“Black Friday: Because only in America will people trample each other for stuff exactly one day after being grateful for what they already have.” (Author unknown)
When a reader sent me that quote, I knew what the subject would be today — a story I repeat about every 10 years. It first appeared in this newspaper in the ’80s. You may not agree with me, but this is my truth.
I used to get sick (usually the flu) during every Christmas from trying to keep up with the madness of shopping, baking, decorating, wrapping, mailing, entertaining and showing up for holiday parties. My overly generous husband, Burt, could not stand to disappoint anyone.
Here is a description of the moment I cracked. A couple we knew (from our business world) insisted we drop by on Christmas Eve to watch their 9-year-old son open his presents. There we were, eggnog in one hand, rum ball in the other, watching this kid rip open his presents. I counted 23. Not once did he turn around and say, “Oh boy, thank you, just what I wanted!” It was a nauseating scene, and I didn’t feel well to begin with. In February, I sat my husband down and told him I wanted to try stopping the insanity — just once. There’s a wise old saying, “If something hurts badly enough, you have to be nuts to keep on doing it.”
Burt reluctantly agreed to try. He wasn’t happy about it, but he wasn’t happy seeing me sick, either. That September, we told everyone to take us off their Christmas list because we weren’t making one.
Christmas of 1980 was beautiful — simple, stress-free and meaningful. We did not ignore the holiday altogether but simply focused on extreme moderation. Not sending out the usual 250 cards (with newsletter) was a huge relief.
An example of what felt really warm and fuzzy is the money we would have spent on stuff nobody really needed went where it was truly needed. You do not have to look very far.
Here’s a memory that still touches my heart. When I told my aging and blind mother what we were doing, she said, “Well, now you have ME really thinking about what to do about our grandchildren. I can’t shop anymore.”
“Mom,” I said, “Those kids have more stuff than they need. Why don’t you and Dad pray about it and just maybe you’ll get your answer.” So what did my parents do? They called their pastor and asked him to come by for a check. They wanted the money to go to people who were really in need of help. They were later told that some of their money helped a family keep their home heated for several months of bitter Nebraska weather. Some money went to a dad who had gotten laid off and his family needed help. My parents loved what they called their “New way of doing Christmas.” For me, it was an affirmation that we were on the right track.
The other day, a friend told me she was almost finished with her Christmas shopping. Before I could ask if she shopped locally, she said she does it all online because it’s cheaper and convenient. I’ve known this person for a long time and also know she and her husband will still be paying off credit card bills next April.
Here is how I feel about gift-giving in general: I acknowledge birthdays and anniversaries, usually with a phone call and often with a gift. But the best present of all is what I call “a love gift.” Just try giving someone you care about a gift for no occasion — no reason except to show how much you value that person. Don’t be surprised if he or she starts doing the same thing for others. What goes around comes around.
If you still feel you need to keep doing what I call Christmas commercial overkill, go ahead. But at least consider your local merchants who are struggling to stay in business. If this column has you thinking of reaching out to others, consider the hungry and homeless folks in this county. I just heard that shelves in the Food Share pantries have never been so bare. Can you stand the thought of children and elderly folks with empty stomachs? I can’t. Here is the number for Food Share Lincoln County: 541-265-8578. I bet if you call, you might end up in your own pantry finding things you can spare. You don’t have extra cans of soup? Ok, how about this? A dollar donation buys 10 pounds of food.
If you need ideas on changing old gift-giving habits that no longer make sense, there is an excellent book called “Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season.” (Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli). I gave my copy to the Newport Public Library, check it out. Nobody ever said change is easy, but for me, it was so worth it, and I have never looked back with any regrets.
I’m still picturing that kid ripping into his 23 presents. His parents had obviously lost sight of the Reason for the Season.
Bobbie Lippman is a professional writer who lives in Seal Rock with her cat, Purrfect. She is the author of “Good Grief: A Collection of Stories As One Woman Journeys From Heartbreak To Healing Through Honesty and Humor.” The book, with all proceeds going to Rotary International Foundation, is available on Amazon, at JC Market in Newport and directly from Bobbie, who can be contacted at [email protected]