A Perfect Christmas

Think twice: does it mean things or people?

I have this tendency to try and get everyone in my family everything they could possibly imagine for the holidays. While a reasonably noble cause, it is not always a responsible one. Believe me, I have gone well over the limit of both credit cards and checking accounts alike trying to find "the perfect" gift for Mom and to provide a veritable sea of new toys under the tree for my four children.

Now, here's a question that begs asking. Why? Why do I have a compulsive desire to do this? Why should I want to, and why should I and so many others be willing to go into debt in order to provide my family's every desire and whim at Christmas time?

I am not exactly sure what the psychological reason would be, perhaps some primitive gathering/shopping/maternal instinct/guilt trip. What's funny is that it's not the shopping part I like, it's the surprise and happiness on my kids' and husband's face when they open a long-waited-for present or a gift they didn't even know they would like.

Do I owe my madness and my money to the media? Am I merely a wee, and much poorer, Martha Stewart/Tasha Tudor wannabe, trying to provide a Christmas to remember? Perhaps. Perhaps I was. The "Good Thing" is that I am not now.

Setting priorities is the key

Putting holidays, the decorating, the food and the presents, in perspective has started to make life a bit easier, and more joyous around our home. How? Well, it started with the decorating. I wanted--and must admit to a wistful desire even now--to make my home eminate Christmas joy. I wanted Better Homes and Gardens, Martha and all the rest to be proud of the spirit I had invoked in decorating. I wanted a carefully adorned tree, garland down the banister, a surprise tucked in every corner, a ceramic Dickensian village, the whole deal.

Finally I had to "get real." Not only is all of that stuff costly, I had to wonder about the point of wearing myself out so that the kids might remember a beautifully decorated home when they're older, and so that the neighborhood association members would be impressed when they came over.

What do I think is important that the children remember now? How about that last year, for example, when my oldest son and I went to buy a wreath and some pine boughs for our home. While we were at the tree stand, Matthew saw a pile of what they called "kid's trees" (basically clippings, tops off trees that were too tall, etc.). They were selling for $3. Matthew, who had brought some of his saved allowance asked if he might be allowed to buy the family one of these trees. We were all so touched by the gesture (as I let the children spend their allowance on pretty much anything they want), that we made it last year's family tree. We also completed the tree with only handmade ornaments.

So what's the point of this story? Well, it's not just a true meaning of Christmas type of thing, although that is part of it. It's that our kids learned about contributing to the family celebration rather than having it be bestowed upon them. And I saved $50 on a tree! Oh, and I could give a flying fididdle what the neighborhood association thinks of my decor!

Put the "happy" back in "Happy Holidays"

So what do I recommend to keeping your expenses down and your sanity up in the holiday season? First, don't freak out about it. It's supposed to be fun, remember. I had to come to grips with my desires to give through buying stuff.

Try and give more by watching Rudolph on the floor with the kids with a load of popcorn.

Decorate a Christmas tree for the birds, with peanut butter and birdseed pinecones and garlands of strung popcorn.

Instead of buying all of those houses for a ceramic village, go to the stores where they have them all set up already and really look at every little detail. My kids love the animated Santas and snowglobes at the stores. I could never afford to create a winter wonderland like that at home, and they would get bored with it too quickly if I did. So instead, we go to a different store or mall everytime we do a bit of shopping and we take time to walk and look at each store's Christmas aisles. It satisfies their curiosities and my wallet at the same time.

As for presents, well, I love to give the kids presents and I haven't completely reconciled my desire to give them all of the stuff they want. But I do have them come up with just one special thing, an "if Santa could only carry one toy for everyone in his pack what would you like yours to be" thing, and this has worked pretty well.

You see, I was a spoiled, middle-class suburban kid. I only had to look at the toy catalog, mark off everything I wanted, and generally speaking, I got it. Not only can I not afford that for my kids, I don't think they should be able to just have whatever looks good in a catalog. So they pick one thing, and then I generally try and get them things that coincide with their interests and things that they didn't even think they might have liked. I search for quality now, not just quantity. I didn't do this one Christams and my kids actually complained that there was too much to open and they wanted to go play with what they already had!

One other thing, we talk a lot about people who might not have as much as we do, not only at Christmas, but all year round, and we try and think of ways we might be able to help other kids have a brighter Christmas season.

My best advice? Take time to enjoy the season. You don't have to do it all this minute, just enjoy what you're doing now, whether it's watching Rudolph or looking at the mall's decorations for the 10-millionth time. Remember, after the tree is gone, and the toys are broken and the last video game is played, all you have left are the bills. Make sure they were worth it!

© 1999-2017 Michelle Kennedy, used by permission.