By Shelley Fralic, Vancouver SunDecember 10, 2009
If you are of an age, meaning you’re old enough to order expensive bourbon in a cheap bar, then you’ll know that the age-old ritual of buying Christmas presents has, like everything else in your life, evolved.
Whether you’re a practising Christian for whom Dec. 25 carries holy weight or, like so many of us, simply holding fast to a non-religious family tradition year after year, one thing’s for sure:
It’s only two weeks until the big day, and you’re probably still shopping.
Like homemade oyster stuffing smothered in your mom’s gravy, like trying to remember how to pronounce Wenceslas, like watching A Christmas Carol and then A Christmas Story, the year-end giving of gifts to those you love (and, sometimes, those you don’t) is as much a part of your Yuletide history as decorating the tree with the macaroni angels your kids made in kindergarten.
It all started, you’ll recall, way back in elementary school, right after you learned the truth about Santa, with a penny-gathering scramble to make mom and dad smile on Christmas morning, trusting that in return for that hastily purchased dime-store treasure you’d get a snazzy new watch, or maybe some white leather go-go boots.
And then you grew up a bit, and got a job, and the Christmas present became something you purchased to impress, perhaps those parents, or a new boyfriend or a future in-law or college pal.
Then, before you could say 20-year amortization, you had a spouse and a house and a couple of kids, and Christmas shopping was about feathering the nest and spoiling your own growing family.
But that didn’t last either, because along with more disposable income, mid-life came with the kind of soul-searching familiar to both the mortal and the profligate consumer: what’s the meaning of life and why do we buy so much stuff that we think we want but don’t really need?
So you switched it up, convincing the family to draw names (one present only per family member), or maybe imposing sticker limits ($100 a spouse, $50 a kid, $25 for the in-laws, a coffee mug for the boss).
It was ’round about this time that you also discovered the joys of altruism, and began sponsoring an overseas child, or donating your annual stocking fund to the local toy bank, starting a new tradition that you vowed to carry on.
And so you did, but soon the lure of the familiar drew you back to your old ways, because you realized that giving Christmas gifts to everyone you love makes you feel good.
And that’s how you came to be at the stage in your life whereby Christmas shopping is less an annual obligation and, oddly, more of a spiritual pursuit carrying a deeper meaning.
Suddenly, your Christmas list is about helping your own kids feather their nests. Suddenly, it’s about spoiling grandchildren, revelling in family, celebrating friendships, finding new delight in those old ways.
And, suddenly, it’s not about money and expectation but about simplicity, about giving and receiving small things, like framed family photographs and heart-felt hand-written cards and homemade chutney, and making sure to set a place at the table for those who don’t have family of their own.
Which is why it’s hard to understand those who dread Christmas shopping, who kvetch about pressure and fret about expense, both of which are entirely under personal control.
Typical is the e-mail press release that showed up the other day, sent by a website called savvymom.caand detailing results of a national survey that found 58 per cent of Canadian moms are anxious during the Christmas season, mostly about finances and the work it takes to make the season bright. Fortyfour per cent of those surveyed moms also said that, if given the choice, they’d eliminate buying “token” gifts for people.
And that’s just sad, but it’s what happens when the core of Christmas gets away from you, when Hallmark takes over from the heart, when you forget that it really is the thought that counts.
Christmas, no matter your historical perspective or religious bent, no matter your station in life or cause for celebration, is a time to wind down one year while winding up another, a time to reflect on what you’ve done and what’s to do, a time to turn to your friend, your child, your parent, your neighbour, to the love of your life, preferably while passing a platter of turkey legs across a noisy crowded dinner table, and say, “I got you this little gift because you mean so much to me.”
And that’s why we go Christmas shopping. And there’s no need to check that twice.