All I Want For Christmas is You

(Warning: Rant ahead. Proceed with caution!)

References to Mariah Carey’s poppy holiday song aside, I have been thinking a lot about our culture’s obsession with materialistic things – particularly leading up to the holidays. Everywhere I look there are commercials, billboards, radio ads, etc. urging us to BUY STUFF to show how much we care for our friends and loved ones. Ultimately we end up spending money we really don’t have on stuff others really don’t need or even want. The end result often translates to more debt, more clutter and frustration. Nothing says “Happy Holidays” quite like a barrage of phone calls from collection agencies, right?

Call me Scrooge, if you must. The idea of giving people stuff they most likely don’t need or even want as a way of showing how much we care seems ridiculous sometimes. Over the last few years my family has gotten away from traditional gift-giving and moved toward a more creative and meaningful way to celebrate the holidays. The focus has been on giving useful/practical items, making personal gifts or simply gathering together to celebrate and show we care. Personally there is not much else as offensive as being given a gift that someone haphazardly bought at the last minute and gave out of obligation. I appreciate receiving a thoughtful token that is meaningful and relevant much more than a ridiculous basket of scented lotions that give me a headache. Heck, I tell my family to buy me socks, toiletries, scarves, gloves, etc. for Christmas if they must give gifts because those are things I need.

It is disheartening to watch kids rip through wrapping paper and bows only to express ingratitude and disappointment because the gift isn’t “good enough” or “the right one”. Kids who are driven by the “what did you buy me?” way of thinking are missing the point. Don’t get me wrong, as a kid I lived for Christmas morning.  My parents couldn’t always afford to give us the trendy, expensive toys we longed to have. However, the Christmas mornings I remember most are those where Mom carefully crafted riddles and holiday poems that led us on a scavenger hunt around the house or into the backyard to discover a simple gift they’d chosen for us. It wasn’t the end product so much as the process of spending the holidays together.  Our parents’ thoughtful planning and effort to make the holidays memorable and meaningful taught us more than any of the material items under the tree.

One memory that sticks out is when my younger brother, then age 6 or 7, came downstairs to find a gigantic box with his name on it that appeared to have been ripped open. When he looked inside he found one large plastic dinosaur that appeared to be climbing up the side of the box. The other dinosaurs had “escaped” and my brother giddily searched high and low for the remaining dinosaurs that my parents had placed all over the house.  These days, most kids rush downstairs and hastily rip through wrapping paper and bows – often taking little time to notice who the gifts are from and to enjoy the experience. For some kids it becomes a matter of keeping count to make sure everyone got the same amount of presents. God forbid anyone got “short changed” on Christmas morning.

My mother worked in the field of social work as we were growing up. We often spent the days leading up to Christmas gathering donations and presents and delivering them to some of the poorest families in Savannah. My brother and I often accompanied her on these delivery runs. I was so humbled to watch a mother’s somber, defeated expression transform into one of gratitude upon realizing that her kids wouldn’t be going without for the holidays. The gifts that were donated included new clothing, food, school supplies and maybe one or two toys. For families who literally had NOTHING, these gifts were the best things.

This Christmas I’ve decided to give my family (two brothers and their families and my parents) a weekend together at the beach. Sure it costs money to give this gift, but it is more about having all of us together for an entire weekend. I travel home once a year and I have come to appreciate that time my family can spend together more and more.  The kids don’t NEED any more toys. My parents are happily retired and really don’t have a need for anything other than an opportunity to have all of their kids and grandkids together in one place – safe and sound.

TBA readers, it is my wish that you all take the time to truly appreciate quality time with your friends and loved ones this holiday season. Gift-giving doesn’t have to equal trading store-bought, mass-produced items. Gift-giving should be more about the sentiment and thoughtfulness – not about how big the box is or how much someone spent.  If you must give gifts, consider donating money to a local charity in honor of your family or offer handmade trinkets or tokens of love and caring. Consider spending time at a food bank or serving meals at a homeless shelter. Celebrate the season by doing something together – go ice skating, visit a local park together, host a family game night. Create a holiday tradition that is focused on “being together” as a gift and not on gathering “stuff” you may not really need or want.

It is more about holiday “presence” than holiday “presents”.

Happy holidays to my TBA family!

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