The Christmas Scrooge
I guess I’m a Christmas Scrooge.
I try to purchase things my loved ones would like for the holiday and usually I’m somewhat successful. But, when it comes to my presents, they’re often stumped.
The truth is, there’s just not much I want.
I learned some time ago that things won’t make me happy. As often as not, the more things we add to our lives, the more stressed out we get just trying to keep track of them, store them, care for them, keep them up to date and working, etc.
I do have my vices. Music is the biggest. I have a wish list, and about three quarters of it is music. Digital downloads are a blessing because we’ve run out of places to store CDs.
My shelves have no need of knickknacks, my clothes may reflect the fashions of 20 years ago, but if there’s a new album out, I’m all ears.
Books are another passion, but there’s only so much time to read. In a decade, I couldn’t read all of the books on my lists.
My family sometimes tires of getting me the same things again and again. And, some of them come from conservative religious traditions, so they would rather not buy secular music. (They seem to have missed the Iris Dement gospel album on my list so far.)
My mother did get tricked last year though. I had a Robert Ellis album on my list called “Photographs.” Mom thought she was getting me a book of photographs or something.
I’ve gone shopping on exactly one Black Friday in my life. I waited in line for 90 minutes to purchase a single electronics item. They didn’t manage to sell me anything else though.
Now of course, I also view the holidays from the perspective of a parent. Christmas traditions have changed a bit since I was a kid, especially the gift giving. I had 24 cousins. The idea that my aunts and uncles would buy us presents never crossed our minds. None of the families could afford it.
But, as families have gotten smaller, traditions have changed. Some families draw names for who will buy for siblings, but there seems to be a shared understanding that everyone will buy something for the kids. That doesn’t mean just our own kids, but nieces and nephews as well.
Try to suggest that this is too much and you’ll be labeled a Scrooge who deprives children of their Christmas joy.
The result is that while adults get a few presents each year, kids are often overwhelmed with them. Aunts, uncles, friends and grandparents living at a distance have to try to figure out what the kids want.
That’s where wish lists come in. They can take some of the anxiety out of gift giving, but the eliminate much of the suspense as well.
But, a bigger concern is the materialism that can develop, even at an early age. I’ve seen children cry at the holidays because they’re besieged with items they don’t understand. The youngest ones would rather play with the wrapping paper. As they age, the greed kicks in. It can be far too easy to associate love with material things.
My son turned five recently and I’d like to give him the world. Actually, we tried recently. We gave him a globe for his birthday. He’s learning a bit about the world and his place in it. He doesn’t entirely have Christmas down yet, but for some reason, he’s convinced that Jesus lives in Maine. We’ve never been there, so I can’t say for sure.
As he grows up, I want him to learn about the value of things. It’s hard to do when a child can treat a toy badly, break it, and still have a dozen others to play with. His allowance is four dollars per week and it goes into a piggy bank with four compartments: invest, spend, donate and save.
The invest money is for college, not to be touched. He saves for those things he really wants, like a new toy train or Lego set. If he sees something in the store that he wants, that’s what the spend compartment is for. But, it’s small, so that doesn’t go far.
This is the time of the year when we’ll be helping him decide where to give the money in the donate compartment. It could go to the church for the food pantry, or to a shelter for those who need it, or a couple of other charities. At this age, we keep the choices simple. As he gets older, he’ll do some guided research himself.
Because giving is what the season is about, not receiving.
Michael Carley is a resident of Porterville. He can be reached at email@example.com.