‘Tis the season to spend money, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. As we celebrate Christmas, Hannukah or Kwanza, extravagance seems to be required.
Our mailboxes bulge with catalogs, mall retailers advertise with abandon, and grocery aisles are crammed with displays of holiday goodies. We succumb, buying everything from new curtains to Santa statuettes, along with sugar, heavy cream and butter for calorie laden feasts.
Yet in the end we feel we somehow fell short of expectations, and when the bills arrive in January, we gasp at the sum of our expenditures.
It wasn’t always that way for our family. With lots of children and not much money, we couldn’t afford extravagance, so we made many of our gifts. I sewed doll clothes and kid clothes, while my husband crafted dollhouses, cradles, book shelves and wooden toys. We cut a tree ourselves and festooned it with popcorn and cranberry garlands and homemade ornaments.
Those years gave our children many happy memories of family Christmases.
My son remembers tramping through the tree farm for hours to find the perfect tree. My oldest daughter remembers baking and making gifts for relatives. My middle daughter recalls a Jacob’s Ladder her dad made from fifty cents worth of wood. My youngest daughter remembers her disappointment with a plastic cow which on television had appeared to be about ten times the size of the actual toy that appeared under the Christmas tree.
All the kids remember our being together, eating wonderful things, and enjoying visits from family and friends.
When I asked friends about their Christmas memories, several remembered holidays when their family was too poor to celebrate in the extravagant American tradition and enjoyed a quieter celebration with simple homemade gifts and family games.
Cynthia recalled the year her family had to settle for a Charlie Brown tree purchased at a bargain price on Christmas Eve instead of the gorgeous tree they had always decorated early in December.
People remembered special gifts from parents or a spouse who had thoughtfully selected something they would really use and enjoy.
Julie once found a big gift-wrapped box under the tree, and thought that her parents had bought her a TV for her room. “I never liked watching TV, and worried how I could hide my disappointment when I opened the gift. But the box turned out to be my very own typewriter, and I was delighted. I used it all through high school and college.”
Tamara, whose five sisters provided lots of hand-me-downs, found a new maroon coat with a gray wool collar and cuffs spread out under the tree. “I loved that coat the minute I saw it, and wondered with envy which of my sisters it was for. Then I saw my name on the gift tag!”
Jill said she remembered coming home after midnight Mass and sitting up talking with her older brother, home from college. “We sat and talked with only the tree lights on. I remember feeling very grown up being up so late and drinking eggnog with a brother I adored.”
Gary said his favorite gift was a music box he gave to his grandmother. It showed a nativity scene and played Silent Night. She played it often during the Christmas season, and then she died less than a month later. That music box graces his mantle every Christmas and reminds him of his grandmother.
Happy memories come these special times, not from spending a lot of money at holiday time. Here is a fact to help you keep things in perspective. The annual budget of the United Nations is $2.6 billion, less than one third of last year’s Toys’R’Us revenue. Isn’t it time to get sane about holiday spending?