05 October 2007

Down the chimney

Today I will be making the Christmas gift list for my husband's family. We used to draw names, but then the family started to get so large and people weren't always in the same place at one time that I was elected to do this because I mentioned that you could just throw the names in Excel and use the random number generator and create a list of givers and recipients.

I don't know if my husband's family really believes I do this random number deal and that it's all legit. Some have complained that they got the same person as last year. Well, there are only about 15 people in the list and there are restrictions placed on who can buy for who (parents can't get their own kids, kids their own parents, so with only four different families, the actual number of people any one person can get is very limited.)

Parents still buy gifts for their kids and kids for the parents, but back before the family got sooooo large (sarcasm folks, this is a very small family compared to mine) everyone bought gifts for everyone else. Huge expenditure. Finally, practicality and reason set in and the name drawing scenario reared its ugly head. We now get a name and have to buy that person a $35 gift. In some families, they have a limit of $10 and it has to be a NON-practical gift. The limit had been $25, but people complained they couldn't buy a nice gift for such a measly amount.

However, everyone was still expected to by my nephews gifts. The amount of presents they received at Christmas (from everyone!) was obscene. Literally, a mound of presents sat in the middle of the room just for my nephews to devour.

It is happening with my own kids. I have put limits on things and asked that people buy the kids books and other items we need for homeschooling, but still this materialism is rampant. Actually, in this family materialism substitutes for love in many ways. The grandparents want to show everyone they are loved by buying everyone gifts they cannot afford, gifts that are charged on their credit card and don't get paid off for years.

As much as it irritates me that they do this, it would irritate me if they didn't. What an odd Catch-22. I don't expect big expensive presents for my kids, but I do expect a present. When did this happen to me? It's a case of they bought my nephews huge, massive, expensive and obscene presents and they better at least get my kids something. Not a big something, but something. Maybe I do sense that their giving is a form of love because they are kind of emotionally distant and disconnected otherwise.

For Christmas I want this idea to disappear. I was raised in a big family. Our grandparents (mom's side) were wonderful and showered us with love, but they didn't buy us gifts outside of one at Christmas. I used to have to thank my grandmother on my dad's side for the two dollars she sent me at Christmas, one for my birthday and one for my Christmas gift. I don't want my kids to become materialistic OR to have any expectations of others that I seem to have been infected with lately.

Maybe, this year, I should find an old antique copy of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, my most all-time favorite book, and give that as my present to whomever I am expected to buy a present for.

Hopefully, they will read it and regift it to someone, and gradually less materialism will surround Christmas.


gemoftheocean said...

You may already do these things, but if you don't you may want to consider:

When I was little it was a point of honor to attend Christmas Mass BEFORE any present were opened.
[Still is to this day for me.] And I mean ANY. When I got to my early teenage years and we started going to midnight Mass - it was somewhat moot - but even then nothing was opened beforehand - but the point got across early just whose birthday we were celebrating, I know I was astonished when we moved down south and my little protestant neighbors often didn't even attend church on Christmas day if it wasn't a Sunday. Anyway, opening a present before Mass would have been unthinkable.

Celebrate Advent. Make an advent calendar (and they are often available in religious bookstores, or make one) and do some readings and light the candles before your evening meal. When I went away to college I did this and my suitemates (one Baptist friend in particular) loved this. A few of the other girls were catholic too and appreciated the old-fashioned homey feeling it gave in our dorm.

Are you familiar with kristkindels? You draw names and you don't tell who your kristkindle is. You do nice things for them in the month of December and don't let on, until Christmas day. If you do it "right" it's very Trapp Family - if you do it with a lot of little kids, it's very William F. Buckley's sister with 10 (or thereabouts) head of kids all giving each other little candy canes. ;-D

Sure, the secular songs can be fun - but make sure the religious ones predominate. Some years ago I came across a lovely "Carols and Lessons" service -- it was the Cambridge King's Choir - young choristers (and the men's group) the boys did the Anglican vespers every day (they were on scholarship at a musically oriented public school - their "public" being our "private") about an hour of the tape was about the school (delightful) and about an hour of the tape was the traditional Carols and Lessons services. I wish we Catholics had that tradition. And go ahead and watch all those classes Christmas time movies together.

Oh, and gifts. When I was teaching CCD for youngsters, and had the little kids, they often wondered what they could get their parents for Christmas - I'd give them some time to make up little "coupons" in a booklet - something that the child knew the parent might enjoy.

"This coupon is good for one cleaning of the cat litter box"

Or whatever the child came up with - The kids came up with some really neat things they made for the parents and the parents were touched, because these were gifts from the heart. [Yeah, I know kids are automatically "supposed to do what you tell them anyway" -- but these were supposed to be "no complaints and I'll do it right away, with a smile, promise!"

And maybe remind them that there are children in city shelters and things - and have the kids personally pick out a few toys or items that a teen might enjoy - doesn't have to be expensive - or maybe invite someone over that day who might be elderly and/or lonely.

How about sending a few care packages to the service people in Iraq or Afghanistan or "any sailor, soldier" etc.? A little thank you letter or Christmas card. Or if you live in an area that has military bases, often times the chaplain's office may know of some young men or women who are far from whom and who would otherwise be on base - invite one or two for dinner.

Make sure the creche has a prominent place.

How about something the kids make of their own for grandma and grandpa? A scrap book filled with pictures/poems whatever of what the kids and mom and dad did that year? You can really think of some nice personal multimedia project that would be meaningful. Brainstorm ideas. Do any of your kids like to paint (or you or hubby) How about some hand painted Christmas cards? How about the family singing some carols and putting them on disk for grandma and grandpa? Have each kid/family member contribute something personal and special. Even if it's "my favorite memory of grandma this year" or whatever.

Oh, and here's a custom I wish we'd had when I was growing up - I heard this one from a parishioner. When she was a kid (this would have been in the early 30s) her mother used to always make a birthday cake on Christmas day - and all the kids would sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus. Sweet.

At any rate, if you get the kids thinking along the lines of "just what are we celebrating here" and away form the "me, me, me" [although a Red Ryder BBGun never hurts!] they won't be too materialist.

Oh, and stay out of malls as much as possible. Personally, I do a lot of my Christmas shopping on line - especially for things like books and DVDs and things like that. And nothing beats an LLBean catalog or service!

Hope this helps a little.

swissmiss said...

Thanks for all the ideas, Karen.

We used to attend Midnight Mass too, but haven't done that at all with the kids since we just got to the point not too long ago where everyone was sleeping through the night. Personally, Midnight Mass in MN is one of my unfavorite things to do. You're tired and it's usually very cold and to have to go out in the middle of the night and heat up the car and drive to church in the dark...I like going to Mass early Christmas morning. It's usally sunny and cheerful. Just a happy feeling.

Am trying to find Christmas customs from different countries our my ancestors to use in the holiday celebration. Bought a book on it not too long ago. Kids are now just getting old enough to understand what is going on.