“Christmas, Christmas time is here, and Christmas songs you love to hear, Thoughts of joy and hope and cheer, but mostly shopping, shopping, shopping…”
The first time that I ever heard this song by Straight No Chaser, it was mid-November and I was driving to work. And it struck me how accurate the lyrics of this song seem to represent nowadays. And I just felt sad. No, this post isn’t going to be a religious diatribe. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Christian, and I believe that Christmas is for celebrating the coming of Christ, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to talk about consumerism, how much it really stands out during the holidays, and how we combat it in our traditions.
When Did Christmas Become About Consumerism?
Sometimes I feel like Cindy-Lou Who in Jim Carrey’s version of The Grinch, asking Where Are You Christmas? I don’t think it’s Christmas, per se, but more materialistic thinking that’s changed not only Christmas, but society in general. When you’re still carrying last year’s holiday debt into this year (as per this article from CNBC), there’s something wrong. When the amount of boxes, or the cost of what’s in those boxes, under the tree dictates how much love you have for another, there’s something wrong. When kids are being berated by their peers because they don’t have the latest and greatest gadgets (don’t get me started on kids with cell phones – that’s another post for another time!), there’s something wrong.
You can go around and blame the stores. Blame those in marketing for shoving their advertisements in our faces. But the reality is, they’re just giving us what we’ve asked for. They wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t work. So why does it work? I don’t have the answer to that question, because the answer is different for everyone. All I can do is give you the solution that we’ve come up with for beating Christmas consumerism.
Why is Christmas so Special to Me?
Christmas has been my favorite time of year for as long as I can remember. My mom made Christmastime magical for our family. She loved Christmas as well, and though we didn’t have a lot of money, she made the most of what we did. We always had a delicious turkey dinner, a freezer full of baked holiday treats, and gorgeous, one of kind gifts that she (and my dad, on occasion) made for us. I don’t remember many of the gifts I received as a child, but the ones that I do remember were always handmade creations. (Click here to read more about my mom, and how she passed down her love of crafting to me.)
I love my Christmas memories. There were the big family gatherings, playing with my cousins and skating. There were the get togethers with friends throughout the holidays. I loved singing in the school concerts, driving around looking at Christmas lights, and making crafts and cards for my grandparents. Christmas was a time to play games and do puzzles together with our loved ones. And of course, there was Christmas morning itself; waking up early, and running downstairs to see if Santa had been there the night before. My hope is that Gaby and I are instilling these kind of memories into our children to look back on when they’ve grown up.
No Christmas Presents?
Let’s get something out in the open right here: I am NOT opposed to Christmas presents. I am not one of those people that’s going to tell you not to buy a single gift this year. Giving gifts to others is part of the Christmas season, and a really fun part at that. Heck, even the wise men brought gifts to baby Jesus! (Yes, I know that Jesus’ birthday isn’t on Christmas day, or that the Magi saw him on the night he was born.)
To me, there’s a difference between buying gifts for your loved ones, and getting consumed by consumerism during the holidays. It seems like Christmas has become only about shopping, the deals, buying, buying, buying. Spending until you think that everyone is going to be happy, only to become stressed yourself because it’ll take half the year to pay off the bills you’ve acquired.
“What do the kids need?” I get asked this every year (at Christmas and birthdays), and every year, I have the same answer. “They don’t need anything!” Our children are content with what they have. They have clothes, food, water, the necessities of life, and far more toys and gadgets than I had growing up. We hardly ever hear them ask for any particular toy, and are always over the moon with whatever gift they get. Even if it’s socks. (Our kids love new socks!)
So If They Don’t Need Anything, What Do You Get Them?
When Kat was little, I came across the four-gift rule, which I found to be a fantastic guideline for when it comes to planning Christmas gifts. The rule goes as follows: something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. For the most part, Gaby and I try to stick to this model. (Especially since they also receive gifts from aunts, uncles, and grandparents as well.)
But the best gifts, the ones that they remember receiving, are the ones that have been handmade. Last Christmas, Gaby made Katrina the most beautiful doll house. (She plays in there constantly!) For each of the older two’s birthdays the last year, my sister made them each a sewing kit with reusable cards for them to practice on. (They love their crafts and are always asking to sew!) And there have been many others as well – doll clothes, a work bench, dress up clothes, so many wonderful things that they have used over and over throughout the years.
We love the idea of making homemade gifts for the kids. For one thing, the quality is always better than what you can buy in the store. And making something shows that you’ve poured your love into the gift you’re giving, through the hours you spend making it. And what we don’t make, we try to upcycle or recycle other pieces. The kids are getting very few bought gifts from Gaby and I this year.
Our Christmas Traditions
Ever since the kids were old enough to sit through a movie, we have had a traditional Christmas Eve family movie night. That night, the kids are allowed to open one gift, a pair of handmade pajamas and a new movie (last year I even made matching pj sets for their doll and Build-A-Bear). Then we grab our snacks and watch a movie together by light of the Christmas tree. And when we’re done, we put out cookies and milk for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer.
Christmas morning, the kids get up early and open their other gifts. This year, their biggest gifts are upcycled. When I was young, my mom made my sister and I each a box full of doll clothes. I kept them throughout the years, along with all of my dolls. Katrina will be getting the entire collection. Last year, my brother donated his Lego assortment to us, and since the kids were a little too young for it then, we decided to give it to the boys this year as their main gift. I will also be making each of our children a new pair of flannelette pajamas as well as a crochet stuffy in their favorite characters.
The only bought gifts this year will be our Christmas Eve movie, and the gifts from Santa Claus. Santa always brings the stocking stuffers in our home. They usually consist of a book, a small toy, and something useful, but fun (like an electric toothbrush or hair accessories).
I love everything about Christmas, but my most favorite part is watching my kids eyes light up when they see what Gaby and I have been working on for them throughout the month of December. How about you? What’s your most favorite thing about the holidays? What do you think about consumerism at Christmastime? Do you think we’re way off base with our opinions about excessive Christmas spending? Drop us a line in the comments below, or write to us using our contact page. We’d love to hear what you think.