When my grandmother was just a wee whippet running about on Christmas Eve, her excitement was the equivalent to the excitement of today’s children. Santa was destined to come down the chimney and, despite the Great Depression, Christmas still held the same magic for her as it did in years past.
Her father had casually snuck to the woodshed late in the evening for the past month and fashioned for her and her two brothers their Christmas presents, hid them out of sight from prying eyes during the day, and each child could count on three or four handsome presents along with some stocking stuffers to ring in their Christmas morning. Once the gift opening was complete, each child was privileged in their new delights and played throughout most of the day with whatever creations my great grandfather had delicately and lovingly fabricated with his bare hands.
Try doing that with today’s kids and you are likely to have a child in tears believing that Santa did not find their behavior appealing. In the time that has passed since my grandmother’s childhood until now, Christmas has been completely revamped into a holiday of dramatic financial proportions. And for as much as we claim to be sickened by it and dread the chore of shopping for the holidays, there is no denying that we did it to ourselves.
We tell children that Santa delivers presents to good children and leaves a lump of coal for those children that haven’t displayed good behavior. How likely are we to allow our children to believe they are “bad?” Not likely, especially with pop psychology telling us to avoid the word all together because children aren’t “bad,” and we want to teach our children that we can dislike their behavior but love them anyway because they are inherently “good.” Whether we realize it or not this mind set has contributed even more than media to the commercialization of Christmas.
We encourage them to make specific lists to take to Santa Claus and we offer them sometimes various visits to Santa because they had forgotten something, and after all it is Christmas and we want them to know that they are loved and cherished even by a mythological entity we created. So we run out in a hurry to buy those perfect toys and desires so that their Christmas morning is as close to perfect as it can possibly be. If they have experienced a tragedy such as death, divorce, or serious illness, we are likely to include more that is not on their list and present them with an onslaught of gifts.
Why stop there? Our parents, our partners, our friends, our extended family are all deserving of the best. We shower people with gifts because we haven’t spent the quality time we wanted to with them or they are struggling to make ends meet and yet resent that the media splashes us with Christmas images and special sales and a driving need spend, spend, spend.
So what do we do about this cultural phenomenon? We have more options than we realize. While my little family is equally as guilty as spending too much money at Christmastime, sometimes out of obligation or guilt, but we have also adopted a few principles to help scale down the commercialization aspects of the season.
First and foremost, people receive from us gifts that require our time. Whether it is a meal out in a fabulously overpriced restaurant, or an overnight trip to an interesting destination or passes to the symphony or the zoo, we try to incorporate as many gifts that require our time and provide an enjoyable interaction as possible. This still provides ample wrapped boxes under the tree yet also shifts our own thought processes toward alleviating guilt spending as much as we can.
Santa Claus in our household is someone that we visit with and express our interests to, but we don’t write out lengthy lists. A child who loves music may receive a variety of musical instruments (the cheap play kind) and tickets to the Wiggles while the child who loves sports receives various sporting equipment, tickets to a game, or something of the like. By eliminating lists we allow ourselves a better opportunity to get them gifts that encourage development and creativity without disappointing them. Sometimes a special and specific request is made, and depending on what it is, it may be more appropriate for a birthday gift, or perhaps it can be included in the stocking stuffers or the “parental gifts.”
While we haven’t eliminated the commercialization aspect, we do feel that we have control over it by implementing a few basic principles as these. Our goal is to provide everyone with quality Christmas presents without experiencing any type of debt. We hope to give everyone the time they need and deserve from us without pushing ourselves beyond our limits. It is a balance that every family has to discover for themselves. The small changes are the ones that usually go over really well and make a huge impact.