Saturday, November 24, 2007

It's run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.

Daughter and Consort are off doing Saturday-afternoon things. This is to say Daughter is spending time with my mother and Consort is waiting to pick her up; a chore more accurately described as "loitering at the Apple Store". I am taking this opportunity to clean out Daughter's closet. This is necessary because our house was built during the era when people owned a single pair of shoes and the entire family shared a sweater.

I am also cleaning out the closet because I don't know if you noticed but we're heading into the Crap Accumulation Season. I know, I am bending my rule about working clean, but I chose my word with justifiable precision. A year ago, when it first entered the house all gaily-wrapped and lavishly-bowed, it was a present, a toy, a gizmo, a whatzit, a desirable object of some sort. Now, one year later, having been played with a grand total of seven minutes -- six of which were spent removing it from its package -- it's crap. And it seems to have reached its sexual maturity so it's now capable of mating with all the other crap in our closets, spawning more craplets that Daughter doesn't recognize and I don't want.

So with this in mind, I would like to share a few thoughts -- theses if you will -- regarding the upcoming holidays. There are only five so far (putting me about ninety shy of a reformation)and I promise not to nail them to the front door of the Best Buy. But I am serious. On a superficial level I am a parent running out of closet space. On a deeper level I'm a citizen utterly dismayed by America's economic fragility, a condition based in no small part by our mounting devotion to the twin gods: MasterCard and Visa.

So, in no particular order, my Five Theses for the 2007 Holiday Season:

1. MY DAUGHTER HAS ENOUGH STUFF. So does every single child I know. If left to their own devices they could play from Candy Corn season, through Holiday Corn season right up to Easter Corn season without ever leaving their bedrooms. If you are getting something for Daughter because you think it would be wrong to not give her something, please let me give you permission. Stuff-wise, she's full up. Don't worry, she’s going to get a few nice gifts from us, but once you start filling a trash-bag with any kid's previous years’ essentials you can’t help but notice how few toys he or she actually plays with.

2. IT'S NOT ABOUT THINGS. I don't want the season to be about the gathering of more pre-crap stuff. I want it to be about making a fire and watching the "Charlie Brown Christmas Special" [but no more than twice, because that song will get stuck in your brain]. I want it to be about driving home the long way to see the Christmas lights in the neighborhood. I want it to be about a local production of the "Nutcracker", where Daughter's friend is the second mouse from the left. I want it to be about picking out something special for a kid her age in the foster-care system and making felt catnip toys for the cats at our local rescue shelter. I want this time of year to about kindness and family and maybe eating divinity for breakfast one day. It's easy to make it about Her, what with her being an only child, but I have had the singular experience of knowing people who made it All About Me, and I would no sooner raise one of those than I would remove my own appendix with a spork.

3. IT’S NOT A STAGE SET, IT’S YOUR CREDIT SCORE. A mountain of presents spilling out from under the tree into the next room does look bountiful and marvelously excessive in a Ralph Lauren-y, Martha Stewart-y way. But you're not them. If a day’s worth of catalog-worthy snapshots leaves you with a dozen new and persistent phone buddies at a credit card call center in Bangalore, how attractive will that pile look come next September?

4. THIS ONE HOLIDAY ISN’T GOING TO FIX YOUR CHILDHOOD. So your father drank and your mother cried a lot and one year you got nothing but pork jerky from the old lady who lived downstairs? I am terribly sorry. I really am. But spending thousands of dollars to make sure everyone in your life has the best and most wonderful present from you isn’t going to fill that hole. A lot of presents are given for the most generous and high-minded of reasons, but I also think of a lot of money is spent trying to spackle over some really ancient sadness. It won't. Of course, if Old Lady Pork Jerky is still around, send her a nice card.

5. IT SHOULDN’T BE THAT HARD. If you are flogging yourself because you can’t think of a single thing to get a particular person because you just don’t know what they like to do or what their hobbies are, maybe that’s a hint that you don’t need to get them anything. Every year, I wait in dread for the SBFA (somewhere-between-friend-and-acquaintance) to give me a Starbucks gift card. On a practical level, this person just loaned Starbucks money, interest free, until such time as I redeem the card. On a personal level, I’d sooner pay for my own tea than have to endure that stricken “Gosh, thanks! Your present…is…around…here…somewhere…” moment; after which I rush off and get her a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf gift card for exactly the same amount. This has all the warmth and sincerity of an ATM transaction.

I guess I'm looking for a sane place somewhere between Ebenezer Scrooge and Thomas Kincaid. If you think there's some merit in this approach, all my Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa celebrators, let’s try something. At some point over the next three weeks, each of us will be standing somewhere, holding a singing trout in one hand and a digital tire gauge in the other trying to remember if Great-Uncle Ted is still unaccounted for, list-wise. When the saleswoman rushes up to ask if you need something wrapped, I suggest you tell her, in a calm, clear and appropriately cheerful voice, “Thanks, but I have enough”.

Then leave the store.

43 Comments:

Blogger Mindy said...

Amen Sister! Also, if people could go easy on the mostly non-recyclable Christmas wrap that would be great. Nicely written as usual.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous rebecca said...

SO AWESOME!!!

Now, is it tacky to email this URL to everyone I know?

My own daughter has more than enough for triplets, and she's just her own little two year old self.

8:09 PM  
Blogger margalit said...

You should win the most brilliant holiday post award, but I don't think there is one. But know that you are my new holiday hero!

10:48 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth H. said...

Way to go! Less is more.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Unfortunately, our crap has been left to breed for untold generations and is threatening to push us out of the house and take over the mortgage. So this year I'm giving "experience certificates". A movie together with my daughter, a "do a chore for me this week card, a "get out of lecture free" card, a grown up dinner involving clothes that have no stains on them, possibly even shaving my legs on request. You know, the things that become happy memories. The kind that don't take up any space.

Except maybe there'll still be some chocolate. As long as it doesn't come in such a beautiful box that my daughter won't be able to stop herself from keeping it.

11:04 AM  
Blogger OHN said...

We decided as a family years ago that since our needs were met and we had enough "stuff" that any money we had floating around in a Christmas budget somewhere, we would use for someone other than ourselves. Sometimes I feel like it should be illegal to feel so good knowing that there is a very unspoiled child or family out there that is having a Merry Christmas, maybe for the first time, because we were sneaky and saw that they were able to have a few things under their tree....if they even have a tree.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Goslyn said...

What an incredible post. I agree with all five of your theses, and if you had 90 more and tacked them to the Best Buy door, I would join your reformation.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous kesia said...

a friend once recommended to me that you could donate each person's portion of your christmas budget to the charity of his or her choice [jimmy would like his $25 donated to the american cancer society, and aunt sally wants hers donated to the humane society] and while that money may be pocket change to these organizations who hope for major major donations, every little bit helps.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite simply, I think you are right!

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Skerrib said...

Rock ON.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Thumper said...

margalit sent me, and I'm glad she did... BIG thumbs up! I kinda want to email this to my entire family...

:::blogrolled, too:::

7:02 PM  
Anonymous bethany actually said...

Margalit pointed me here. I read portions of your post out loud to my husband, and we were both laughing and nodding in agreement. I have been thinking these very things myself, and have been trying to figure out a way to implement them. Perhaps I shall just direct my family and friends to your blog.

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Lauren said...

I love this.

If you hang a petition in Best Buy's window, I'll sign it!

7:18 AM  
Anonymous kinderny said...

Oerfect! We started doing the charity thing each year and it has been wonderful. We write a letter to family and friends talking about the charities we chose and why, stick in a photo and a recipe and that is what we open on Christmas morning. We even let the kid chose one of the recipient groups. It is just lovely to see what other loved ones have chosen and to know how much good we are doing. Hey, it could even work for the friend/acquaintance that shows up with a gift card....

7:46 AM  
Anonymous Invader Tim (Current Mission: Seattle) said...

I wanted to add something to the fifth thought. I always hate when people display such laziness by giving money or gift cards. What they're really saying is they either don't know you well enough to know what you'd want, or don't care enough to take the time to get it. Either way, I say, then don't get me anything. Gifts are supposed to be a display of love and / or regard for someone you KNOW. But the way so many people handle it, it's like they're just paying a bill. Well call me Mr. Fussypants, but if all I represent to you is some traditional obligation, thanks but no thanks. I'd prefer sincere contempt over false affection. Thanks for a really GREAT one, Quinn. :>

12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely. I have been thinking similar thoughts as Christmas approaches.

Also, I am dismayed when I go shopping and see parents buying t-shirts for their little girls that say 'It's all about me" because they think it's "cute".

6:21 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

I just signed my mom into a nursing home last night.

Are we as a people aware of how LITTLE we actually need?

She has a few things of her own, and pictures of happier times.

I LOVE the 'experience certificate' idea.

We take nothing material with us at the end, but the love goes on forever.

At least, as I read it, that is what this season is supposed to be about.

p.s. - Quinn! I want your book. I just know it will be the perfect gift for everyone on my list!

6:23 AM  
Blogger randycoxclemson said...

Excellent article. I've been preaching this for some time and I wish/hope it's beginning to sink in. Keep on pushing this cause--it's worthy.

Now, if I could just find a place to send the kids for a day so I could shovel out their crap...

8:32 AM  
Blogger Antique said...

An excellent post. Sign me upfor opting out of the rampant materialism that is Christmas. Last year, after two years of pleading, I got everyone to agree that we would only do gifts for kids, meaning kids that lived at home, and it was a much more enjoyable Christmas.

8:23 PM  
Blogger miss cavendish said...

In Iceland the tradition is to give your family and friends a book for Christmas. Then you spend the holiday reading it! As a literature professor, that's a meaningful gift for me to give, and it can be pleasurable to match a book to a reader.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a delightful way of reminding us that many of us have way more than we need--do we really need to give or receive more?

8:52 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

Excellent post! I found you through Antique Mommy. I'm linking this post in my blog too.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Lene Andersen said...

Amen. Brilliant. Thank you. And p.s. so glad to have independent confirmation of the "crap procreates in the dark" theory. People have always looked at me funny when I say that, but I swear, if you've seen my diningroom table (a.k.a. Horizontal Filing Area"), you know The Truth: crap breeds like rabbits.

Love your writing!

9:01 AM  
Blogger Circus Kelli said...

AMEN.

"I also think of a lot of money is spent trying to spackle over some really ancient sadness."

Very. Well. Put.

9:22 AM  
Blogger kittyhox said...

Love this!

2:20 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

Fantastic. I've been stewing over a post about this for days, and here you've already gone and written it brilliantly. Amen.

2:48 PM  
Anonymous FeeFiFoto said...

THANK YOU.

4:04 PM  
Blogger Mercy's Maid said...

I totally agree with you.

Have you heard of Advent Conspiracy? (www.adventconspiracy.org)

It's a movement to take a lot of the commercialization out of Christmas and spend the money we would normally spend on gifts to worthy causes. Imagine the impact we could make if enough people were willing to do it!

4:51 PM  
Blogger D said...

I think I'll just print this out as my annual "Christmas Letter"... you are SO Right On! Have ya'll heard of KIVA.ORG? That's where our "christmas gifts" will be going this year, starbucks be damned! Also? Our kids (17, 11, 9) decided a family vacation was worth more than plastic barbies and game boy cr*p! NC, here we come!

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant! I couldn't agree more.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for saying what needs saying about how ridiculous things get this time of year.

7:01 PM  
Blogger Coach J said...

I agree! My mom is stressing out over what style and color of Kavu purse to buy my daughter, and I'm shaking my head at her. If she truly needs a purse, she'll be thankful for whatever she gets. Or get a free lecture from Yours Truly.
The hubs and I have noticed that grandparents don't agree with your 5 thesis. How we wished they did! If you must give to us, we need 2 college funds instead of a pair of crocs.
And, anon up there, I hate seeing those shirts that say "it's all about me", too! What I hate even more is seeing "cutie" or "sweet" plastered on the butt of sweatpants. Yes, let's attract every eye to our young, innocent daughter's well-rounded booty. I think that's what responsible parents need to do. NOT!
Great post.

7:58 AM  
Blogger nancygrayce said...

You are 100% right! This year I will be giving my granddaughter part of the money she needs for a class trip. I want them to know about Jesus! Thanks for helping take away the guilt!

5:23 PM  
Blogger Marie said...

Oh man... indeed.

I have a post in my queue on clearing the deck. I must link to your post... so well put! Antique Mommy sent me over.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Terry Calhoun said...

A $25 gift certificate was the most "fought over" gift in my office exchange this year, you know, the kind where you get a number and can open a present or "steal" one from someone else.

It was, however, to www.kiva.org, which I highly recommend. It's the gift that lets the recipient give, and go on giving, where it's really needed.

Your gift recipient can "lend" the money to someone in a developing country who really, really needs it, learn something about them, watch them pay it back, and then re-lend it to someone else.

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally! Some sanity in the Xmas season.
To the big list of what other people have suggested I'd like to add something my workplace has done this year: instead of buying crappy, cheap 'Secret Santa' gifts that nobody really wants, we pooled our money and are donating it to charity (in our case, Oxfam).

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Jolyn said...

I found your blog through "Antique Mommy" and I really enjoyed your writing on what seems to be a common topic as of late. (Yet the news declared that this year's Black Friday sales were up from last year??) If people like you keep writing things like this in this relatively new bloggity-blog world we have, I believe it really will change things over time and help us all to feel like we are in on this together!

6:48 AM  
Blogger Missy said...

Preach it Sister!

10:34 AM  
Blogger Carolie said...

I nominated this post for a Perfect Post award at Suburban Turmoil. http://suburbanturmoil.blogspot.com/2008_01_01_archive.html

Thank you for expressing what so many of us need to hear!

5:21 AM  
Blogger ccap said...

I think I might love you a little bit.

8:23 AM  
Blogger BookMomma said...

Here by way of Suburban Turmoil - congrats for the perfect post!
What a great way to put my feelings exactly..."Here, here!" and "Amen!". Thanks for posting.

6:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My girls, 13 and 9, need nothing so this year my mother donated a flock of chickens to the heifer project instead of buying them the usual garbage. My nine year old couldn't be happier and has named several of the chickens. The first was named Mary after the Virgin herself; my apologies to the Pope.

Elle

6:49 PM  
Anonymous La BellaDonna said...

Elle, I will take the liberty of saying that I think MARY probably understands the value of chickens; there is therefore no need for the Pope to be offended.

Gift cards; oh, how I hate them. I suffer for all the folks who buy them with the greatest of intentions, and then ... give them to people like me, who do not shop in gift-card emporia. They do me no good, and impoverish themselves a little thereby. If you know me and love me, no gift is needed ... but you probably know what I like. If you don't know me well but are observant, cash is not an insult. I have paid bills and bought groceries courtesy of discreet cash gifts from employers. But oh, the people who feel OBLIGATED. Dear people, spend the money on a dinner together with your families, rather than give me a gift card which will sit in a drawer, useless to us both. I will be happy, I promise.

As for me, I struggle to control the urge to clutter up my siblings' lives with bits and bobs - not because they wouldn't enjoy them, but because, like me, they are desperately trying to de-clutter.

1:56 PM  

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