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Friday, December 11, 2009

Not Really Bah! Hum-bug!!

(Jim Carrey, as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, in this year's
reincarnation of A Christmas Carol)

And so begins what will likely be a very unpopular post but it's been nagging at me and I simply must write about it.  Note Scrooge .....put here 1) to beat you to the punch and 2) to indicate that I am aware I'm about to come across as Scrooge's modern day great-great-scroogy-grand-child.

George F. Will's recent column in The Washington Post called "The gift of not giving - Solid proof that Uncle Ralph wasted his money" was the first impetus in my thought-process for this post.  And a conversation I had with a respected friend yesterday was my second. 

No,  I take that back .........for some years now I've been struck ........  as I'm scrounging around store after store, after battling tedious traffic, after valiantly scoring a parking space ten miles from the mall--that while my mission is to find the perfect second, third, fourth, & even more (don't forget stocking stuffers!) presents for the same person (like you do for your children & your spouse & other close family & friends?  I totally know you do it too!!), that our Christmastime gift-giving tradition has become insanely stressful, not to mention ridiculous.  Whatever happened to ONE nice thoughtful gift at Christmas?  And Hanukkah for that matter.  Although, and I speak here from experience, at least Hanukkah has maintained a modicum of rationality in the gift-giving department and a primary allegiance to the religious reason it exists.

So that was my first impetus, Mr. Will's column my second, and the conversation with respected friend, third.  Three compelling impetuses (that is a word--I looked it up) equals one potentially controversial, may turn you off, not usually done in the nice little blogosphere I wander around in, post.  But try to retain an open mind as I postulate  .......

I've explained my first revelation about buying sackfuls of presents for each person on your list.  Now for Mr. Will's column: . 

The gist is "...the crux of Yuletide economics which common sense suggests and research confirms, is: Gifts that people buy for other people are usually poorly matched to the recipients' preferences.  What the recipients would willingly pay for the gifts is usually less than the givers paid."

Eminent professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton business school, Joel Waldfogel, author of  "Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays" is cited in Will's column as saying that in his "conservative estimate (sic) in 2007, Americans spent $66 billion on gifts and produced $12 billion less satisfaction than would have been produced if the recipients had spent the $66 billion on themselves."  In other words, a well respected study found that we wasted approximately $12 billion in 2007 on homely sweaters and hideous ties.

And we all know the feeling, don't we? When you receive that gift where your first thought is OMG! What were you thinking? Don't you know me?? Don't you love me???  Replaced hopefully asap with, well I know they meant well nice so they know that I hate it like it!!  Add all these collective experiences up, and according to Mr. Waldfogel, it equals $12 billion. I'm surprised it's not more actually.  Although honestly once I get to a paltry $1 billion, I begin to lose perspective on that amount of money. So times that by twelve.

Oh, reading further, George says it much more hilariously than me: "Christmas etiquette involves composing one's face to feign pleasure when unwrapping an unwelcome windfall--say a sweater of an applling color and a style that went out in the 1940s--and murmering "Oh, you shouldn't have" without revealing that you mean exactly that.  Price of the sweater: $50.  Value to recipient: $0.  Actually, less than zero, considering the psychological cost of the forced smile."

Now, on to revelatory conversation with friend yesterday who commented that, really, he just loves having all his loved one's gathered together to "laugh & scratch" (I added that--one of my dad's best expressions) for awhile, have a great meal together, and tell everyone how much you love them.
(Not in a weird embarrassing way--in a lovely memorable way)  (Do we even know how to do that?) 
Now reread that and think about it for a minute.  It might seem lame upon the first run-through, and you might wonder how is that any different than Thanksgiving?  But if you keep thinking about it, at least for me, it becomes much, much more appealing.  It's so real & genuine.  And think how much less stress is involved?!  And as far as Thanksgiving goes, we gather then to be thankful, yes is a uniquely American holiday .......and surely it's implied that we all love each other in November, but the big push seems to be thankfulness and Yay for America! unity.  And eating of course.

So I'm not advocating a new, total hardcore no-presents-sit-around-the-tree-and-stare-at-each-other Christmas tradition.  But this I know: the current economy is hard on everyone, everywhere, and we've learned our gift-buying habits at Christmastime are largely a mind-boggling waste of money; we all know that almost everything we really want we can't ask for (unless someone out there is willing to buy me a new laptop with a nice big hard drive and a giant screen?); and this most especially .......we simply don't tell each other we love them enough.  In my opinion, I think we use gifts too much to do that job. 
Like all the wine & cheese I sent every single Christmas to my uncle and my aunt, both of whom passed away this year, probably was not as meaningful as if I had sincerely told them, even one time, 'I really love you and you've been an important part of my life'.
I know!  I know!  You're thinking, I tell certain people that I love them all the time!  But, speaking for myself, of all the people who currently people and in the past have-peopled my life, who I really and truly love and loved--I've not told the vast majority of them that simple fact.  And I don't think I'm alone in that regard.

Despite the profoundly religious reason we celebrate Christmas, whether we like it or not, Christmas has morphed into a lot more.  Some good.  But a lot bad.  I'm just thinking ......I'm going cut down on the bad parts and focus more on the good parts.  (Thing One and Thing Two must be having a fit right now!)(Don't worry T1 & T2) 

So dear friends in my life and dear family and dear anybody else, when I tell you how much I love you this Christmas, don't feel uncomfortable, just feel good and remember it for the rest of your life.  You'll get a gift too, but according to the experts, it will probably make you feel bad and you'll be hopefully forgetting about it as soon as I walk out the door and you toss it in the trash!


richard said...

I've givenup buying gifts for teh wife, she just wants money.

It is true, I get tired of receiving lame gifts which is why I try to give genuinely unique gifts - food. I scrounge stores looking for exotic foods, things they wouldn't normally buy / try themselves - which comes with its own comments, "Oh, God! YOu didn' buy 100 year old eggs again this year?" or "Is this even remotely edible?" Siblings are such a source of mirth.

This year (after having turfed so much stuff in moving to Madrid) I am not keen on wasting my money on things that will be forgotten and abandonned after 3 hours. So my resolve is to only buy things people NEED and exotic food (I make a wicked food basket - and it is not packed with shredded paper either).

Andi said...

I hate the whole giving gifts just because you are supposed to give gifts. So you desperately search around to find a gift, because that is what you are supposed to do - yuck! I hate shopping, hate malls, hate crowds, and quite frankly nearly all the people in my life already have everything they really need. I'd much rather spontaneous give gifts when I find something that would really suit someone, or just because, or whatever. I hate the whole society dictated capitalist holiday season - so I guess I am a scrooge too!

Laurie said...

Richard and Andi--between you both, and several emails I've just received, a very unexpected consequence of this post is beginning to take shape ...

I'm getting some really cool Christmas gift ideas. And there are some amazing & beautiful stories attached to those gifts that people received that really did hit the mark, or were meaningful in other ways.

This is the good stuff I was talking about!

Richard--your gifts sound fabulous(ly delicious) to me!

Andi--ditto every single thing you said!

Thank-you both for not vilifying me!!

jenX said...

gift-buying is so incredibly stressful. i don't enjoy it, really. after i finished some shopping yesterday, i actually felt bitter. this is not right. your post really gave me a lot to think about. i don't want to be so disgenuine, but if i feel this way and still give gifts - what's the matter with me?

Laurie said...

jenX--I just sent you an email ...check it out when you get a chance. In it is a story that will remind you, it reminded me, why we stubbornly continue struggling with all this. I think it's just the price we pay for that one great gift ....

that's J-O-S-H said...

Jim Carey makez quite the meanie pepaw!

Av8ur said...

Okay, maybe I am alone in this, but I don't hate the shopping. Of course I don't have a lot of it to do each year, but I kind of enjoy the crowds and watching the anticipation and yes, frustration of all the folks around me. It is what you make it, kind of like life. I love love love you cous! Merry Christmas!!!!! Hugs to Thing 1 and 2 and the rest of the family.

Av8ur said...

oh weird, it came up with hubbies photo. hmmmm

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