I'm Not a Grinch But I'm Not Giving This Year

Christmas gifts.
Christmas gifts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve always loved giving gifts. There’s a small closest in our house dedicated to gifts from trips around the world year round.

In the mad dash to get ready to travel home, between writing a technical document, finishing one manuscript, launching another book and producing a book trailer,  I went through the house pulling out everything but clothes that needed to go.

Downstairs I threw open a door and found forgotten items from South Africa, Turkey, and Greece tucked away into bags no one had ever seen. I sat back on my heels. I bought most of the ornaments, wine stoppers and tiny vases in 2011. Here they sat, waiting for me to remember then. The pile was an unavoidable fact.

Something happened to my joy of gift giving. Maybe it started the year we arrived on December 22 to find the malls full of people so angry that they couldn’t even smile when I clucked in sympathy for their long hours.

Perhaps another part of it was the fact modern holiday revelry means if you’re not stressed out, grumpy about family gatherings, and in general put out by the demands of parties, travel, or giving during the most wonderful time of year, then you work for Hallmark. Living overseas make it easier to drown out the 24/7 retailer demands on television and radio to show how much you really love your loved ones.

I’m the kind of person who puts up the Christmas tree while the Thanksgiving turkey is roasting.

Call me type A, call me crazy. But I wanted to take my holiday back. To bounce out of bed and be excited by the day ahead — the food, the fun, the family. Where can I find it?

This year we agreed: no gifts will be exchanged between adults. Amazing what a simple decree like that does for your spirits (and checkbook). In most cases they can get what they need for themselves. Let’s be honest. And those that don’t? They are easier to find without the background din.

That’s right, not even from or for my husband. Gifts only for the children (which in our family we have five and if you throw cousins into the mix, still fewer than ten people).

Ever since I was a teenager and could earn money, I’ve felt the pressure of the material undertones to the holidays. There was one particular friend whose family showered them with so many gifts, I knew my budget item could never

English: A bauble on a Christmas tree.
English: A bauble on a Christmas tree. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

compete. So I did the next best thing: I took the money I would have spent on him and sponsored a few gifts for a child in need. My friend got an ornament with a date that he could hang on the tree forever.

Soon the trend caught on and that was the only gift we exchanged. Over ten years later my tree is now covered with ornaments of our decision to forgo for each other and pass-it-on.

Now as an adult, I buck the trend to be wearied by the expectation to find the perfect gift for loved ones. Instead of piling on the presents for our toddler, I step aside and let grandparents, aunts, and uncles have the pleasure.

Maybe it’s too late for this year (or maybe not, thinking of soup kitchens, food banks, and other programs) but next year think of what can help put the joy back into your holidays instead of steam under your hood at the already overcrowded mall.

What are your secrets for holding on to your holiday cheer? Or have you surrendered to Scrooge?

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Reader Comments

  1. Delora Dennis

    My sister is appalled that I plan to take my two grandsons to my niece’s house for Christmas. My niece has three boys and spares no expense when it come to Christmas presents. The mountain of gifts is so enormous it pushes party guests into adjoining rooms. My sister is worried for the psyche of my grandsons, since none of these gifts will be for them. She thinks it’s cruel to make them stand by and watch their cousins tear into this cornucopia of Christmas loot.

    I tried to explain this would be the last stop on my boys’ own Christmas tour of parents’ and grandparents’ homes, where there will be no shortage of presents for them to open.

    My sister remained unmoved. According to her, I’m a heartless grandmother.

    I don’t get it. Am I a Scrooge?

    I find it interesting my sister didn’t express disappointment about missing the family get-together. For me, this is the most appealing aspect of the holiday.

    • Mohana

      Ah, family! I’ve been reading Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry and the novel could not only be used as a weapon, it dissects a family falling apart when the kids are older.

      The boys are lucky to have you to share the cheer with them. I came home from my husband’s clan gathering where three generations were under one roof. While the little ones (under 15s) opened gifts, the teens and twenties remembered when it had been their turn, years ago. My husband, as part of the 30somethings crowd – and his brother- have money to the older ones as part of the family “pass it on”. He did so with joy, remembering how uncles had done that for him.

      Sometimes the best gift is to grin and bear it: your sister still let the boys go out on the outing even though she disagreed. She may have her own reasons for not wanting to join and maybe post holiday is a good time to ask her and listen to her side.

      The older I get and the longer we love overseas, I gain perspective on these people we may not have chosen as friends but share blood with :). I may not always agree with them (and being indulgent for several weeks out of the year helps) but they are the only ones I get.

      Hope you had a marvelous time!

  2. Jaya

    first, let me say, i grew up in an environment where gifts were unheard of. the only ‘gifts’ you got (all through the year) were the small packets of candy that one(!) uncle brought for us kids when he visited. that does not mean we were poor.. we were a wealthy family, and everything we needed.. even everything we kids wanted.. were simply bought as and when requested.. never a ‘gift’. we got the best of everything.. but nothing was presented as a ‘gift’. no ‘gifts’ for birthdays, no ‘gifts’ for christmas. instead, we went to church, prayed and was thankful on our birthdays, mom baked a cake, we ate it together, that was it.. lots of love, no gifts. we celebrated christmas with long visits to the ancestral home, meeting every family member, having a lot of fun(we were kids, no recollection of vacation planning or itinerary or leave scheduling)..

    then, i got married. here was a family that was great on gifts. something special on your birthday, a new dress for christmas. something gold on your anniversary.. a little trinket when you come back from an overseas trip…

    and now, i realize how good you can feel when someone gives you a gift. something they chose, thinking specifically of you, because you are special to them. not something that you asked for, not something generic for everyone.. I love the feeling.

    so, do not wait until the holidays to shop for gifts. have a running list in your phone.. buy something which reminds you of someone. yes, the holiday season is terrible for shopping.. because people are so stressed, living upto mental expectations… status- appearance- price range of the gifts.. what will the receiver think of the gift??

    my kids have already started expecting gifts for occasions. requesting them.. and now i am struggling to reinstate the status quo as in my dad’s house. because expectations are a terrible thing. and though i have money to get whatever they want, i think it is important that the children learn how to appreciate the concept of a gift.

    this comment made me realize what a big gift my parents gave me.. they raised me without the gimme syndrome. thanks for the post.

    • Mohana

      The thought from the giver is key Jaya. You said it.
      One way with kids I’ve found is to look for the gift that they won’t get. This is usually books, so I give only books at birthday parties unless to a very close friend’s child for whom I might know a little more about their likes/dislikes.

      The bottom line is that most of us have so much more than the average person in the developing world or those struggling in America’s big cities. And restraining ourselves, in order to give well and share wealth is indeed the best lesson we can teach others, as you said.

      Next year I want to take advantage of the jet lag and volunteer at a soup kitchen or other service. When we know how much we have, aren’t we happier?

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