I went to the local shopping mall the other day. I had forgotten that the Festive Season has well and truly started. The mall was absolutely packed with angry people. I presume they were rushing around looking for Christmas gifts. Bah Humbug! I muttered to myself, glaring at all the rushing people. Yes, maybe I’m a Scrooge, but I really hate the shops at Christmas time. It’s such a stressful time: so many Christmas parties to go to, so many gifts to buy, so little time. I’m always exhausted by the time Christmas comes.
Last year, when I went Christmas shopping, I was 8 1/2 months pregnant. I was shocked by how many people bumped into my massive belly, knocking into me without saying sorry. (What if I’d gone into labour? Actually, at that point, I wanted to go into labour and stop being a giant waddle-duck, so maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad.)
I’m not Christian, but my family has always celebrated Christmas. To me, Christmas means getting together with family, joyfulness, good food, singing, excitement and love… And of course, when I was a child, the Christmas presents were all-important. When my sister was two and a half, she woke up on Christmas morning, went out into the loungeroom, and came back with wide eyes. “There’s presents out there,” she announced to the family with excitement. Christmas presents are a great part of Christmas.
But I’m wondering if this present-giving business has gotten out of hand. No one at the mall seemed to be enjoying buying presents. Apparently our economy depends upon us buying a large amount of goods for Christmas. So we are all encouraged to buy, buy, buy! If necessary, we are encouraged to get into more debt and max our credit cards: the bank keeps offering me a higher limit. Every day my letter box is choked with catalogues for different stores, imploring me to purchase the perfect Christmas gift at the store in question. Do we really need all these goods?
At the beginning of the year, we moved house. It was a nightmare; my baby was only three months old at the time. I was amazed by how much junk we have accumulated. Some boxes remain unpacked, and I haven’t missed their contents. After helping me pack up the house, my mother has vowed never to give another present which is not useful or practical in some way.
A few people have asked me what I want for Christmas. The truth of the matter is that I don’t need anything. I’ve got a loving husband and family, great friends and a healthy, gorgeous, naughty daughter. What more could I ask for? A card made with love or a big hug is enough. I don’t want to get into this whole cycle of buying gifts. The other difficulty is that we can’t easily afford to give exorbitant gifts in return. It has been a enough of a struggle this year surviving on one and 1/7 of an income as it is.
At the mall, some people were spending large amounts of money on expensive children’s toys. I wonder: is it necessary to buy children things like that? At the moment, one of my daughter’s favourite toys is the clothes basket. She takes my socks in and out of the clothes basket, waving each pair with triumph. She also loves the cardboard box with “Tropical Mangoes” on the side, as well as the plastic measuring spoons on a ring. I loved some of the toys my grandpa made me from blocks of wood (I seem to recall a little boat he made for me).
We are being pressed to work longer hours and dedicate ourselves to our careers, so that we can make more money to buy material things, to the detriment of our family life. I presume this is why all the people at the mall were so stressed and angry. They had little time to shop and prepare for Christmas. It made me think of an interesting article which I read in The Age last month. It was about the guilt of working parents, and the way in which advertisments and marketers played on this: giving a subtle message that if you provide your kids with enough material stuff, it makes up for the lack of time spent with them. The article concluded that ideally, kids would like both, but if they were forced to chose, kids would prefer to spend more time with their family than get presents.
It’s a familiar story; buying your kids things to assuage your guilt. I remember one boy at primary school whose parents had a particularly nasty divorce. Each parent would ply this boy and his brother with bigger and better presents, presumably in part to make up for the unhappiness created by the divorce. I’m sure that each parent was also trying to outdo the other as well. But what the boy really wanted was for his parents to stop fighting.
What does a child need to grow up healthy and happy? She needs fresh water, adequate food, access to health services, education, somewhere safe to live and sleep, and most importantly, love from those around her (her parents, family and friends). Of course, you also want to give your child toys as well, and make your child happy. But I am just wondering if we get too focused at Christmas time on giving our children material things, believing that our love is shown by the size of the gift. If a child just gets everything he or she wants, gifts cease to be special.
The suggestion from shops and adverts is that the more we buy, the more we love those for whom we buy. I don’t mean to sound too pious about it, but that’s not what Christmas is about. I’d rather no one buy me a gift. I would hate to be the cause of a family member or friend becoming angry, anxious and stressed at the shops. Or even worse, getting into debt on my behalf because he or she feels that I need a present. It’s more important to me that friends and family are there when I need them. And I suspect that’s what will be more important to my daughter too. She won’t remember how many gifts she got for Christmas, but she will remember how much time I spent with her.