Why is that the way I’ve increasingly felt about the holidays? Because man, that’s not fucking cool. Christmas used to be awesome. There was all this anticipation and magic and specialness once upon a time, and I looked forward to that one day for the other 364, and then Christmas day arrived and it was nothing but excitement and fun times and bliss.
But then at some point, Christmas — and this is especially true if you celebrate Christmas, though the other folks definitely get plenty of shit shrapnel too — the season started to be about stress and manipulation. It became uncool.
Who stole Christmas from me, and why? What kind of a mean prick would steal Christmas, other than that green guy? (You know who I’m talking about. The Hulk, that’s who.)
But someone or something did steal it, and this year, the fact of that crime has really begun to work on me.
It all started when I noticed that this year, as in the past few years, the stores started putting up Christmas decorations and playing Musak Christmas carols over the speakers well before Halloween. That got me thinking. Why do they do that? And the answer is to get people spending earlier. Why else do they do that? Because after people spend early, they’ll then have two months to think about how they could also buy something else. And something else. And something else.
Then, around Thanksgiving, Robin and I started to make our Christmas lists — not lists of things we wanted, but lists of things we should get for other people.
We bought a few items and crossed those people off the list. Then we started asking ourselves questions: Wait… did we spend enough on this person? I mean, we spent $75 on that other person, so we should really get something else for the $50 person, right? Notice that there is no element of need or desire in this internal dialogue. It’s just about dollars. If we were to buy the $50 person a $25 item to level the scales even if it was something they didn’t need, that seemed like a sensible thing to do.
Further down the list, we got to my grandmothers, who are both in senior communities and live in small apartments. These ladies actively try to give things to me whenever I see them, because they see their days growing short and want to distribute possessions rather than accumulate them. Ditto for my “spartan artist” dad, minus the senior community and a few decades. But I’ve got to get them all something, right? Because that’s what Christmas is about?
My grandfather is hard. So is Robin’s brother. We usually end up getting gift cards for these people because they can never tell us something specific they need. Usually someone gives more than they receive. I figure we might as well make things easier, so rather than Person A giving Person B a $50 gift card and Person B giving Person A a $75 gift card, it’d be so much easier for Person B to just give Person A $25 in cash to account for the difference.
Here’s the balance I owe you from our usual transaction. Merry fucking Christmas.
For Robin’s dad Frank — and I swear I’m not kidding about this — her mother routinely takes something that Frank has bought for himself and wraps it. Then we pay her whatever that thing cost.
And hey, giving is the easy part. The hard part is when people start asking us what we want.
Hell, I don’t know. I’m 36. I make a good living. When I want stuff these days, I buy it. I don’t keep a list of things I’ve got to have and then deliberately not get it so that someone else can.
So I’m like, I don’t know… a book light for my Kindle? A new alarm clock? A few pairs of jeans? Austin has a full list, so I let his spill onto mine. I told my mom to get me Super Mario Galaxy 2, and justified it by saying that Austin and I play it together. The things we really want are huge. Does anyone want to get us a trip to Disneyworld? My car is getting old. Anyone want to buy us a new one? Other fun things that we’ve gotten in past years: tires for Robin’s car, tires for my car, money toward an iPad that wouldn’t be released until March.
You know what? The holidays used to be awesome. Parts of them still are, but parts of them are beyond idiotic. It’s like all of our hearts were in the right place, but then someone went to that place because that’s where the hearts were stored, and took them. Then that asswipe twisted our hearts and told us that nobody wants a heart as a gift. What they want is the George Foreman Grill, and you’re a jerk if you don’t buy it for them.
The problem is that it’s become about forced consumption. What we’ve been doing is essentially a con game wherein we all hoodwink each other into buying things for each other that none of us would normally bother to get for ourselves.
I don’t need a light for my Kindle. I don’t need Super Mario Galaxy 2. I don’t need The Dark Knight Rises on DVD. Sure, I’d like them and sure, I’ll take them, and sure, I’ll be pleased when I get them. But I don’t NEED them, and in a sane world, I wouldn’t buy a lot of those things because I actually have some impulse control. What our current arrangement does is to remove that impulse control by passing the impulse onto someone else.
Oh, hell, he MIGHT like that DVD? Well then I’M GOING TO BUY IT AND NOBODY ELSE TAKE THAT IDEA BECAUSE IT’S MINE!
And then I’ve got to reciprocate. Sure, I had some impulse control about my own stuff, but how can I not buy something for someone when they’re so selflessly indulging my most vague consumerist impulses for me?
A few years ago, I told Robin, “Let’s not exchange gifts.”
It’s stupid to do so just because everyone else is doing it. I mean, we share a fucking bank account. She’d be buying me something with my own money, and I’d be buying her something with her money. We’d do it because something has told us that we have to consume in preparation for one specific day, despite the fact that we get stuff for each other all the time. We’d end up with two things we wouldn’t otherwise have purchased, and be out the money for both. Why? Because someone convinced us that we’re bad, careless, mean people if we don’t?
And you know what? That conditioning worked. For a few years, we kept buying things for each other, despite the idiocy of feeling that one particular day was more worthy of gift-giving than any other.
But this year, we’re not exchanging gifts. I told her, “The things I actually want from you cost nothing.” I then told her that I’m getting something, but that she shouldn’t retaliate because my idea is kind of for both of us. Then I told her that it’s nothing sexual because she gets nervous when I say things like that.
My brother and sister and I figured this out a few years ago, too. We all have good jobs. We get together for the holidays and have fun times (EX: a Christmas tree ornament at my mom’s house called “Constipated Santa” — see image at the top of this post wherein C.S. says, “Ho-ho-ho-ly shit am I fucked up”), and we could never think of anything to buy each other that we’d actually use or want. So we ditched it. They buy for my kids, and when they have kids, we’ll buy for theirs.
I told Robin that my dad would totally be into this. She wasn’t sure. I told her that my dad is the most outside-the-nine-dots motherfucker you ever did see. Then I told him what I had in mind, that we not exchange gifts, and he said, “Oh, thank God.” Then he thanked me several times during the course of the phone call that followed.
We’re not minimalists. We buy for our kids, and others buy for our kids, and we buy for others, and others will buy for us. I appreciate the sentiment behind all of it, which is, “It’s the thought that counts,” but lately I’ve been wondering something: If it truly is the thought that counts, why do we have to spend a bunch of money to buy stuff?
I haven’t tried the quasi-minimalist approach with people who I don’t think would really feel it, but maybe I will next year.
Can we just get together? Can we just enjoy each others’ company? Can we spend less time in stores and online and more time de-stressing over some egg nog?
I bought one of my grandmothers chocolate and bought the other some nice coffee. It’s all they want. They keep saying, “Don’t buy me stuff!” They don’t want more things. They want attention. They want a phone call. They want a visit. It’s like I told Robin; the things most of us want more than anything really do cost nothing.
What’s pretty cool is that my kids are apparently catching the vibe. My son, who is 8, kept insisting that he wanted to buy me something. You know, his two dollars a week versus my slightly larger income, to buy something I’d routinely buy for myself. Want to buy new tires for the van, son? So I thanked him very much for the thought, but told him that if he really wanted to get me something, I’d like one of the things he makes himself. Because it’s the thought that counts… and what kind of gift comes with more thought?
I’m not judging on any of this. It’s just something that’s been on my mind.
If you want to do the whole Christmas consumerist shebang, then bless you; go out and do it. But as with anything, just know what it is that you’re doing. Are you buying that thing for Aunt Sally because she actually wants and needs it? Or are you buying it because something or someone told you that you had to or you’re a… what’s that green guy’s name again? Oh yeah…. you’re an Oscar.
Something to think about.
Happy holidays, y’all.