It may be too soon for us to start talking about Christmas 2014, but it's definitely time to figure out our New Year's resolutions. And for me, these two things are related. This year, my New Year's resolution is to be a more pleasant girlfriend. And to do that, I have to stop giving Christmas gifts.
I wasn't fun to be around this holiday season. I was stressed out and bitchy -- and not in my usual charming way. And while this happens every year, this Christmas I was particularly insufferable. It got to the point where even I got tired of hearing myself complain, so I can only imagine what it felt like to be in Clint's shoes. I'm lucky that Santa didn't give me a break-up for Christmas.
The problem isn't with Christmas itself -- it's actually my favorite holiday. The trouble is each year there is a bigger gap between what I want to do to celebrate Christmas and what I end up doing instead. I want to do things like spend time with friends and family, and enjoy the spirit of the season by decorating the house, cooking and baking, and (much to the chagrin of the people and pets I live with) singing as well as listening to Christmas carols.
But I end up making countless trips to big box stores or the mall, creating spreadsheets to track what presents I've bought and for whom, and turning my living room into an order fulfillment warehouse. Not only do I not get to do the things I enjoy, I have to do a bunch of things I really can't stand. Then, when all is said and done, everyone is left with a pile of the one thing no one wants or needs: more stuff.
Each December as Christmas gets closer and closer, I get increasingly resentful. I rail on about how much I hate the whole gift buying/giving/getting hype. I lament how my youngest kid is growing up with a perverted idea of what defines Christmas. I resent that everyone has accepted that giving and getting stuff is essentially the price of admission to celebrate Christmas, and yet the price is so steep that there isn't enough time, money, or energy left over to actually enjoy the holiday. Each year I pledge to do it differently next year. But before I know it the holidays have rolled around again and it's too late to announce a policy change without coming off as rude or even selfish.
Most folks I talk to feel the same way. They hate how retailers have turned Christmas into a competitive event, challenging us in TV commercials to "outgift everyone." Not only do people dislike the entire charade, they actually object to it on moral grounds. And yet we all refuse to give ourselves, or anyone else, permission to opt out.
This year I noticed a promising development. In response to my email asking for address updates for my Christmas card list, many friends emailed back both with their address and a message letting me know that they themselves would not be sending out cards. It was like seeing the first signs that the eternal winter in C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was finally coming to an end. I welcomed the news. I send Christmas cards because it's something I enjoy. I like to get Christmas cards, too, but I don't view the whole process as a quid pro quo-type of transaction whereby I give you one photo card and you give me a glitter card in return. I'm sure there are people on my list who have never once sent me a card. I couldn't name names, though, because I honestly don't keep track.
Why can't we take that same spirit and apply it to gift giving? Why can't those of us who don't like the competitive gifting aspect of Christmas simply tell friends and family that we aren't going to be giving gifts?
I realize the idea is kind of scary. Going against a socially accepted norm takes guts -- even when it's something that most people find completely loathsome. (Remember how long it took for women to stop believing that wearing pantyhose to work was somehow mandatory?) But scarier to me than fighting the Christmas Shopocalypse is the thought of losing Clint. And I'm pretty sure another Christmas season like the one we just lived through would permanently drive him away from me. So, fueled by a potent mixture of fear and the hope, I've decided to take the plunge.
I hereby resolve to no longer give Christmas presents except in the following cases:
1. If you are a child of mine who is not yet self-supporting due to either age or circumstances of which I approve, I will still give you Christmas presents. For example, if you are temporarily living in our basement because you just got out of grad school, Santa will still hook you up. But if you live in our basement because you just got out of reform school, the time we spend together will serve as your gift. But even if you qualify for presents, there's a limit to how many you'll be getting, and the magic number is three. Why? Because three was the number of gifts that the three Magi brought to the child after whom Christmas is named. If it was enough for him, it's enough for you, too. You're special and all, but you don't walk on water.
2. I will accept any invitation to participate in gift exchanges that occur at parties because these exchanges are a game that people play while spending time together. Plus, many gift exchanges permit regifting, which provides me with an opportunity to get rid of stuff.
My new policy will not affect other gift-giving occasions of non-manic proportions like birthdays. And because I will no longer be obligated to deliver mountains of presents on Christmas, the odds that I will pick up something that reminds me of you when I come a cross it, and give it to you just because, will be greatly increased. And not having to spend time chasing down presents and updating my Christmas spreadsheet will free up heaps of time for more meaningful activities over the holidays. So, while you won't be getting a pine scented candle wrapped in stress, and tied up with a big bow of resentment, I will be able to visit with you or bake some pumpkin bread and give you a loaf.
Just because I will be doing things differently doesn't mean I'm going to try to dictate how you celebrate the season. If you enjoy giving gifts and want to continue with that tradition, I respect your choice. If you've been nice enough to get me a gift in the past, it's not my place to order you to stop, or direct you to give a donation in my name to a charity instead. If you want to give me a gift because that makes you happy, that's your prerogative. But if you are considering giving me a gift because you think it will make me happy, I humbly offer this insight: My battles for time and against stuff become more intense with each passing year. As a result, there's no better gift you can give me than some of the former and none of the latter.
When it comes to your Christmas shopping list, you have my blessing to permanently cross off my name. But when it comes to spending time together, please feel free to pencil me in. With the promise of no Christmas shopping, a more relaxed atmosphere at home, and the chance to catch up with friends and family, I can honestly say that I am already looking forward to Christmas next year!