The Christmas Present Conversation
This is our fourth simple Christmas in a row. What started as a frugal move (Let’s Skip Presents, Money’s Tight) became a philosophical stance (Let’s Get Real). Last night, I had the Christmas present conversation with my son and daughter-in-law. They just want to double-check that the no-present tradition is still in place, and I don’t blame them–few things are more uncomfortable than showing up empty-handed at a family gathering, and then being handed cheerily-wrapped packages from under the tree.
It’s Red! It’s Green! It’s the Holiday Thing!
We don’t actually do empty-handed, though. Comestibles are always welcome, and we make a point of bringing them, too. Family gifts tend to be on an as-needed basis–there’s a baby shower coming up at the start of the new year, etc. But traditional gift-giving is fraught with problems and potential waste of time and resources. We live in a small house, and so do the kids. None of us are spendthrifts or clothes horses, and could all be considered minimalists.
What do you get the minimalist who, by definition, has everything? Answer: nothing! Nothing, that is, except whatever is suitable to the spirit of the occasion: good cheer, something to eat or drink, something to do. Don’t worry about sizes, specs, or gift receipts.
And what kind of holiday should a minimalist throw? Whatever suits! In our own house, I’ve used a light hand (for me): a medium-size tree, a couple of unfussy things here and there, a few lights around the front door and the shrubs flanking it. For Christmas day I’ll set out a buffet on the kitchen/dining room counter, a jigsaw puzzle on the table, we’ll eat in the cozy living room, watch movies or play a game, and have a late brunch on Boxing Day. My mother needs a computer upgrade, so the whole family is looking into that and will be helping her to set it up and learn to use it. There’s the possibility of taking in the light show at a local park, as well. There are a couple of gatherings at friends’ houses the following week. More might spontaneously happen. You’ll know it’s Christmas around here, just not the big-box or style magazine version.
Sometimes I miss the whole full-on holiday thing, taking on the role of Mistress of Christmas Cheer, decorating every square inch of the house and yard, baking hundreds of cookies (and eating many of them), picking out Christmas cards and sending them out in the mail, making a list of who gets presents, and who gets cookies, picking out wrapping paper and trimmings, popping holiday albums on the record player/tape deck/cd player (that’s how long ago it was), loading the house up with the scent of bayberry, pine, and cinnamon candles and potpourri, freezing while picking out a Christmas tree and then setting it up in its stand, planning the gourmet holiday menu, planning another gathering or two, shopping, shopping, shopping, battling the crowds, getting inspired by displays and advertisements and commercials and strongly-dropped hints, making impulse purchase after impulse purchase–some of them for myself as well as those on The List, and, generally, just flinging myself into the whole darn thing in every possible way. Sometimes.
I like being generous. I’ll bet most of you do, too. And that’s sometimes the problem.
Magnaminity is considered a positive trait, but it’s easy to abuse. Doing an over-the-top Christmas can be narcissistic, all about “Look what a wonderful holiday I can provide.” The let-down that so many people experience after this kind of effort is the result of not getting back that certain something that you’ve put into it, especially if the various actors on the stage you’ve set don’t play their roles according to your script. If the let-down feeling is persistent, you might want to look closely at your motivations.
Being the recipient of magnaminity can be burdensome, as well. How do you adequately appreciate someone else’s generosity when it comes from their vision of what you and everyone else wants? You can’t. This is a dynamic that is doomed for failure. If you’re the one putting on the holiday show, stop to think a moment of others’ comfort levels, of the level past which they’ll feel overwhelmed or obligated instead of grateful. Once you start thinking of that, it’ll check the narcissistic impulses that we’re encouraged to express in a consumerist culture.
If just the very act of doing an over-the-top holiday brings you deep no-regrets satisfaction, whether or not anyone else sufficiently appreciates it, go for it! But I’ve learned, as have so many others, that less really can be more–when the stuff doesn’t get in the way of the spirit of things.