Friday, December 3, 2010

Bah, Humbug

There was a Christmas - about one hundred and three years ago - when all I wanted was the latest Donny Osmond album. I mean, I wanted it bad. I could taste the want. The sweet, purple want. I remember the thought going through my head that night, keeping me from sleep, "Please, please, please, if nothing else, PLEASE let me have that album!" It was a mantra - it was a prayer - to God? to Santa Claus? to my parents? I don't know now and I didn't know then - it was just a way to put inadequate words to my deep desire.

The next morning I ran down the stairs. There was a mountain of gifts around the tree, as there was every year. Propped right in the front and center was a flat square gift, addressed to me. My eyes widened. Could it be? I wanted it so badly and there it - probably - was. I picked it up and held it for a moment - wanting to savor that feeling of anticipation. I looked at my parents - roused far too early, but smiling indulgently at me - "Open it!" I ripped back the paper to reveal the face of one harmless, cute boy with big brown eyes and huge white teeth. I hugged it. I squealed. I slit the thin protective covering with my thumbnail and ripped it from the album cover. I slid back the lid of the hi-fi so that I could play it immediately. Surely this would be a grand contribution to the Christmas joy of my entire family. (Christmases yet to come were generally set to soundtracks, too - most memorably Jethro Tull's Aqualung and Queen's News of the World. My parents - lovers of Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass that they were - could not possibly have appreciated this - but they understood and always allowed it.)

There were more gifts - a lot more - but I couldn't tell you what another one of them was. I had to be torn away from reading the liner notes to even be coerced into opening the rest of my presents. Sigh. That album - which probably set my parents back $7 - was all that I needed or wanted. It satisfied me to my core.

Albums (and tapes and CDs...) were always high on my wish list. Weren't albums great? I mean - you got the music, sure, but you also more often than not got a work of art. Sometimes you got a poster. Usually you got all the lyrics. Generally, there were photos. Every now and then there were stories. Yep. There was a lot more to getting an album than getting some songs to listen to. Getting a new album was an experience.

I can't imagine that the same joy is present when one opens a gift card good for a download.

There is a lack of - tangibility. Maybe that is what is lacking from Christmas present.

I loved buying (and making!) Christmas gifts. I made it a year round activity - carefully choosing items that I felt the recipient would enjoy - cherish, even. I never wanted anyone to feel like they were an afterthought. Oh, and I bought gifts for EVERYbody. If you were in my life, you were getting a present (and it was probably going to be a good one). When I erred, it was always on the side of excess. I lost a boyfriend or two because I went a little prematurely overboard with the giftage, inadvertently creating a situation of obligation and guilt (and probably fear). It wasn't my intent - I just - liked buying gifts. I made a co-worker or two uncomfortable when I presented gifts that were clearly not anticipated. Flowers were generally delivered to me later that day. Again - I'd clearly incited guilt, when all I'd meant to do was spread the love. When my kids were in elementary school, they not only took gifts for their teachers, and for each of their 'specials' teachers (art, gym, music..), but they were also sent with a little bag of treats on the last day before break - lip balms, candies, things like that, which they gave to the crossing guard and the cafeteria workers and, and, and..... I know those people liked being acknowledged, but I know that it meant even more to my kids to be able to give them something.

It feels wonderful to give.

And that is DEFINITELY something that is lacking from Christmas present. We live on a budget and every year it feels like a tight one and every year it manages to get just a little tighter. A few years ago I started really paring down that list of people I bought for. Then I pared it down some more. I stopped sending Christmas cards. I pared it down some more. Then I pared down the amount I could spend on the very small handful of people I still bought for. And then I pared it down some more. This year I am buying next to nothing for next to no-one.

And it makes me sad.

It makes me sad when I'm in a store and I think, "so and so would love that!" And I pick it up and consider it and put it back. I don't exchange gifts with so and so anymore. If I buy something for so and so, then I need to buy something for..... it snowballs quickly and gets out of hand. I walk away, humbug setting in just a little more deeply.

It's hard to decorate a tree that I know will not be buried in presents.

It's hard to go shopping.

It's hard to bake cookies for company that won't be coming - and will be watching their carbs if they do. Entertaining costs money.

I remember loving Christmas...

I used to relate to the Bacchanalian Ghost of Christmas Present. Now I am undeniably a ringer for good old Ebenezer.

What would Donny Osmond think?


Cheryl said...

I was an excessive giver when I was younger too. I didn't really want anything in return. I just loved to give. My dad used to get so mad when I'd buy gifts for everyone when I traveled on business. A wee bit over the top.

Today, I don't much celebrate anything. It's not budgetary, it's just blahness. Last year I sent out holiday cards for the first time in years. This year I actually made them (sure I screwed them up, but still).

I think I just miss the little kids. It's nowhere near as much fun when there aren't a couple of kids on my list.

You, my friend, are not alone.

Ginger said...

I know it's not a great solution to the Christmas humbugs, but check out the Advent Conspiracy. Their motto is something along the lines of 'give presence, not presents'.
In your situation your presence is in the present which is cool. But also, presents don't have to cost money..

Pam said...

Dear Tammy,

I can honestly say that I do not share this sentiment. Sure, I love it when I find something that I know so and so will love. But the obligatory gift giving that is Christmas really brings out my inner Scrooge. It bothers me that just because it's December 25th I have to buy presents for people, even if I have no idea what to get them and that they probably don't want anyway. I love spending time with family and friends, I love the good will feelings that Christmas brings, but I really don't like the feeling that I have to find a gift (perfect or otherwise) for a bunch of people simply because the calendar tells me to.

Bah Humbug,


Mama-Face said...

Ah Tammy. Two different women from different parts of the country, yet so alike. I always feel like I'm reading about my life when I read what you so eloquently express.

Donny Osmond? I used to fantasize about him showing up on my doorstep...and I really thought he would. My love was that strong.

Herb Albert? hahaha. oh the memories.

I used to be the perfect present giver, spent hours planning and was known for my abilities yet at some point it became too much pressure. If one more person tells me they've finished their shopping, I will punch them. If I didn't have a child who still believed in Santa Claus, (or at least is hanging on to that belief), I would throw in the towel completely. Now, if I could just stop feeling guilty about it all.

It makes me sad at some level, yet relieved at the same time.

Melissa B. said...

You loved Donny Osmond? I loved Bobby Sherman. And getting albums for Christmas, too. I just can't bear to part with my vinyl in the basement!

Unknown said...

I hear you. This year was my first full year of retirement. It's been a huge adjustment financially. I, too, have pared down my gift list to now just the 5 small grandkids. I pared the dollar amount to $50, and even that seems to be stretching it. It's depressing.

gayle said...

I love giving presents too but it's hard knowing what to buy my grown girls and their guys. Even buying for my grandson seems hard. I just don't know what to get anyone. They should be making me a list! We don't exchange gifts when we get together with our other family members on Christmas Day and it seems like just a repeat of any other holiday. I miss it!

Anonymous said...

It's the same for me too...I wish I could buy everything for everybody. Instead I try to focus on the one "it" item I can get for my immediate family and hope they are as excited about it as you were about Donny!

Rosa said...

"The sweet purple want."
Honey, that's poetry, right there.

Claudya Martinez said...

I love giving presents too. Probably more than I like getting them. This Christmas is the poorest I've ever been so no one except my daughter is getting much of anything. It's a bit of a bummer, but I still loving having people over to eat and drink.

Gibby said...

Want to give me a present? (What? I wasn't on your list? Well, stick me on there!) I'll take a blog post. And another. And maybe one more. Cuz your writing IS a gift, and I've been missing it.

Swine said...

Merry Christmas, babydoll! Don't fret it. Giving is in how you live. But, if you are really into giving, I'll take the gift of writing, as well. But I want mine after you've had a night of heavy drinking. Love the drunk writing.