I cannot get enthusiastic about Christmas. And all the fuss makes me increasingly grumpy as the season progresses. Increasingly, I cannot see the point.
I think Sara hit the nail on the head near the beginning of her post on this subject:
From The Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben:
Since we live with relative abandon year-round, it’s no wonder that the abandon of Christmas doesn’t excite us as much as it did a medieval serf. We are – in nearly every sense of the word – stuffed. Saturated. Trying to cram in a little more on December 25 seems kind of pointless.
Exactly. Couldn’t have said it better myself. It seems pointless. If we need anything, we go and buy it. And we end up with a pretty loose definition of need.
In addition to that general problem, I also resent having to buy gifts for people for this particular day, even if I don’t see anything that I really want to give them, and feeling like it is inappropriate to give gifts at random points in the year when I do see (or make) something that I think would be perfect for someone that I’d really like to express my love for through gift giving. The whole idea of getting stressed looking for a gift that is supposed to express love seems a bit screwy to me.
Last year I almost didn’t get anything for Tigger. We’d just been travelling around Europe. She’d been to some of her “must see” museums. We’d bought lots of books (even considering the constraint of having to carry or mail them home). She was getting the experience of a lifetime. I’d also taken her shopping for a new top to wear for Christmas (and associated parties), at a rather more expensive shop than I would normally go for. And Christmas gifts would have to be carried home, too. It seemed kind of pointless. She insisted that I fill a stocking, so I went out and did that and it was kind of fun and okay. But my initial feeling was that she didn’t need gifts because she had had so much. I was genuinely surprised that she was expecting anything.
And if Tigger needs new pyjamas or coloured penciles or sketchbooks, why should she wait another 6 weeks for them just because they would make good presents? The definition of need tightens up considerably at this time of year. Pyjamas she has already because her others were too small.
Most of the family on our list are also comfortably off. They can afford what they need. And even what they want. And for older people (my parents are straddling 80), what are they going to do with more stuff? As of a couple of years ago, we’ve gone to things like magazine subscriptions and charity donations. The latter are now my Christmas gift of choice. I started out with Oxfam, a good solid development charity with a well organized gift program. (Here’s the UK site. And the US one.) They have a range of options so you can pick a price bracket, and they’ll send a card announcing your gift an explaining what it will be used for (either e-card or card card). Other organizations run similar programs. Check your own favourite charities.
And then gradually I’ve been working out which charities are close to the hearts of the people I want to give gifts to. My dad gives a lot of support to a housing charity local to him, for example. My mother-out-law supports her local arts centre. Both have served on the boards of those local organizations and are really committed to the work they do. Neither of those organizations is involved in anything offensive to me, they are just lower down my personal priority list. But if the point is to give a gift that is meaningful to the receiver, I’m more than happy to support their favourite charity. Both have been really pleased that I’ve done that, bringing the meaning of gift giving back into the equation. My father-out-law is really into Renaissance art, so I was really pleased when Gaynor blogged about the Titian campaign the other day.
I don’t live in the same local area as most of my relatives. So how do I manage to make a donation. Well, for my dad, I just went to Canada Helps and searched for the name of the charity. I can then donate online and they communicate with the charity. There is a place at checkout for me to put a note indicating that this is a gift and that I would like them to inform my dad that a donation has been made in his name. You can give to any organization registered as a charity with the Canada Revenue Agency on that site. They take a very small admin fee but when you consider the costs (particularly for small organizations) of maintaining a web presence, secure website, etc. it is well worth it. They also ask for a voluntary donation towards their work. I happen to think they offer a very useful service to a large number of charities. (There is a similar service in the US called Network for Good.)
I’m not sure if there is a similar service for UK charities, and if anyone knows of one shout out in the comments. But the organization’s website should have information about how to donate to them. If they don’t have a website, then phone their office for information on how to give. Remember, this is your friend or relative’s favourite charity. The work involved in figuring out how to give them is probably less than the work involved in trudging around a bunch of shops looking for a gift.
I’m also doing some handmade as you know. But that is largely driven by finding something that would be ideal for a particular person rather than looking for something that would be good. If I resent having to look for presents for people, you can imagine how much more I would resent having to put all that effort into making a present for someone. I also hate to knit (or anything else) to a deadline. I will not be that crazy woman who is depriving herself of sleep trying to get all the handmade presents finished. In general, that I reject the idea that that kind of self-sacrifice is necessary to demonstrate your love. I also reject the idea that that is just “what mothers do”. Staying up all night with a sick child is perfectly reasonable self-sacrifice. Creating need so you can demonstrate your love by self-sacrifice to meet that need is just crazy. (You can see how it makes me grumpy.)
Before you get all cheery on me… I will decorate a bit. And we’ll bake some cookies. And we’re going to go to the advent wreath workshop after church next Sunday. We are planning dinner with friends (the ones we usually spend Christmas with). We’ll go to church Christmas Eve (Tigger is even server that night). And I’ll make donations to charity on behalf of a bunch of people I care about. I’ll even give gifts to some of them. But it’s going to look more like Sara’s simple Christmas than like whatever passes for normal these days.