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Cary’s classic column from Thursday, Dec 16, 2010
The avalanche of presents leaves me cold, but I feel guilty for opting out
I know this is a trivial problem but I’m fretting about it. I am single and I usually see my sister and her family at Christmas. There are eight to 12 adults (depending on who comes from out of town) and one baby in her family and they all give each other multiple presents, then spend about three hours on Christmas morning unwrapping them. They have plenty of money so the presents are pretty extravagant.
When I used to join them on Christmas morning, they always had one present for me. I brought one present for each of them, usually something not so expensive, like a book or a pair of gloves — but those things added up to a substantial sum for me, because there are so many of them. Nobody particularly noticed what I brought — I couldn’t buy anything that would stand out amid the glitter.
I found myself simultaneously sneering at them (secretly) for their materialism and excess, and feeling hurt and envious because I only got one present and they each got a whole wagon load. So I stopped visiting on Christmas morning for the big unwrapping extravaganza, and I stop by on Christmas Eve. I give a big check to someone who helps poor families, or sometimes I just give a bundle of money to a struggling family, instead of buying all those scarves and socks for people who have way more than they need.
This works pretty well. But as the season comes round again, I find I’m still feeling some umbrage about their way of celebrating the holiday. I just want to stop feeling so out of joint about it, to relax and enjoy the visit when I go, and celebrate the joy of giving in my own way.
Do you have any cool ways for me to change my attitude?
Dear Reluctant Scroogette,
There was this wonderful thing you used to do when you were a kid. You woke up and got presents.
It was magic.
Later you grow up and these people join your family and do this big exchange of gifts and it’s not at all like it used to be and it just feels hollow and stupid and I wouldn’t blame you if it made you feel left out and disappointed and even a little angry because it’s almost as though these people are trampling on something that was really wonderful and sweet and they’re sucking all the majesty out of it and completely missing the message of charity and love and really pretty much destroying the innocence and the magic of it with their big-wallet showoffiness.
But you have come up with a solution. You have changed your routine and found a way to make it mean something to you without disrupting the pleasure of everybody else. It must be a great relief to visit your sister on Christmas Eve and not have to do all that other stuff. It’s quite a victory!
And maybe it doesn’t have to be all sad. Sure, you can write checks to charities but Christmas is also supposed to be fun. Maybe there is a way for you to feed that part of yourself that really misses the childhood Christmas. See what you can do to regain some of that sacred feeling. That innocent feeling. Go have some fun. Get in the snow.
Have some happiness.
That’s really what it’s about. Have some happiness.
If nothing else, this is the one time in the year that Americans can act goofy and have fun. We don’t really know exactly what to do with this holiday anymore, but at least we know how to buy big shiny things at stores and act goofy. So let’s do that. Let’s have some happiness. Let’s buy big shiny things and act goofy.
We can all say to ourselves, OK, for once in the year, it’s my right to try to have some happiness. Let’s go out and find some, wherever we find it. Maybe it means sitting on a hill, or firing a gun, or blowing a horn, or rowing a boat.
Go find some happiness. It’s the season.