As the sky darkens this Black Friday afternoon, I’m pausing with my afternoon cup of bone broth and realizing just how easy it was not to spend money today.
There are a lot of debates about Black Friday shopping, and where I fall on the spectrum is that if you want to do it, do it, but if you don’t, that’s cool too. I am a person who hates shopping, crowds, stores, and fluorescent lights, so Black Friday is not for me.
I know there are others like me. People who, like me, just get really overwhelmed and tired and brain-foggy at all the money and the nonstop go! go! go! that the holidays seem to be about and want different choices. People who might still want to celebrate or give gifts but want to shift the focus away from spending and shopping and wrapping and running around and more on connecting, sharing, and enjoying.
I used to get antsy about the whole Christmas thing; it makes me uncomfortable. The pressure to buy things I can’t really afford for people who can afford to buy those same things for themselves, the pressure to include just one more person on the list and thereby driving the cost and quality of all your gifts down, the abundance of plastic, and the general forgettable-ness of the gifts. Or the pressure to find something for someone who has everything and doesn’t give hints. The way it puts me in debt.
When I became a stepmom and then a mom, I discovered the joy of making the holidays about traditions, lights, and the excitement of kids opening presents. I’m not huge on Santa personally. I’m not opposed to him, either. In my house, the good stuff is always from Mommy and Daddy and Santa has the half-assed/stocking stuffer gig. I like to get them cool stuff but not go overboard. That saying, “something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read” applies here.
I’m at the point where I’d rather spend time than money on people during the winter season. What does that look like? It’s Choosing the gatherings I’ve been invited to carefully with a realistic assessment of my energy level and limitations. Attending these events with presence and awareness and not arriving frazzled because I’ve been running around looking for the perfect hostess gift or squeezing in some last-minute shopping. I want to arrive prepared to listen and share, to take the time to find out what is going on with people and to share my own triumphs and hardships with those who care. And if that isn’t likely to happen? Probably it’s something I can safely skip, along with the things I might want to do but just can’t pull off without being overbooked.
I tend to spend money on good food to cook for family and friends, because I love cooking and it makes me feel connected to them when I feed them and share their food. Other than that, I keep it simple. I’ve trained most of the people in my life outside my “nuclear” family not to buy me presents and not to expect them from me. When my nieces and nephews were younger, I tended to focus my gift-giving on them. Some of my siblings and I exchange bottles of wine; we make it easy. This year, I’ll get some gift card’s for the kids teachers because they work really hard and I want them to know I appreciate them. All of the people whom I consider really good friends right now would be really touched and satisfied if I gave them a nice handwritten card (although none of them would be upset at not receiving one) and that so far is my plan.
Some other things I’m challenging myself to do this year, and I hope you’ll join me, is to make the holiday season about a different kind of giving. I was reading a Facebook discussion on a public page about Christmas gift giving and how to talk to your parents about buying less stuff for your young children (and instead buying more experiences, memberships, classes, or donations to a college fund). One of the commenters said something that still sticks in my mind weeks later. She said she was always struck how Christmas is supposed to be all about giving, but we spend our time and money giving things to friends and family, things which these folks can well afford to buy for themselves. And we ignore the people who truly need things, like the poor.
That stuck with me not because I don’t think our loved ones deserve to be given special things, but because there’s a lot more we could be doing to give to those who need the giving, whether that is food, money, clothing, or christmas presents. Maybe there’s essential people I decide I want to buy for on my list (if I choose to celebrate the holidays!), but the “second tier” friends and family and I can collectively agree to give to charity instead of buying each other little $10 trinkets.
So my ideas so far are to engage with my local food bank and put together food bags from lists like this one and this one.
I’m participating in the Family Giving Tree through my husband’s work, and Toys for Tots, which is everywhere. I could try to impress you and say I was going to volunteer my time too, but I think that is overambitious this year. I have an autoimmune disorder which gives me fatigue, so one of the gifts I try to give myself year-round is not to be over-scheduled and to allow plenty of time for rest. But you never know. I won’t rule it out.
I’d like to give our 9-year-old an allotted sum of money that he can give to the charity or cause of his choice. The three-year-old is probably a bit young for that yet.
What are your ideas? How do you fit the holidays to who you are and what you believe?