Friday, December 05, 2008

It's Run By a Big Eastern Syndicate, You Know.

(Yeah, it's a re-run. But I still believe every word I wrote.)

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so right about this...Christmas has been way to commercial for way to long. Plus there is the music. I mean, I like music as much as anyone, with a huge CD collection to prove it. But is there some way that they can come up with "new" Christmas tunes? It seems the "traditional" ones have been played ad nauseum.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good thinking..

How about buying some canned food and taking it to a food bank, and
giving us a card that says what you did in our name, there are way
too many people out there that need
help,we don't need another scarf...

2:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wow, Quinn!! There here post is going on the fridge.

Peace - Rene

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well said and very true. What's wrong with simplifying and eliminating stress?

GREAT post.

7:17 PM  
Blogger Leta said...

For the past couple of years my family and I have exchanged receipts for Christmas. Heifer International, the Cleveland Symphony, the American Hiking Society, and other worthy organizations have benefited from the fact that we already have enough stuff. With all the animals we have bought for "each other" through Heifer, I like to joke that my family has accumulated a pretty large menagerie that we don't have to get early to feed or walk. Happy Holidays!

6:19 AM  
Blogger CameoRoze (Margaret) said...

Quinn, your essay gave me great food for thought. I used it as a jumping off point for my own blog post this morning:
Christmas Gifts

Thanks so much!
Cameo @-->-->---

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the re-run. It is just as true this year as any, and ALWAYS bears repeating.

2:00 PM  

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