Growing up, my Christmases were filled to the brim with holiday spirit. My parents decorated every inch of our home, while holiday tunes from Bing Crosby, Perry Cuomo, and Frank Sinatra played in the background. My mother wasn’t much of a baker, but at Christmastime she’d make those Italian honey balls with the sprinkles on top…Struffoli I believe they are called.
In December, our basement overflowed with cardboard boxes stacked high filled with packaged butter cookies, assorted chocolates, tins of colorful hard candies and of course peppermint candy canes. Back in the 1970’s companies did things like give employees turkeys at Thanksgiving, and bags of candy during the holiday season. Well, at least my dad’s company did, and it was part of his job to purchase and assemble these holiday employee goody bags. I loved playing down there among the towers of boxes and also helping out in the “assembly line” to put one of everything in the large red and white striped gift bags. I felt a bit like a Christmas elf this time of year when our house smelled like Christmas and was full of the love, joy and sense of giving that embodies the season.
If all that wasn’t enough to top off my Christas spirit, my parents Santa was always very, very generous to me. On Christmas morning there were wrapped gifts scattered everywhere..all for me. Yet, as an only child, I would have traded in most of those gifts to have a sibling to play with on Christmas Day.
As a teenager and young adult, I continued celebrating the holiday season by caroling door to door with my friends, performing holiday tunes at nursing homes, and attending Christmas Carol concerts at my church. I traveled into the city to see the tree at Rockefeller center, watched the old classic holiday movies with my mother, baked homemade cookies and also made handcrafted jewelry to give as gifts.
Once I was married and became a parent, my love for the holiday season filled our household. I wanted Christmas to be just as magical for my kids as it was for me. I baked, cooked, decorated, decorated some more, and of course I shopped. The bulk of my holiday shopping for the last twenty years has been for my children. I felt my kids should have all I had and since I received a lot for Christmas as a child, I bought them a lot too.
I was also maniacal about finding the latest “hot”, “must have”, “can’t find anywhere” toys of the season. I remember when a toy called FURBY was the latest and greatest thing. It was almost impossible to get your hands on one and I needed three of them, as I was determined that each of my kids (we hadn’t adopted my youngest yet) would get a FURBY under the tree.
My mother was even in on the hunt, and waited at dawn outside a toy store on Black Friday to snatch one up. I then took to eBay to locate more. I won auction after auction and paid ridiculous prices for the gibberish talking piece of furry plastic. I was addicted to buying Furbies and gave them to all my nieces, nephews and even friends. When Christmas Day came, the kids were excited to get their Furby for about five seconds. I don’t ever recall anyone playing with them. The toy was actually quite annoying and ended up collecting dust in the toy basket. You would think I might have learned from that experience, but I didn’t. Each year I actually prided myself in being able to get whatever the new marketed, “hot toy” was. Somehow that made me feel important.
As the kids got older the amount of gifts I purchased each of them increased. I started with 10 gifts each, then it escalated to around 15 gifts each. I suppose it went something like this… One day while the kids were in school, I’d be wrapping and notice that my daughter had two more gifts than my sons. So then of course I’d have to buy the boys two more gifts each. One child couldn’t have more gifts than the others, right? As they got older this became more difficult because I couldn’t think of what to get them, but I didn’t want to buy them LESS gifts than the previous year. Each Christmas had to be better than the last. That’s when I started buying “filler” gifts, which was basically buying anything I could find just to increase and even up the boxes.
Throughout the year I would notice that half (or more) of what I bought was never used and ended up being thrown out or donated. Yet, I never learned. The next year would roll around and I would get caught up in the same wasteful cycle. Then just as I felt the older kids might be able to handle less gifts, my youngest got to the fun age of loving Christmas and I didn’t want to change things lest he question why his siblings didn’t get a lot of gifts from Santa too.
I just couldn’t see the forest through the trees. No matter how overwhelmed I felt, I would still go out and purchase 50 to 60 gifts for my kids, I didn’t want to change anything…including myself. My husband and I would argue about this, as he realized the kids didn’t need all the “stuff” I bought. He’d tell me that I should buy less for them, but of course I did not listen. I’d call him “Scrooge” and complain that he had no Christmas spirit and couldn’t relate because he didn’t get great gifts when he was a kid.
Each year became more stressful for me and I spent so much time worrying about the gifts that I stopped enjoying Christmas. I no longer had time to bake, I rushed to get the house decorated, I barely listened to holiday music and I either fell asleep or was on my computer shopping while the family watched Christmas movies.
This past summer, back in August, I saw a playful post on Facebook stating there were 18 Fridays until Christmas. I could feel the panic rise from within me. I thought “No way. already? I have no idea what I am going to get my kids!” I felt actual dread that the holidays were coming and it had nothing to do with the fact that I didn’t want the warm weather to change into snow. It hit me then that something had to change. All that I loved about the season had been lost for me as I only focused on what to buy.
Somehow in trying to create the Best Christmas Ever I had lost the true meaning of Christmas.
When November rolled around, I approached my husband and said “I’m ready to BUY LESS this year at Christmas”. He was happy, I was happy, now of course we had to tell the kids.
At Thanksgiving when all the kids were home, we had a chat with my older three (while my 9 year old was playing in another room). Their reaction surprised me. The boys were completely happy with the decision as they honestly didn’t want much more than a pair of sneakers and a few items of clothing. Telling my daughter was more difficult as she had already put together quite a long list of things she desired. But once again I was surprised in her acceptance of the decision. She gladly readjusted her list too!
As for my nine year old, we decided he would receive more gifts than the older kids since he believes in Santa. However, I will still reduce the number of presents he gets…I truly don’t think he will notice. Let me restate that…he WILL NOT notice. After all, who ever counted except for me?? I will also be more mindful when shopping for him this year and purchase quality toys that he will enjoy and not just the latest flashing, blinking thing that will fall apart and get discarded in three weeks. In fact, I don’t even know what the “hot” toys are this season (please don’t tell me).
I will not be buying “filler” gifts either. The older kids know they will not have the same amount of gifts to unwrap. They are completely fine with this. And yes, we also may not spend the same amount on each kid. This isn’t because we favor any one kid over the other. We will buy them what they truly need right now and this will differ with each kid. My kids live a great life. They are loved, happy, well adjusted, and grateful. We always help to provide them with what they need (or want) anyway throughout the other 364 days of the year. They never needed 15 gifts under the Christmas tree.
It may have taken me too many years to realize that giving my kids Christmas spirit has nothing to do with giving them tons of gifts. They never needed nor did they ever really want all those things. Our tree this year may have less gifts underneath it, but my home will be filled with family, love, time together and the smell of gingerbread and sugar cookies baking In the oven. I will actually stay awake to watch my favorite Christmas movies (with my computer shut) and have already been playing holiday music.
Since I’m not stressing and spending all my free hours shopping for gifts, I’ve gained the time to do all the little important things again. I’ve made plans to visit with family and friends I haven’t seen in a while. I’ve bought tickets to take my youngest to a local holiday theatre production of “Elf”. I’m also helping him build a Lego Christmas town, and I’m even enjoying the task of decorating my house. Most importantly, I have time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and the hope and anticipation of love and joy that Advent brings.