culture & community

Not Today, Santa! (or; To Gift or Not to Gift?)

by Lem — December 25, 2019
Close up of a pine tree with Christmas lights and a red ornament. Christmas, gift, ornament

Gift giving can be such a chore, a source of stress, and a huge waste of money. Will Lem end up buying panic induced presents again this year?

This Christmas, for various reasons, I found myself out of a budget for buying any gifts. The new year will bring some additional financial responsibilities, and on top of that I felt that I haven’t been particularly successful at reducing the student loan that is always lingering in the depth of my finances this year. To sum up, the thought of going out and buying presents specifically for the reason that Christmas is coming up weighed heavy on me. I wasn’t in the mood to bust my budget just for a few trinkets that don’t hold particular value or were bought without much thought.

Our family had some brief stints with changing good ol’ German Christmas traditions over the past decades. One particular unsuccessful one was my father’s suggestion of changing the gift-giving from the evening of the 24th to the morning of the 25th of December. His reasoning was that we could enjoy the evening more if there was no unpacking and no crying kids involved. My mother heavily objected. Instead of a more laid-back American Christmas, we got three days of arguing parents.

Oh, the joy!

The next futile attempt of changing things up a bit was a – you might think – simple menu change from the ever-present turkey to an English themed Christmas dinner. The plum pudding stayed with our digestive systems for days and in turn, brought more fighting with it. One toilet is just not enough for four people with upset stomachs. After this, my family pretty much gave up on changing anything. We went back to the good ol’ German ways. Dinner and presents on the 24th, followed by dry turkey dinner. Do nothing for the next two days. Keep to yourself. Special rule for the children: don’t upset the grown ups.

One thing that did stay with us over the years as we kids grew up and moved out was one specific sentence, usually uttered a few weeks before Christmas when we got together by phone or chat to coordinate our arrival at mym mum’s place: “This year, we should skip the presents and just enjoy the evening together!”

We never did.

One of us always broke the rule first. My sister would happily announce that she already had all our presents ready days before Christmas. This sent me into panic mode, because I was the naive one and had taken the “no gifts” rule for a fact this year. On the 23rd, I was out and about, shopping for last minute Christmas gifts that somehow seemed thoughtful and not really like the thing that they were – last minute panicky presents. Over the years, this pattern kept repeating itself a couple of times. I vowed each year to think about Christmas earlier. Maybe find something on one of our vacation trips that seemed just right for a specific person. Give it later that year as a Christmas gift. This kind of foresighted gift shopping never happened. When I did find something on a trip, I gave it to that person right away afterwards. It seemed a waste not to do so. I was happy in that moment when I found it and I wanted to share that happiness now – not later.

Who ever thinks of Christmas in June, right?

So this year was different. I needed to pull off a Grinch, so to speak. Christmas was canceled in my mind. No way I was going to be the only one that announced “No presents this year, for realsies!” and then somebody else would show up on my mom’s doorstep, violating the rule we all “agreed” upon. What is it about Christmas presents anyway that made me feel so guilty about them? I wanted out.

Don’t get me wrong, I love giving gifts. I love wrapping them up in pretty paper, adding nice little touches and most of all: handing them out. But since my relationship with Christmas was so difficult to begin with, giving gifts on this day feels like pure pressure and stress. Today is the 23rd. I haven’t given in. Nothing was bought, nothing was wrapped. My budget remains untouched. Tomorrow I’m going to show up empty handed on my mother’s doorstep and face whoever has broken the agreement. We will see if our family can finally agree on a rule change and act upon it – or not.

Downsizing, micro-living… all talk?

A little consumer abstinence, even during Christmas time one should think, should come to us more easily. The news are full of downsizing stories. Mirco-living and tiny apartments are all the rage. Minimalism is in. Blind consumption is out. In reality, we save the planet on Fridays, but on Saturdays, we shop. We Marie Kondo’d the f*ck out of our closets just to buy three new pairs of identical jeans a few months later when the series had dropped out of the sight on our Netflix overview page. We buy last minute gifts from shopping guide lists that infiltrate our Instas just so that we’re able to be at peace with ourselves.

After all, even if we want to be concious, thoughtful shoppers and gift givers – receiving a present without returning one elicits a slight social panic attack. So, here’s a handy list of the 12*20*50*100 best gifts for your Designer*Mom*Boyfriend*Hairdresser*Father*Friend*Yoga teacher for you to peruse and online shop to your heart’s content.

Are we really happy? Am I?

For one thing, I was sure that I don’t want a dent in my finances just so that I could hand out something. This wouldn’t make me happy. I would feel as hollow and meaningless as the other Christmases before with the additional bite of overthrowing a budget. But even with all the reasoning, it might take a little bit longer than just one holiday season for me to unlearn all that social guilt surrounding gift giving that has been ingrained in us from childhood.

Wish me luck & Happy Holidays!

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