Christmas Blessings

My family and I are incredibly blessed. I’m employed and make enough that Nik doesn’t have to work—even in the two-income-mandatory Bay Area; we have a nice place to live, money for food, clothes, and a few modern conveniences; generally we’re all more or less healthy. I like to think I’m aware of how good we have it, and hopefully I express my gratitude for our good fortune sufficiently. I clearly understand that despite it feeling sometimes like we don’t have much extra, we don’t want for much, which I suppose is excess enough.

But I do know that I’m not really all that great about giving back. I want to give back, I desire to be a more charitable person, it just feels like a challenge when there is a growing toddler who needs new clothes every few months (in spite of regular infusions from generous family members), various debts that need paying off, future plans that involve additional children and maybe someday a down payment on a house and all those other first-world, middle-class things that seem very important when you sit in front of a spreadsheet and a checkbook and wonder how it’s all going to fit together in the end. Put it this way, it’s a work in progress.

And then, at various intervals, we come to holidays like Christmas or my birthday and I clench my molars together and stare at the numbers and think about trying to fit gifts and trinkets and tchotchkes into a budget so we can experience the magic of a holiday season that is somehow left over from a childhood it’s been frankly hard to leave behind. Then I think of other families doing that same routine, staring at my name on a gift list and wondering if getting me a DVD is worth not having a zero balance on a credit card or is worth making that jacket with the hole in the elbow last another month or two. It disturbs me, a whole lot. I think about the materialism of a season that should be about anything but trinkets and gadgets and I get a little angry.

It’s not that I dislike gifts, despite what Nik may tell you. I actually love giving and receiving gifts. I love the spirit of them, in that pure and idealized way that everyone talks about when gifts go awry: “It’s the thought that counts!” True. But what thoughts are we counting? Societal pressure to reciprocate? Eeny-meeny-miney-moe from an Amazon list? Gratitude that someone cared enough to brave the shopping mobs? There’s nothing inherently evil in any of this, it’s just—icky. I don’t want anyone to feel obligation to me. I don’t need any of the gifty things people could bestow on me. I used to look at my haul at the end of the Christmas season with a childish, greedy pride (we’re not talking decades past here, we’re talking in the last few years) but slowly I’ve started looking at those material things with a sense of sadness and guilt. Why am I getting so much—and so much I don’t even need—when others have actual wants? Why am I okay with people being generous just because it’s what’s supposed to happen? And, really, is it what’s supposed to happen?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a “Jesus is the reason for the season” kind of person or not, the notion of Christmas spirit as tied to materialism and gifting is regularly scorned but scarcely actually railed against in a meaningful way. I think in part this is because the idea of Christmases we hold as treasured memories in our minds from childhood revolve around those derided ideals of mountains of gifts. We can look at them from a child’s perspective and say, “There’s nothing wrong with a kid getting a little spoiled on Christmas.” I’d agree with that to a degree, but what’s our excuse as adults, then? I’m at a loss. Something in us maybe thinks the cognitive dissonance of deciding its okay for kids to get heaps of presents but at some point you outgrow it is a bit too much to take. Then again, no one thinks its weird to age past the idea of Santa Claus (actually, don’t even get me started on that mess).

The point is, the whole scene is uncomfortable to me in a way that I can’t even fully unravel. But I’ve decided something this year, and it requires some help on your part, dear reader. I don’t want any gifts this year. I’m dead serious about this. My wishlist this year consists of nothing and I don’t mean that in the “I don’t know what I want, so whatever is fine.” I mean, “Please don’t buy me anything.” I have enough stuff. I have enough videos and games and books and gadgets. I have enough material goods. I don’t need any more and I don’t want you spending your money on me. The best gift you can give to me is to keep your money. This extends to my birthday as well. Whatever it is you think I’m going to love, I’m sure you’re right, but I don’t want you to buy it for me. Tell me about it, if you must. But I’ll make the purchasing decision on my own. I don’t want gift cards, I don’t want cash, I don’t want baked goods or promises to spend your time and talents on me. I don’t want any of those things not because I don’t appreciate it, but because that’s not what matters to me. Think of it this way, loved ones, I have almost 35 years of experience in seeing how incredibly generous and wonderful all the people in my life are, I know it full well. And I’m grateful. So very grateful. But I’m letting you off the hook this year. So please, for me, this year—make mine nothing.

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