I officially broke the seal on Christmas last Friday and purchased the first holiday gift of the season. I didn't really mean to, but this particular item struck me as something Bubba and the girls would get a huge kick out of. So I got it and brought it home. It is sitting in my underwear drawer, buried beneath a pile of boot socks and in order to diminish the paranoia that someone will find it, I suppose later today I'll go dig out the wrapping paper and ribbons and Christmas labels and camouflage it for real.
And once the holiday wrap is out, it's all over. I will begin accumulating gifts and wrapping them as they show up on my doorstep (I do 99% of my gift-buying online - I hate shopping except for groceries and love that I can click a few buttons and have things show up on the porch for days afterward).
I have favorite sites for books, weird stocking stuffers, and lovely gifts for friends. Before kids, I loved to browse through craft stores and small, independent clothing or book stores, selecting just the right gift for everyone on my list. Inevitably, I would over-purchase, forgetting that I had Gift A at home in the closet for Susan and buy Gift B for her because it struck me as the perfect thing. As our family grew, both with our children and our siblings' children, Bubba and I realized that the expense was getting out of control. Not to mention the fact that our kids (and everyone else's) had one of everything and didn't need a dang thing.
A few years ago, we agreed (through much angst and negotiation) to draw names for the adults in the family on both sides and just buy for the children. In doing so, I also made my plea for minimal gifts for the kids. A science kit or craft kit, perhaps. Maybe one article of clothing and a nice book instead of an entire outfit and a series of books. Outings are nice - tickets to a play or an IOU for a pedicure with Grandma don't clutter up the closet and are fun to look forward to. I was cast as the Grinch in some instances.
It's not that I don't want my kids to have a lovely holiday. It's that I don't think they need stuff to make it lovely. And I know that Bubba's parents and mine waited a long time for grandchildren and they see it as their Universe-given right to spoil them, but I think we're sending the wrong message. Here we are three days before Thanksgiving and instead of seeing messages about gratitude and communities coming together, the media is trumpeting Black Friday Sales and economic forecasts for the holiday season. I love giving gifts as much as the next person, but I seem to be the one in the family who keeps trying to come up with ways to minimize the consumerism every year.
Eve had to do a project for school this week that highlighted a cultural difference between a South American country and the U.S. She chose to interview a family friend from Argentina about the way they celebrate holidays. In the beginning, it was fun to think about the fact that Christmas happens in the middle of summer for them and she had to remind herself that Argentineans have no reason to celebrate Thanksgiving. As the interview went on, however, it became clear that the differences run deeper than that. Leandro spoke about the importance of family gatherings on Christmas, New Year's and Easter and the way that they are centered around togetherness and food. Yes, the Easter Bunny has made it's way to South America, but thus far, he plays a fairly minimal part in their celebration of the holiday itself. It reminded me of my childhood Christmases as we traveled to Southern California to be with my mother's family. My mom's parents and her four siblings lived in Santa Barbara and there were four cousins for the four of us kids to play with. I don't honestly remember how they managed gift-giving. I do recall my mom sewing matching dresses for the girl cousins one year, but other than that, I have no clue whether she and her siblings exchanged gifts or not. For me, the memories revolve around going to the beach and playing hide-and-seek in my Aunt Barb's huge house. The gifts were those moments spent with my cousins.
So while Bubba and I continue to seek out ways to connect with our families over the upcoming holidays, I struggle to find ways to divert my girls' attention from the fanfare of gift-giving (or, to be honest, gift-getting) in favor of those spontaneous moments that are generally more rewarding in the long run. I'm not sure what they are yet, but here's hoping we can continue to emphasize the less tangible aspects of the holiday.