I’m not a huge fan of Christmas, but for whatever reason, the holidays have been bothering me more than usual this year. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it until earlier today. This is nothing groundbreaking, and it’s probably not going to come as a shock to anyone, but here it is: Christmas produces too many expectations.
It’s good to have expectations of yourself, of your kids, your friends, etc. Those are less expectations and more goals, in my mind. It’s good to have goals – necessary, even. To me, expectations are the “should” statements in your life. I should go to the office picnic and mingle with my coworkers and, more importantly, the bosses. I should have a blowout birthday every year for my kids because everyone else does. I should want this size house or that car because that’s what you’re supposed to want.
Friends, you all know that I don’t like to be told. In fact, I resent it. When it comes to Christmas, all I hear is, “Oh, you should want to do it for your kids!” or, “Why don’t you decorate now? Everyone else is!” or, “Get an Elf on the Shelf! The kids love it!” I don’t care what everyone else is doing. I don’t care in the rest of my life, so why would I care at the holidays?
Here’s the problem, though: They get you through the back door. When you’re away at work, all of these hidden forces are working away at your kids without your knowledge. TV. Babysitter. Kids at school. Teachers. Relatives. And they’re all telling your kids what Christmas should look like. All the emphasis is on Santa and presents and buying and shopping… It’s insane.
Now I love shopping as much as the next gal. I don’t buy half the store in one sitting, though. I can’t afford to do that, and even if I could, I wouldn’t. My house isn’t big enough to house that much stuff, and honestly, I don’t want it. I feel better when my house is clutter-free.
But the expectation is that you want to buy tons of stuff for your kids. The implied mantra is that you aren’t a good parent if you don’t buy mountains of toys for your children. You aren’t a good parent if you don’t get them an Elf on the Shelf. You aren’t a good parent if you don’t take them to the mall and let them sit on some homeless guy’s lap while he wears a fake Santa suit. You aren’t a good parent if you don’t do X, Y, and Z.
Well, I’m not buying that. In the first place, I can’t afford to buy tons of stuff for my kids. I’m not going to go into debt so that they swim in plastic. Also, it doesn’t do them any favors to spoil them. My grandparents were awesome and I loved them with all my heart, but they didn’t help me out in life by spoiling me. Kids aren’t going to die if they don’t have an Elf on the Shelf or don’t get 100 toys. Don’t even get me started about “Santa.”
This whole issue was giving me hives earlier today. I was sitting in my room, bagging up old clothes and some toys to take to the Salvation Army. We have so much shit, and so much of it we don’t need. When I realized that I was cleaning out in order to buy more, it made me mad. I like my house de-cluttered. But I kept running up against the wall made of “should.”
I have a solution, and I can’t take credit for it. I have an acquaintance – one who can afford to buy her kids tons of shit – who doesn’t do much for Christmas. They have a tree and decorations and all that, but each of her children get three gifts: one toy, one book, and one thing they need. That’s it. No more, no less. I am adopting this method, except it will be two toys (one from me, one from Santa) and something they need or a book, depending on age.
I think this is a fantastic compromise. They get the excitement of opening gifts, but it’s not overboard. They can still do Santa, but it’s only one gift. And I can buy them things and meet that “should,” but I don’t have to break the bank doing it. This is an arrangement that I can feel good about.
To clarify, at this point, I obviously have no problem with capitalism or buying things, inherently. What I do have a problem with is gratuitous spending with no aim. I read an Updike quote once, and the gist of it was that Americans can transmute every special occasion as a need to buy something. Like I said, I’m all for having the means to do that, and I think it’s good to be able to satisfy whims now and then.
I think the problem that we’ve run into, culturally, is that we think that things are going to make us happy. We have begun viewing happiness as a goal and not a practice, and we have created voids in our lives and begun expecting things to fill them. People don’t understand that no thing, no matter how big or how expensive or how ostentatious, will fill that void. The void will gape ever wider to accommodate the acquisition. It’s like a funhouse that grows grotesquely in proportion to how much you have, and it will never be full. You’ll run from room to room, trying to furnish them all.
The answer for a lot of people, in this case, is to make the holiday more religiously based. That’s fine, if you’re Christian, which I am not. I don’t go to church and, in fact, have serious beef with organized religion. I think it’s a joke, and I think it’s a sham, although I do recognize that there is probably some value in the ceremonial part of it all. And I do think churches can do good things, in the humanitarian sense, but I think you can do that absent religion, and I therefore don’t care to go to church.
So when you neuter the materialism and don’t care to incorporate Jesus, what is left of the holiday? Family. Togetherness. A celebration based on traditions that go back millennia. I don’t think that we have to make it about religion or presents. I think it’s good to have that reminder to get together with your family and be grateful for the love and comfort they provide. Of course, if none of that suits your taste, hell, go on a cruise.
But one thing I do know is that I feel more comfortable with Christmas, having made the decision to do it on my own terms. Even in small ways, it’s not always easy to buck the trend, but I think it’s worth doing.
I hope you’re all having a fine start to the holiday season. Stay away from the homeless dudes in Santa suits…