When did Christmas become so commercial? A long time ago. In fact, those Wise Men were the first to succumb to holiday stress with one really going over-budget when shopping for Little Baby Jesus. And actually, while all the gifts were lovely, there was a bit of dickering as to who would spring for the gold, which was considerably more expensive than frankincense and myrrh. Wouldn't a baby rattle or a diaper service have been better? Heck, Baby Jesus would have been happy just having some lullabies sung to him while Mary got a nap. Just sayin'.
With all that said, I think it is safe to say that we are at a far more commercial point with gifting than yesteryears. And certainly our methods of purchasing presents are seriously compromised right now due to shipping delays world-wide and COVID-related staffing shortages. Even before this economic/pandemic cluster-f**k, so much of the sentimentality of gift giving was usurped by conspicuous consumption and the status seeking acquisitions of electronics and over-priced devices. Yeah, nothing says "I Love You" like the newest (really expensive) cell phone-does-everything-short-of-mowing-your-lawn. What happened to bikes you assembled on Christmas Eve, ugly sweaters, ties, and fruitcakes? And this year, even if you go old-school and buy something that doesn't involve artificial intel to operate, plus a bank loan to fund such purchases, you may not be able to receive the items in time for Christmas if relying upon online shopping.
The best Christmas gift Dad gave us was when he suggested we stop exchanging store bought gifts and simply enjoy the holidays. Mom and my sister and I agreed. No more of the obligatory dress for Mom from Dad that always needed to be exchanged the next week for one that fit or suited her. Before the cease fire of gift exchanges, there were years of setting spending caps and cost analyses so that my folks spent equally between their kids (so neither of us felt less loved!) and the caps they gave my sister and me so as not to infringe upon our personal finances and so forth. Well, it was just too damn confusing. Oh the stress reduction of no presents and just good food and drink and the fabulous Christmas tree (of course that tree ritual was fraught with its own set of issues).
This new approach to enjoying Christmas without exchanging gifts with family then enabled me to stop the madness of gift buying for friends as that is a rabbit hole in itself. Who gets a present? Best friends? Casual friends? Co-workers? Neighbors? Where do you stop without marginalizing the value of all the folks you know? And horror of horrors—what happens when you give to one and not the other and what if they give you something and there you are all Scroungey and cheap looking with not even a little something with a bow for them? So I just established my standing position of "Debbie doesn't exchange gifts with family and therefore no one else…so please don't give a gift to Debbie, pass it on to someone else." Of course, I always felt obligated to prove I was not cheap, simply high minded about the wastefulness and commercialization of the Holidays, and therefore I spent more money than I could afford buying rounds of drinks or bringing extra "gifts" of wine to Xmas parties, or throwing parties myself. And of course, friends would then bring gifts to me at my party…no escaping the gift-wrapped stress.
All this was some years back before I became aware of the economic boost that shopping for gifts bestowed upon small businesses. And of course, having had our (husband and I) own small book shop that depended upon that really put a different light on the Shop Small/Shop Local issue. And this is where I would like to take this opportunity to encourage supporting your local businesses if you are inclined to spend your hard-earned money in the spirit of holiday gift giving. When you buy a present for someone by way of a local merchant, artist, chef, baker, or musician, you are giving not only a "thoughtful something" to someone, you are giving a small business/enterprise the monetary support it needs to continue to be a part of your community. Win/win for all. And if shopping online or out-of-town, you can still come to the aid of an independent entrepreneur.
There are so many ways to play Santa. Add a bow to some fives (20s if flush) and drop them in tip jars. Our hospitality workers and musicians NEED that extra kindness. Same goes for your sanitation guys that interact with all your trash. Be a Santa Tipper! And let's never forget that there is hunger and loss everywhere—climate disasters and the pandemic have increased the woes of often neglected communities and individuals. Donate money; even small amounts make a difference. Donate blood and save a life. Donate your time and volunteer—there are many ways to give back to your community through various organizations. Honor someone and dedicate your efforts in their name. Send your cat loving friend a Christmas card and a note that you have donated money or your time to an animal rescue group in their name.
If you have the holiday spirit, just use your common sense as there is no need to go into debt this season—spend within your means. And whether you procure gifts at a struggling small business, donate time/money to a cause, or make gift cards for your personalized services (example: good for two hours of house work, baby-sitting, or dog walking), just keep it fun. The gift of companionship beats anything out there on Amazon, and the shipping is free! Let's all soften the commercialization of Christmas with a commitment to community and compassion.