Be honest! Even as an adult, Christmas for ‘most’ folks is about the presents. The trend in gift giving is nothing new and has been going for ages, or ate least for decades. What started out as a family tradition reminiscent of a scene from A Christmas Story, has turned into a worldwide trashcan of commercialism. And each year, one generation passes on the tradition of giving too much during Christmas to the other. If you are one of the lucky ones who still sees the holiday as a time to be grateful for family and friends, to gather around a table and ‘break bread,’ and to truly celebrate the meaning of the holiday – then you are truly an anomaly. But a lucky one at that.
The question is, are presents really necessary at Christmas? Even if you say you bask in the goodness of family during this special time of year, would you be able to go the entire season without GIVING or receiving a single present?
First, it is important to understand the relationship of gift giving during Christmas stems back from ancient times. Apparently, Roman emperors were greedy souls, and declared that they should be receiving gifts on New Years. So people from all over the kingdoms would seek to find the most worthy gift to give an emperor. Perhaps the birth of our desire to find the ‘perfect gift,’ is one that comes from our ancestors. However, most of the gifts exchanged at this New Years were organic in nature. This tradition died when Henry the III, closed down all the merchants during the month of December furious because he felt that the gift he was given the previous year were inadequate at best. (Maybe selfishness too is rooted in our ancestry).
Other celebrations revolving around the Yule, also involved gift giving on a much less grandiose scale. Most of the gifts were given to the Gods and offerings of the land and shared among family members. The Yuletide celebrations lasted for weeks. This angered religious sects, and many early church leaders worked vigorously to outlaw the merriment and gift giving that often partnered the Christmas season. Yet, they couldn’t and so with the attitude of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ – traditional Christian religions sought to tie gift giving in with the celebrated birth of Christ. And so, today’s Christmas in all it’s over indulgence is truly rooted from the Victorian era.
Victorian England, in an attempt to renew the spirit of the holiday engaged in extravagant gift giving and family time which most closely resembles the commercialized Christmas of today. With the invention of Santa Claus by the Americans, what began as an incredibly special time of year due for both reasons related to religion and solstice turned into what most of us today recognize as Christmas.
Today, most people feel that Christmas presents are a very important part of the holiday. Considering that the commercialism of Christmas is often responsible for making or breaking the bottom line of small and large businesses across the globe, it is obvious that the economic condition of the world is influenced greatly by this holiday. Many companies report earning around 40% (or more) of their yearly earnings during the period from Black Friday to Christmas Eve. And because the economy is driven so solidly by the presents given at Christmas, marketing ploys are in place to make sure that people buy and buy big. And of course, this involves guilt and lots of it. Last year, Parenting Magazine ran a poll which indicated that around 79% of all parents buy more than three presents for their children each and every year. And 61% admitted to spending more than they could afford, using credit cards as a source of funding the holiday. Additionally, many parents admit that they could not be responsible for letting their children down on this holiday and couldn’t imagine a ‘traditional’ Christmas without presents for opening under the tree.
On average, a typical American family gives gifts to 11 people that extend the family they live with. And many people also feel that it is necessary to give gifts and receive gifts from various people, seeing the lack of a present presentation to be seen as rude or disrespectful. Teachers, mail carriers, local police officers and even your favorite cashier may be on your Christmas recipient list. Business partners, in what mimics the behavior of the Roman Emperors often engage in elaborate gift giving attempting to ‘one up,’ one another and gain respect through improvised commercialism. All of this, during a time of year when we are supposed to be reaching in our heart pockets to remember the simple things. To take the time to spend with family. To appreciate one another in ways that we often forget to. Does it really take a present to show someone that you love and appreciate them?
Could it be that each and every one of us have simply slipped into the black hole of marketing ploys and commercialism – without realizing that our pocket books are being taken for a hayride over guilt mountains? What would YOUR Christmas be like without presents? How would you react, or your family if you decided to simply forego the fabricated tradition of exchanging gifts during this time of year?
Sadly, there are many people who feel much like Jo from Little Women did, when she said, “Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without any presents!” And so they (and likely you) shop. But it is worth considering what the true meaning of Christmas is to you and your family. There is always time to start new traditions, which perhaps focus more on the people in your life than the presents you can afford. And what an amazing gift THAT would be to pass down to your children. Chances are in 30 years, they won’t remember the gifts under the tree – but they will remember the smell of hot apple cider, and singing Christmas carols with mom and dad around a roaring fire. So YOU be the judge. Could you have a Christmas without any presents?