiving were:
§  Beautiful dolls and stuffed animals, which were often sent from my grandparents in Germany
§  Christmas ornaments for the tree- we got our own special ones each year
§  A new coat
§  Board games, which we would all play together after Christmas
§  Art supplies
§  A Kodak camera (with film!)
§  Posters and other decorations for my bedroom

Even when my own children were growing up, mercifully the digital and electronic universe had not quite yet exploded. They didn’t get cell phones until they were in their late teens, so for most of their childhood they were getting regular toys.
Every year I feel more and more discouraged by the expense and “trap” of the commercial and consumer-driven focus on the holidays. It isn’t just Christmas; it is Hanukkah and even agnostics, non-affiliated, or atheists who engage in a secular gift-giving celebration of the season. We may not all believe in the same God, but we certainly all worship the same materialism.
It seems that we have started to equate our feelings for someone with what we give them for the holidays. Whatever happened to showing people you care for them with simple gestures, kindnesses, thoughtful and meaningful tokens of appreciation? Why does it matter if it is the latest, greatest, most expensive gizmo or gadget? Is that REALLY what the season of giving is all about?
Instead of spending money on objects, how about giving of one’s time and actually spending time together? The holidays should be less about THINGS, and more about showing feelings and creating happy memories apart from material objects. I think the idea of spending time and making gifts that have special meaning is one of the greatest things someone can do. And if you aren’t very creative or able to think of something, what about performing a kindness or a service for someone you love. Who wouldn’t love to have help painting or doing yard work, especially if you enjoy spending time with that person.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy giving and receiving gifts. I just wish it wasn’t so overdone and that there wasn’t so much pressure. I love handmade gifts that are unique and from the heart so much more than the store-bought things. Most of us are fortunate enough to have our basic needs covered already. Gifts are usually things we don’t NEED and some are even things we don’t really want.
How often do you go to a charitable drop off place and see all the unloved or unwanted gifts that people turn around and donate. That is a good thing for the needy, but wouldn’t it have been better if the person giving the gift in the first place would have given something more from the heart. I think we already have so much “stuff” in our lives that true appreciation is almost impossible.
I think it would benefit most families to get back to basics and try to find ways to spend less money and focus more on spending time together DOING things and finding ways to be creative and unique with their gift-giving.


  1. Lovely ideas and ideals.

    Ahemm.. I'll take one from column A.
    And B.
    Who could resist C?
    You've given so many ideas and nostalgic memories..I just can't help myself. I want it all.

  2. Well said Diana. I dread the Holidays not because we celebrate the birth of our Savior, but because of the commercialism and dreaded pressure of buying, buying & buying. I am sick of Christmas decorations & songs playing from before Thanksgiving! The commercialism is being forced down our throats... there should be a law: No Christmas decorations before the Thanksgiving holiday! I've been struggling for many years due to cash flow issues, & I only buy for my kids and grand kids. I love that you say we should look at Christmas from the eyes of our inner child, and that is what I am afraid alot of us don't do...Thanks for the reminder. And THANK YOU for saying what you mean and not saying it meanly.

    And do you have a nice way of saying Christmas should be Christmas, not Xmas! I hate that abbreviation. Go for it, can't wait to see what you have to say. Love and Have a Very Merry & Joyous Christmas!

  3. You are both so kind to leave comments. Thank you. I am glad this post spoke to you in some way.

  4. My wife works at a retail jewelry store, and every December, she and her co-workers exchange gifts polyanna style. This year, when she asked me for gift ideas, I suggested that they pool their gift money, and give it to a charity instead. She liked the idea, but she wanted the money to go to a local cause, instead of some random big-name national charity. I told her that she should contact our kids' elementary school Principal and ask him if he knows any local family who could use a little help around the Holidays, so she did. The Principal already had a particular family in mind; it's a single mother with a 6 year old daughter and 14 year old son. The family would not know where the donation came from, and the Principal would present the donation by my wife and her co-workers would really be able to play "Secret Santa" for this family. They pooled $700 and bought a handful of gifts for the daughter, the son, and the mother, including the latest Nintendo DS for both kids. Our kids' Principal said that when he approached the mother and presented the idea, she wept, saying money is so tight for her family that she was preparing for a holiday season with no gifts for her kids. My wife and I are atheists. What she did has nothing to do with any December holiday festivities. She didn't do it for the promise of some kind of reward in the great beyond. She did it because it was a nice thing to do just for the sake of being nice. We made a difference for one family this year, and that you can't put a price tag on. .