It’s that special time of year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Don’t you just love it?! It is the season of turkey leftovers – turkey casserole, turkey sandwiches, turkey and cranberry sauce delight with a bit of mashed potato mixed in, and… crazed Christmas shopping.
Ever since I was a small child, I enjoyed Christmas shopping and giving. How exciting is it to empty out your piggy bank, go to the store, and buy a small gift for your mom and dad – something just from you?! After I got my first part-time job, I went bananas! That Christmas, I purchased the biggest bunch of stuff imaginable, conveniently ignoring my cousin’s recommendation to save my money for car insurance. And, when I say I bought stuff, I mean stuff – clutter, junk, future thrift store donations. Hey, I was fifteen, so what did it matter? One year of frivolous waste at Christmastime is not going to put many teenagers in the poorhouse; but, I confess twenty years later, I am still fighting the urge to throw dollar bills in the air and dance around the Christmas tree.
Candy Canes, Plastic Toys, and Tacky Santa Socks, Oh My!
My first few Christmases with Eric were interesting. He did not share my quantity-over-quality gift-giving philosophy and he ended up with more than a carload of silly stuff. There is that word again: stuff. Coloring books, Dollar Tree toys, and other random items (which often never made it up the stairs once we returned from our holiday travels) began collecting – seemingly procreating – in our basement, on our bookshelves, in our office, and in two of our spare rooms. Stuff everywhere! Meaningless items which looked good when I was out doing my haphazard Christmas shopping workouts.
As I consider the array of clutter spread around my home, I find myself determined to do Christmas differently than I have in the past. Though I have improved in the last few years, I still fight that inner-voice which says, “Get it. It is fun. It is only a dollar. It will make him laugh. Look. It lights up. Isn’t that nifty? Do it. Who is going to miss a dollar? You are next in line, so you better decide! Do it! Buy it! Buy it now!”
In addition to my free-and-easy shopping “strategies,” I (we) have made other holiday season blunders which I see so clearly now. Every mistake is obvious after we make it! That is how life works and there is no going backward; but, if I were talking to twenty-three-year-old, newlywed Heather (or, even dating Heather), this is what I would tell her:
- You are setting a precedent. What you do during your first married (or engaged) Christmas, you will be tempted to do the following Christmas. What you do the first two Christmases will seem like tradition by your third Christmas. If you spend $50 on each family member your first couple of Christmases, it will be extremely difficult to back off to $10 per family member later. Even if you have plenty of money to spend, think futuristically. What are you trying to communicate through giving? How might this money be better spent? Might you feel bitter or used someday if your family expects you to shell out tons of cash because of your high-dollar giving in the past? Before you and your new sweetheart begin shopping for your family and friends, think through what type of precedent you want to set with your giving. Which traditions do you wish to begin, avoid, or delay?
- You are giving a remembrance. My late, great mentor, Miss Betty, referred to gift-giving as a remembrance. I love that term because it shakes me out of my stressed-out state and reminds me that gifts are meant to show we care (i.e., we remembered), but not meant to be a process which steals our joy and empties our bank account. When we give small, but meaningful, gifts to others, we say, “You matter to me and I remembered you this holiday season,” but we do not place any expectation of expensive reciprocation on that person.
- People have enough stuff. Stop filling homes with clutter. Your uncle is retired and travels the world. In almost 100% of cases, he does not need the DVD you found in the $3 bin. “But, I must buy my people physical objects. They must go home from our Christmas Eve celebration with items. Even if the 1995 edition Heroes of Nascar DVD stays shrink-wrapped in the back of his truck for the next five years, he must have something to open from me!!!” If your uncle truly appreciates NASCAR and would happily (eagerly, gleefully) watch the 1995 edition Heroes of Nascar, then by all means, buy it for him. However, if you are attempting to give him something for the sake of giving him something, then give him a hug, a thoughtful card, mow his lawn, or take him out for burgers; but, do him a favor: refrain from adding to his Goodwill pile. (sidenote: Not only did I buy my uncle a discount bin NASCAR DVD one Christmas, but I almost bought him the same DVD a few years later. To make sure I was not giving him duplicates, I called my aunt and she found the original DVD I gave him unopened in the bed of his truck. Lesson learned!!! ~smile~)
- Flee from the strangling of comparison. Refuse to fall prey to its power! Your aunt’s mother-in-law’s rich sister may enjoy giving expensive gifts to you and everyone she knows every holiday, but that does not mean she expects you to reciprocate; and, even if she does expect it, you are not required to follow suit. You and your spouse or significant other (if you are shopping together) decide for whom you shop, which gifts you buy, and how much to spend. How much money you pour into a gift does not equal the amount of love you have in your heart for the recipient. How you treat your parents, siblings, friends, cousins, gardeners, and postal workers throughout the year is far more telling of your heart than what you buy them for Christmas. If you receive more from folks than you are able (or willing) to give in return, that is okay! If they want to continue giving to you at the same rate, they will! If not, your smaller offering will give them the freedom to pare down in the future. Regardless, you are not better or worse based on the value of your gift.
- A few seconds of excitement on Christmas morning is not worth three months of credit card bills. “You shouldn’t have! I am so excited about this amazing present!” Who does not want to hear those words when giving a gift? I certainly do, but more than that, I want to start the upcoming year without anxiety-induced night sweats. “How am I going to pay for all of this?!?!” Just like vacations, gifts are more fun when they do not keep costing you months (or years) later. When my parents were young newlyweds (and completely broke), someone suggested they put all their Christmas shopping expenses on credit cards. Thankfully, Mom and Dad decided against it and, for years, they did not even exchange gifts with each other. It is a little sad to picture my parents waking up in their little trailer on Christmas morning to zero gifts; but, on the other hand, they never went into debt for Christmas presents and that is a gift they gave themselves! Every Christmas morning, I was more than excited with the presents I received, and I am thankful they modeled monetary responsibility. In the long run, that is more of a gift than any doll, outfit, or karaoke machine I ever received.
- Memories are worth more than gifts. When I was nineteen, we laid my maternal grandmother to rest a few weeks before Christmas. In previous years, my mom stressed out about gift-giving. “Did I get Heather enough? Are people going to like what I give them? I want my loved ones to be happy on Christmas Day.” But, when Christmas 2001 rolled around, Mom did not stress. She did not overthink her gifts. She did not worry that I would be disappointed on Christmas morning. She just enjoyed us and we enjoyed her. Christmas was (and is) about being together and making memories with loved ones. I may not remember many of the gifts I have opened over the years, but I do remember how Mom relaxed that Christmas.
- Try not to buy love from your family and friends. There is so much more to the gifts piled under the tree than meets the eye. In the sparkling blue box lies an object purchased in hopes of making the recipient’s eyes fill with happy tears. In the sloppily taped red box sits handmade ornaments and proud kindergarten crafts just for Mommy and Daddy. In some lack-luster packages pushed to the back of the tree, stuff is haphazardly thrown and feverishly wrapped with little concern for the reaction of the one who is to open it. And, front and center, beneath some brightly colored red and green wrapping paper lie objects – some expensive, some hard to find, some handmade – which hold the desperate hope of the giver. With these presents, they deeply desire to gain approval, or affection, or status, or favor, or attention. Get real with yourself before you shop, and understand your motivation in giving. It is wonderful to show affection for your family and friends with your gifts, but you should never feel that you have to give in order to gain love from the recipients.
We have less than a month to go before the year’s most exciting holiday arrives. As a kid, nothing beat Christmas Eve and Christmas morning; but, as an adult, I thoroughly enjoy the entire month leading up to Christmas. The music, decorations, excitement in the air, and brightly colored boxes under the tree make my heart smile.
This year, I have made a pact with myself to flee from my former gift-giving hang-ups and start approaching the season with healthier ideals. So far, so good! ~smile~ We at PreEngaged hope your holiday season is the greatest – stress-free and full of memories in the making! Make the most of the next twenty-eight days!!!
Are you and your sweetheart completely satisfied with your gift-giving beliefs and techniques?