Christmas comes every year whether we are willing or not. Even though we tell ourselves it’s not about the gifts, most of us do not really feel the joy of the season if we have no one to buy for or no money to buy at all.
For the past few years, as money has gotten tighter for us all, I have struggled to get our family to spend less on Christmas. In years past, we spent from $25 To $100 on each member of our extensive clan. Admittedly, it’s not nearly as much as some people spend, but it is much more than many can afford. I can remember years when my own children were small that I spent about $200 apiece on each of them and this was 30 or 40 years ago, when prices of things were much lower. Then I went and spent another two or three hundred on the extended family
On Christmas morning, the presents piled under our tree overflowed to fill half the room. Then the scene was repeated at my parent’s house in the afternoon. With the passing of my mother, the clan gathered at my house instead. As the children became adults, they were replaced by grandchildren and the spending continued. However, those little ones are also grown. It has been five years since anyone in our family waited anxiously for Santa and the next generation has not started to arrive as yet.
It seemed ridiculous to spend all that money and effort on adults who should understand that we simply cannot afford it anymore. Especially since a couple of families could only afford to spend $5 or $10 per gift when buying for 25 people. The gifts that were bought were mostly things people cared little for. We all told ourselves, “It’s the thought that counts,” as we tossed the items in the back of a drawer or returned them, along with those that were the wrong size or color, to the store for credit that could be applied to something more useful. The whole process seemed such a farce.
At first, I tried to get everyone to draw names. Each of us would be responsible for only one gift, so we could spend more time shopping and get something really nice. We set a price range from $30 to $50, thinking it would make things much easier for those with limited funds. Thanksgiving day seemed a good time to do it. We were all together then anyway and it left a month to shop.
Come Christmas day, some of the people had gone ahead and bought for everyone anyway. Others, who had been in the habit of spending as little as possible, felt imposed upon to be required to spend a minimum amount even though it was less than half what they would have spent before. Then there were some who didn’t show up at all and left the person whose name they drew without a gift(except the one from the person who still bought for everyone). It felt like such a disaster that no one was interested in trying again.
So, the next year, I said “OK, do what you feel you need to, but I am only buying for immediate family and those under 15 years old (there were actually only two left that young by then).” Most people still bought for everyone and the chill in the air toward those who didn’t was not from the winter weather.
Finally, I put my foot down. (Maybe stomped my foot is more appropriate.) I said, “We are not exchanging gifts here on Christmas day! If you still feel a need to buy for other people, deliver the presents at your own house, or theirs. We will still have Christmas dinner for everyone, but NO gifts.” That was three years ago.
This led to a disturbing trend. Fewer and fewer members of the extended family were interested in coming together for Christmas dinner without presents to exchange. They found other obligations or made excuses about the distance and the time. It seems that it may be all about the gifts after all. Even when the gifts are just cheap jewelry, ugly sweaters, and stinky bath salts.
So, this year, instead of being obligated to make dinner for 25 or 30 people, we will be cooking for six. We’ve been invited to one other person’s house for a Christmas eve dinner. At least, I won’t have to smile and say thank you for a box of stationary that I have no use for except to write grocery lists.