A Tale of Christmases Past

In 2007 my husband and I made a commitment to each other; we committed to stop the cycle of debt we found ourselves in the middle of every holiday season. We promised that we wouldn’t create debt in order to give someone a gift. Giving gifts is a selfless act, something you do because you want to make the other person feel good. Going into debt in order to give a gift isn’t selfless, it’s selfish and more about wanting to make yourself feel good.

Did any of that make sense to anyone else?

Whenever I think of Christmases past I keep thinking back to “the painting incident”. One Christmas we bought a painting for a relative. Relative expressed happiness with the painting but we never saw it in their house. Flash forward a few years and the painting is now gracing the wall of another relative. Regifted! Am I offended or upset? Not at all; a gift is yours to do whatever you want with. What I’m really upset about is the fact that we used a credit card to pay for that painting. We never did pay off the painting, it went into the bankruptcy settlement several years later.

Until relatively recently I always felt a sort of pressure in the gift-giving department. When I was growing up it was just my family, because we lived in the middle of the woods we had to drive 2 hours to find the nearest relative. Sure, my grandmother usually came over for the holiday, but for the most part it was just the 5 of us. My parents bought us gifts (A LOT of gifts!) and we kids would buy everyone something from the school bazaar. We’d finish a few hours of opening gifts and just when we were starting to cart them to our rooms my dad would bust in the front door with more presents and yell “It’s not over yet!!” Ahh, good memories 🙂 I’m not saying my parents went into debt or overspent because I have no idea what their financial picture was like at the time. I do know that we were very comfortable and very spoiled, getting pretty much everything we asked for.

When I grew up (if you call having a baby and marrying at 20 growing up) I moved several states away from my family. The first Christmas in Florida was so different from what I was used to. My husband has a huge family and at the time almost all of them lived in Florida, and many of those who didn’t would visit for the holiday. Jason’s mother & aunt would bake for weeks and on Christmas day we’d go to a family gathering that sometimes topped 50 people. And this was just family! Those first Christmases I felt the pull to give something to everyone because everyone gave us something. Everyone, even 3rd cousins and ex-whatever-in-laws. Even being laid off from his job on December 3rd one year didn’t stop us from having a big Christmas, 100% financed by credit cards.

When we moved to Georgia the summer after the job loss we were in a unique situation; for the first time in our marriage we didn’t have family nearby. We wanted to make up for the loneliness by showering our children with a lot of expensive gifts. We were only in Georgia for two years but our desire to overspend was so bad that my husband had to get a 2nd job one year just to pay for the gifts we wanted to buy the kids.

Eventually we moved back to Florida flat-broke and Christmas was forever changed. That first Christmas back in Florida we couldn’t buy our children anything, friends and relatives stepped in and provided a Christmas for the kids. I’ll never forget being called to my children’s school one afternoon to find out that they had gathered several bags of presents to give us to put under the tree. I drove home stunned, I cried for at least an hour. I was beyond grateful for the kindness exhibited by the school and community, but I was ashamed at the same time.

Christmas these days has taken on a whole new meaning. We still give gifts, we just give them differently. We make gifts for extended family, mostly of the edible type. The kids and I make crafts for them to give others, the older kids and I put together fun baskets from things we buy at the dollar store. Both of our families, equally impacted by the state of the economy and upcoming retirements, now draw names so we have less gifts to buy. When it comes to our children we now opt for one family gift and a few smaller ones. Last year we were able to give the kids a dream gift, but we saved for almost 3 years so we could pay for it with cash. There will be no dream gift this year, but that’s alright and we’re content.

We’ve learned that giving gifts should be about the giftee, not the gifter.

We’ve learned that you can’t appease feelings of guilt by giving extravagant gifts.

We’ve learned that a gift from the heart isn’t financed at 20% interest.

We’ve learned that we are content with so much less than we thought we wanted.

We all still love Christmas, in fact, I think we love it more than we did before. We take the time to be intentional now. We listen to Christmas carols on the radio, we bake together, we spend time with each other. My children can’t stop talking about how we get to dig out the decorations in a few days. I can’t stop smiling over the anticipation of the holiday, and the anticipation has nothing to do with gifts.

Now that you’ve read my ramblings, tell me, do you celebrate Christmas? Have you found that you’ve changed your priorities about the holiday over the years?

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2 thoughts on “A Tale of Christmases Past

  1. Great post. I think it is sad how much pressure is put on the gifting side of the holidays. Though I admit I still go overboard sometimes when it comes to the girls, I too have learned to be more responsible with money – especially when it comes to holiday gifting. We try to focus more on the togetherness and great food.

    Besides, as an adult now, I much prefer the edible gifts! Ha!

  2. My parents bought us tons. As with you, I have no idea if they went into debt to do it, but I know that we didn’t have a lot when I was growing up – except at Christmas. Everything was also from Santa. When I learned that Santa Claus wasn’t real, I was sure that Christmas would end.

    As an adult, I decided that only one gift would come from Santa along with the stocking. Everything else came from us. That way, if we were having a lean year, the kids understood that it would be a lean Christmas.

    I have only gone into debt for Christmas once. It was a big mistake. This year will be a lean year because family needed help throughout the year and we gave willingly. So presents between the 7 of us (my future DIL will be here!) will be small, but I hope to make them meaningful.

    We do all kinds of family things: baking, caroling, Christmas parade, making Christmas cards, cutting snowflakes, decorating. We make a count down calendar from all the cards the year before. We watch old Christmas movies – I even make my grown kids watch the animated Grinch and Frosty! Even on lean years, we try to gift a family in more need – giving homemade presents/baking/ornaments, toys my kids have grown out of, good deals from the Salvation Army, etc. We wrap them up, put them all in a box, put them on their front porch and run back to the waiting car. As we leave, we shout Merry Christmas from the car windows. What a joy that is! We drink eggnog on Christmas Eve while we listen to the Biblical Christmas story. We have a nice Christmas breakfast with foods we don’t normally eat – like sausage and orange glazed rolls.

    Christmas is about family togetherness and the giving of ourselves to others.

    And that’s what Christmas means to me Charlie Brown.

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