All too often, preparing for Christmas is synonymous with accumulating stuff... buying presents, wrapping presents, putting up decorations, buying special foods and treats, and so on and so forth.
Now don’t get me wrong… I love Christmas and a lot of the “stuff” that comes with it. Every time I see a decorated Christmas tree or colourful Christmas lights I get a warm, fuzzy feeling as I remember past Christmases – which were, I believe, some of the happiest moments of my childhood. I don’t remember many of the presents I received, but I do remember hanging out with my family, eating good food, and simply just being happy.
The older I get, however, the less I seem to enjoy the gift-giving portion of Christmas. This is largely because I’ve come to the realization that I don’t need more stuff. In fact, I really don’t even want more stuff. Stuff doesn’t make you happy. It actually makes you feel more confined and tied down. Getting rid of all the stuff I’d accumulated before this journey was one of the most freeing experiences I’ve ever had… and I will never be the same again.
The act of gift giving at Christmas is well ingrained in our culture and is riddled with stresses each step of the way. First, you have to decide who you need to buy presents for. This typically requires the careful evaluation of a list of everyone you know – friends, family members, and coworkers. You don’t want the embarrassment of leaving someone out, especially if they’re planning to give you a gift. Then, you need to decide how much to spend on each person. Again, this is a stressful decision because you don’t want to come off as “cheap,” yet you don’t want to spend money you don’t have. Once a budget is set, you need to figure out what each person would want, but doesn’t already own. This can be difficult, even with people you have close relationships with. Finally, you need to deal with all the other stressed out Christmas shoppers in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Personally, I like the idea of doing away with Christmas presents. For the past few years, I have made arrangements with family members to forego the presents. Instead of spending scads of money on stuff that people probably don’t really need (because if they did, they would have already purchased it themselves) and instead of receiving piles of stuff that I didn’t really want and would have to find somewhere to store, we have started using the money we would normally spend on “stuff” and donating it to a good cause. We still get together, share some great food and drinks, and have some great conversations. We just don’t open presents. Because, to me, Christmas is not about the presents… it’s about the people in your life.
This year, my mom used the money she would have spent on my present to buy hot chocolate, marshmallows, and cookies for all of the students at a local community school that don’t really get much for treats this time of year. Knowing that those kids will have a special treat makes me so much happier than anything she could mail me here. Last year we got together and donated money to the charity of my homeroom students’ choice… buying a cow for a family in Africa.
So this holiday season, I encourage you to do the same (or next holiday season, as you have probably finished your Christmas shopping already). Not buy a cow, I mean, but choose a cause that is meaningful to you or your parents/brother/sister/friend/spouse/boss/teacher/coworker (just make sure you’ve discussed the plan with the intended recipient so everyone’s on board… some people will prefer the “stuff” and that’s just fine too). You were going to spend the money anyways, so why not spend it making a difference?