It was the Christmas after I turned fourteen that my mother gave me a pair of skis. I had begged her not to. I knew that my sister wanted skis and I knew my mother, in her ultimate quest for fairness, would not be able to help herself. I knew it, and I begged, but I still woke up Christmas morning to a shiny new set of skis.
It was a fun morning. My sister and I geared up and pretended we were hitting the slopes. That winter, my mom took us on a ski trip. That was the only time I used them. Ever. I have not been skiing since.
I still tease my mother about those skis, but I don’t remember that as a bad Christmas. In fact, I can’t think of a single Christmas that was ruined because of the presents I received. (Or didn’t receive.)
Even so, I’ve always been determined to buy the people on my list the perfect thing -- a gift that shows them I care about them, that I truly know them, that I’m willing to spend lots of money on them...
And since I’m a terrible shopper, that meant hours at the mall wandering around or hours in front of the computer, searching for the best gift ever (as long as it had free shipping).
My sister once told me I wasn’t going to make or break anyone’s holiday with my gifts. Of course, I knew from my own experience that she was right, but I couldn’t stop myself.
Then I had kids and things really got out of control. Christmas was so magical for me as a child. I was completely determined to recreate that same magic for my own children. And of course that means lots of presents, right?
One Christmas morning, when my daughter was about two and a half, she opened all of her presents then looked at me and said, “is that it?” and started crying. That made me really angry. At my child. On Christmas. Not ideal.
I don’t think she meant, I can’t believe there isn’t more, though. I think when you open present after present, not really looking at what they are, Christmas morning kind of becomes like eating a bag of potato chips. You get to the end, you can’t remember what just happened, and you are disappointed that it’s over.
When you can compare Christmas to a bag of potato chips, you have a problem. I knew I had a problem. I just didn’t know how to fix it. How else does one do Christmas?
After asking myself this question over and over, something finally clicked.
I do not want to teach my children that Christmas is about the stuff. Giving feels great, but the message is lost if the giver is stressed out, broke, and bitter. The click happened when I realized that I create my own Christmas.
It doesn’t matter how Christmas was done in the past or how other people do Christmas. Each year, I am in charge of either perpetuating the insanity or not. I. AM. SANTA.
I thought of the things I didn’t like about Christmas and decided I don’t have to do them. Any of them. Ever again.
No more wandering around malls. No more endless online browsing. No more out of control spending. No more buying for the sake of ‘Christmas morning impact’. No more filler gifts. No more obligation gifts. No more Made in China Christmas.
Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only true gift is a portion of thyself.
I’m not doing any of that this year and my stress level went from 'Christmas is the bane of my existence' to 'wow, Christmas can still be fun even though I’m a grown up'. Because even though I’m not a kid anymore, I want to enjoy Christmas. And not just Christmas morning -- the whole season. It’s my Christmas too.
Of course, I’m still giving gifts. If I didn’t, there would be wailing in the streets in front of my house on Christmas morning. Plus, I like giving gifts. I just don’t want my entire holiday season to be defined by piling up a huge stack of loot that I then have to wrap; all the while feeling anxiety about whether I got the right things.
Less stuff, less wrapping, less anxiety, and less debt. Eureka!
And if on Christmas morning the people in my life are disappointed with my new approach, well, maybe I can cheer them up with a pair of barely used skis.
I like to throw things.