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We’re a week away from Christmas Eve!  This is by far my favorite time of year, but it also leaves me a little conflicted in the ramp-up to the big day.  You see, I’m a minimalist, but gift-giving is also one of the primary ways I express love and appreciation.  I’m sure I’m not alone in this, so how do we reconcile the conflict between these two parts?

Everyone will tell you that the holidays are about spending time with family, relaxing and enjoying annual traditions (religious or otherwise!). What they won’t always tell you about is the insidious beast of holiday consumerism.  For instance:

  • US retail sales will surpass the GDP of 181 countries in the holiday season

  • While the average American household credit card debt exceeds $16K, most consumers plan to spend close to $1K on Christmas gifts this year for friends and family

  • One in three of those people will leverage credit lines that already carry a balance accruing interest

  • Many consumers are very likely to “self-gift” while shopping for others during the holidays, often spending hundreds of unplanned dollars on themselves

Suffice it to say we think we know what Christmas is really about, but our actions are not always in alignment with our intentions.  One way to remedy this is a game my brothers and I came up with when we were pretty young, all in school, and not making any money yet.  We set a price cap of $5 per person and whoever got the most ridiculous gift for one of the other two would win.

I had a strong showing a few years ago when I gifted my youngest brother a set of fake mustaches.  We could probably argue over the merits of buying eccentric, cheap gifts we know people won’t use, but the point of the challenge is just to have fun and make each other laugh.  It was even better the following year when I found the same (unopened) package of mustaches in a dresser drawer as I was moving out, and I gifted them to him yet again.  Total cost:  $0.  Lots of laughs with no price tag!

Two years ago my youngest brother nailed it with our gifts.  While my other brother and I picked out some fun things below the agreed price point, Thomas went into my mom’s basement and found nostalgic items from our childhood, wrapped them up, and gave them to us on Christmas morning.  For me, it was a gigantic folio with all of the burned CDs my high school boyfriends had made for me (haha JK, I was a total nerd and certainly did not have any notable boyfriends), inclusive of track listings and handwritten commentary on lyrics. For John, it was a copy of the first screenplay he’d ever written, complete with (hilarious) director’s commentary.  The screenplay had won a competition in his high school and was performed by the theater group; it was the first time a freshman had ever won.

These gifts brought back such great memories for both of us, and it was hilarious to go through the relics of our youth together with the whole family.  We still talk about that as the year Thomas Won Christmas.

It didn’t cost anything at all, and it was one of our favorite Christmas gift exchanges.  That’s a theme I hope persists as we continue to grow and establish our own little families.

We asked at the beginning of this post, how might we reconcile the part of us that wants to give gifts and the part of us that is appalled by hyper-consumption in America?  Well, I think Thomas nailed it.  I would offer the following in conclusion:

Be present.  That’s usually all our families want, and we often throw money at the emptiness of a missed connection, when it’s more effectively remedied by dedicating time to someone.  Honestly, all I actually want for Christmas is to be able to spend time with my family. We all live in different parts of the country so it’s a very big deal to me that we get to see each other on holidays.  Yes, I love gifts.  I love wrapping them, I love having them under the tree, I love handing them out on Christmas, but literally the best gift anyone in my family could give me is uninterrupted time with them (hint, hint, family!) 🙂

Create something.  It’s probably not okay to make a macaroni sunset on construction paper as a Christmas gift for your parents if you are more than 5 years old, but what other talents do you have that would make a great gift for a friend or loved one? Can you paint? Can you cook?  Can you knit?  I just learned how to make French macarons, and you can trust that everyone in my family is getting a to-go tray of them when they come to my home to celebrate Christmas this year!  

Make it a game.  I’m so happy that my brothers and I came up with our Christmas gift game so many years ago.  It’s kept us from being chewed up and spit out by the consumption monster during the holidays (so critical in our formative just-out-of-college-and-broke years), and we always have great stories to tell.  Even though it’s no longer a “need” financially, I think we all love it so much that we’ll never stop.  I know we’ll teach our kids the same someday.

As I will be spending time with my family, there will not be a post next week.  We’ll be back for New Year’s, though!  I hope you all have an AMAZING holiday and truly enjoy being present with the people you love.

Live abundantly!