The older I get – which, admittedly, is still not old enough to claim much wisdom – the more I realize how difficult the holidays can be.
I am one of seven children. As you can imagine, Christmas is quite the holiday in my family.
I remember the first year the kids started participating in the family present scene beyond mom sticking our names on the “From” label or someone hiding all the kitchen appliances and then regifting them in poorly wrapped newspaper comics.
That first Christmas all five of the oldest children jumped in on the santa gig was hilarious. Some of us had jobs, most of us just had a lot of creativity.
My family excels at gag gifts. That was the year I had been complaining about gaining my freshman fifteen. I got a cheap diet book from pretty much everyone in the family.
One of my sisters photoshopped our whole family onto a Star Wars poster and printed out framed copies for everyone. Mom still has hers on the mantel.
It took almost two hours to get through all the gifts because everyone in the family had to give something to everyone else.
In the last decade, Christmas mornings have just gotten longer and longer as we unwrap silly T-shirts and purses full of Pocky sticks and slats of polished wood that read “life is short, eat the bacon.”
As more siblings have successfully launched into the adult world, the gifts have gotten a little less gagy (not from everyone – last year, Dad gave my sister an anthology of Christmas mysteries called “Murder and Mistletoe” that I’m sure he found on sale somewhere).
There have been dress ties, cigars and nice scarves we will never wear in San Diego.
Last year, I recieved a gorgeous set of copper mugs to entertain my guests with Moscow mules should the occasion ever present itself. As I have neither my own place nor the time to host cocktail hours, the mugs are sitting on display in the back of my closet. I think fondly of the day when I will get to use them.
This year, the idea of doing a Secret Santa has been floating around the sibling email chain.
I put my foot down pretty hard and heavy at first, but I’ve had to step back and think about the situation.
The trimmings alone can be expensive – trees, holiday foods, replacing strands of lights that the cats or the grandkids have inadvertently destroyed. Not to mention the price tags on travel expenses to see loved ones or the bill that arrives at the table after getting dinner or drinks with old friends you only get to see once a year.
When you add gifts into the mix, and multiply them by seven at least (not to mention in-laws and nieces and nephews), it is understandable that my family would, like many others, suggest a more structured gift-giving system this year.
Now, I don’t really like writing about financial pressures because it can be a downer of a subject. But, as someone who knows what it feels like trying to get through a week with the gas light on because the 57 cents in the bank just won’t refill the tank, I also know that finances are a real part of life and one that a lot of East County residents have to take into careful consideration around the holidays.
Unfortunately, we live in a society were financial security sometimes functions as a measure of personal character. Did you make the right life choices? Did you work hard enough? Have you been smart with your resources? We act as though, if people check all the boxes, they should assuredly be rewarded with an ample budget.
Clearly, Americans haven’t read enough Dickens.
Life does not dole out good things to the best people, and judging our neighbors by the size of their cars or houses or savings excludes the variables that make life the challenge and blessing that it is. The economy rises and falls, business partners pass on unexpectedly, families are faced with unplanned medical expenses or job loss. Some people just never catch a break.
Why does this matter?
Because talking about our financial situations is uncomfortable, so we never do it, so we never share that maybe we need help. Or maybe we just can’t manage the whole Christmas shindig this year.
I appreciate that certain members of my family have been sensative to this within our own little circle, especially given that I am certainly one of the siblings still giving “it’s the thought that counts” gifts. If anything, that right there feels like an “I love you, I see you.”
Because holiday presents are traditionally and culturally a way that people say, “I love you, I care,” there can be pressure to really come through with something nice.
I have two thoughts for my readers.
The first is that, if this article seems relatable at all, perhaps it might be time for you or your family to return to the humble roots of small but meaningful presents (if you don’t already have a Secret Santa thing worked out). After all, it really is the thought that counts. Forget iPads and expensive gadgets. Buy a little book secondhand they might find interesting and write a personal inscription on the inside. If you’re handy, make something yourself – knitted hats, shadow boxes, picture frames.
My second thought is to scrap the gifts altogether and just start telling people in your life that you love them. Say the words out loud. Yeah, you can include a hug too, if that’s your thing.
We shouldn’t be waiting till the holiday season to step away from our busy lives to show the people around us that we see them, appreciate them, care about them. In the words of my sister, a mother of three, “Use your words.”
And accompany those words with actions all year long. Take time to talk on the phone, show up for Sunday dinner, fix something that’s been broken in the house.
I love the holidays because I am one of seven and, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of love to go around. But I love that I’m one of seven because my family lets me know they care the whole year, and that’s a precious gift.