Growing up, the holiday season was all about Christmas and religion. Out of all my fondest memories, none involved opening Christmas presents or playing with the latest gadgets and toys — after all, this was the 1980s in a third world country. I didn’t have the luxury, and I didn’t know better. Thus, my experiences with holiday traditions involved going to church, and praying a lot (for what reason, I didn’t know — I just knew that it was part of the process of being in church), and family gatherings with foods aplenty. There were laughter as well as tears and grim faces as we all paused to reflect upon Christ’s birth during midnight church service.
It wasn’t until I found myself in a new country, and many years later, as an adult that I started becoming aware of how materialistic our society has become in regards to Christmas. The holiday season became less about being together with loved ones than about the pressure to buy gifts, host parties, and traveling. Everywhere you go, there are “SALE SALE SALE” signs enticing you to buy, buy, buy. Shop until you drop, that’s what they say. It became an unspoken but rather obvious rule to “feel jolly” around the holidays by purchasing things for people, often times without knowing what they really wanted, if anything at all.
As soon as Halloween hits, that’s when the volcanic eruption of holiday shopping madness begins. Stores begin displaying holiday decor, and everything is bright and merry. It’s funny how all it takes is a few simple string lights to entice me to look at things in a store, and the longer I look at it, the more tempted I am to buy it. And it’s no wonder that I’ve gone through my twenties feeling this way. The pressure to shop for people is daunting. The temptation to shop for oneself is also daunting. It wasn’t until the past few years that I become aware of my feelings towards the holiday season. Right after New Year’s hits, many stores bombards you with all things exercise-related, hence begins the process of pretending that one is going to pursue their New Year’s resolutions. After all, we need to recuperate from the sugar high coma that we’ve been living in for the past two months.
We all know that New Year’s resolutions are fruitless and that not very many people are actually successful. But still — it’s there. There have been some years when I’ve received offers from credit card companies for a balance transfer or loan consolidation around the beginning of the New Year. I’m not quite sure if this was based on a schedule, or because these companies know that once people look at their bill from the previous month, they might cringe and wonder to themselves, “Yikes. How on earth did I spend that much last month?!?!”
The holidays can be and are quite expensive. It’s even worse when you become parents. That’s what happened to me several years ago. This article from the Washington Post talked about the feeling that I’ve experienced before, as I’m sure many of you have s well — the desire to “get it right.”
“We want our kids to be happy, and sometimes we feel like we must be ultra-organized, forward thinking and creative to make that happen.”
It’s a real struggle and often leads to feelings of stress and exhaustion. This holiday season, I struggled with the desire to provide a certain level of happiness for my kids through Christmas gifts with the lack of desire (and more so the inability) to buy presents. Before we had kids, and even now, it feels like there’s a pressure to act a certain way — to buy presents for the people in your family/social circles whom you only vaguely know, to feel grateful that you are getting something, to feeling like you should be jolly just because the mall is decorated and Santa is visiting, and because you see lights all around.
Last year, we were very fortunate to have a lot of presents donated to us from generous individuals (through an anonymous Winter Wonder program at my husband’s school), and thus, our Christmas involved a massive collection of wrapping paper and goods on the morning of Christmas day.
This year, it’s a little different. Not only have we been disappointed by certain people throughout the year, but also because our financial situation has changed quite a bit. No longer am I looking forward to social gatherings that much because I wasn’t that kind of person to begin with. (I’d be very awkward at a cocktail party). Granted, our income situation hasn’t changed dramatically, but it has changed quite a bit. No longer am I able to buy presents that costs more than $20 each. Every time the temptation to shop enters my head, I’d try to shake it out, knowing that we might as well be in much bigger debt if we succumb to buying unnecessary gifts that people may not like.
What once was an occasion to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth as a tender moment in time became a progression of fruitless spending, a wasteful money venture building up to familial drama. I’m sick of it. Call me a Grinch, but I’m tired of being tempted by lighted displays, baked goods, and sales. I’m tired of pretending to like something when I don’t, and I don’t want people to do the same thing to me either. I feel that the best thing you can do is to spend time with people who actually matter to you — or if none, then pets who are your friends. Because in the end, those who matter won’t judge you based on the presents that you give (or don’t give) and will still like you no matter what.
This year, I am grateful for my little family — what little family I do have, with my husband and children — are something that I truly treasure. But for me, Christmas is not about buying presents for people you don’t know, or going to social events like white elephant gift exchanges, or company parties, or hosting a party of your own. All of these activities create a certain level of anxiety that none of us needs.