Christmas, ungifted

While it’s not surprising these days to hear about canceled travel plans and families staying put for the holidays, I was shocked to read recently about a mom who opted to celebrate a “no-gift” Christmas.
Shocked, but oh-so-delighted.
Call me a Grinch, but I have long believed that the commercialization and the buy, buy, buy mentality of Christmas are the ruination of the season, and a sane society would at least limit the gift tradition to children under 18 – if it preserved it at all.
And if there was ever a holiday season made for scaling back on the shopping and spending, it’s this year’s.
Patty Kruszewski, Citizen Managing Editor
As the harried mom who canceled gifts wrote, she has spent recent months buying her son gifts at random times “to either help him or me feel like we’re getting through this pandemic and finding joy where we can. And honestly? He doesn’t need any more stuff.
“We don’t need more toys. . . and I certainly don’t need the stress of masking up to go shopping, or staying up late to wrap all the presents. My son doesn’t need a mama who is tired and feels overburdened and burnt out.”
Besides, eliminating all the reflex gifting from the season still leaves us plenty of ways to enjoy and celebrate the holidays.
In fact, being freed from the absurd amounts of time and money we spend on endless shopping, wrapping and shipping presents — which, let’s face it, so often end up re-gifted or in a Goodwill bag – leaves us that much more time for the truly satisfying rituals.
I was thrilled to see, for instance, that people put up their holiday lights earlier than ever this year. Though I don’t hang lights myself, I completely understand the impulse to add sparkle to what has been an extraordinarily dark and dreary year (and I hope everyone keeps the lights up until spring).
When my girls were young, I spent many a Christmas Eve driving them around in their pajamas, while they sipped hot chocolate and oohed and aahed over the luminaries and light displays in nearby neighborhoods. Today, touring light displays is still a safe, low-cost option for families, as are other traditions.
The virus might have taken away our holiday parties and gatherings – but it can’t take away the lights! Nor can it take away the colorful wreaths, the baking, the tree-trimming, Christmas story read-alouds, birthday parties for Baby Jesus, movie nights, marshmallow-toasting, Christmas Eve pancake suppers – you get the picture.
The kids can still fix milk and cookies for Santa (who, in a scaled-back Christmas, might only show up to stuff stockings with trinkets and treats).
Or, in another streamlined version of Christmas, Santa might only hide a single gift per child. (In my household, Santa got so good at hiding gifts that one year the family gift-opening ritual was delayed until afternoon.)
Even with simplified or reduced gift-giving, Christmas can still be a season of giving. There are more people in need than ever before, thanks to the pandemic. Why not shift emphasis to making meaningful gifts to people in need, instead of overindulging the already-indulged?
I heard of one family that established a new tradition after the children were grown: each person now finds someone in need to spend $50 on during the holidays. Gifts lean toward the practical, such as food and other necessities; the highlight on Christmas Eve, when the siblings get together for a special swap session to share stories of the reactions they got.
A painful time for some
Speaking of people in need, let’s not forget that Christmas is painful and difficult for a lot of folks – a time of year to be dreaded. The canned music, forced cheer, crowds and holiday hype only exacerbate the pain for those who are alone or grieving – and this year, thanks to the virus, the numbers of those who are lonely and grieving may be at their highest yet. What’s more, many people will spend Christmas alone for the first time in their lives.
I have a particular soft spot for the people who dread Christmas, because I am one of them. My daughter Lanie — the resident “Christmas freak” in our family – died in 2012, and Christmas has never been the same.
The one upside is that my surviving daughters and I abandoned gift-giving that year. I did not have the heart to shop. Nor have I ever regained it.
It’s been nine years since I last Christmas-shopped, and I say that with a huge sigh of relief. I have a hard enough time getting through the season without dealing with the hassle of shopping; and the girls and I still share gifts of togetherness. We have gone on hikes, taken a holiday trip to Italy, and simply met for casual holiday meals.
But you don’t have to suffer a death in the family to see that reducing the emphasis on presents can be beneficial. One local family decided years ago that the adults would no longer purchase gifts for each other; they would simply gather and enjoy each other, and reserve presents for the young.
The decision to end the gift exchange, said one adult, followed “a particularly overindulgent holiday, which, while materially lavish, wasn’t our happiest Christmas.” And every year since, when the adults are polled about keeping Christmas the same, the answer is always, “Of course!”
Ask the burnt-out mom above, and you’ll probably get a similar answer. She will enjoy her holiday without shopping stress, and have more relaxed time with family. Instead of adding another plastic toy to the clutter, she and her son will jump on the trampoline – “even if it’s covered in snow. Even if we’re wearing three layers each.” They’ll break out lots of books to read and plan their next theme park vacation; he will pluck at his guitar, and ride his tyke-bike around indoors.
“So, doing no gifts is a present for him – and for me,” the relieved mom concludes.
“And I’m really looking forward to it.”The post Christmas, ungifted first appeared on The Henrico Citizen.

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