I know it sounds crazy, but I look forward to Christmas shopping because every year my sister-in-law and I celebrate the joys that are Christmas shopping and gift wrapping, together. It’s a staple of our Christmas season, but I fear it’s a tradition that’s coming unraveled.
Things have went swimmingly for years. Granted, we only exchange gifts with my husband’s family (his dad, his sister and his brother-in-law) and they only exchange with us, and that automatically makes shopping easier. But we’ve simplified it even more. My five kids get gifts from everyone, and the five adults draw names. Every child and adult provides a detailed wish list. I learned early on that in my husband’s family, gifts come from the list and the list is never deviated from.
My sister-in-law and I spend one whirlwind weekday in mid-November shopping. My father-in-law gives us money to shop for him too. On that one day we get ALL the gifts for everyone, ourselves included. In other words, she and I pick out our own gifts. Then she and I have a gift wrapping party at her house in early December and get it all wrapped. We have a lot of fun all the way around.
Over the years, we occasionally run into a snafu. My father-in-law and sister-in-law can buy what they want, when they want it, so when gift giving time rolls around sometimes they don’t need/want anything. For the past few years they’ve been opting for cash or gift cards instead of a “real” gift. Recently my father-in-law asked me why we exchanged gifts at all. “All we’re really doing is giving money back and forth. Maybe we should just stop exchanging gifts.”
Even though I saw the logic in it, my heart dropped. I confess I don’t think I could be one of those selfless people who give the money to a charity instead of exchanging gifts. I admit I like getting gifts. And our method allows me an anxiety free, guilt free shopping experience. Money does not grow on trees for my family, so whenever I purchase something for myself it’s usually accompanied by guilt and anxiety “Is this sweater taking food from the mouths of my children? Will we lose the house because of this sweater? Maybe S¹ has outgrown the shoes I just bought for him and he already needs new ones. Maybe I should buy him another pair of shoes instead of this really gorgeous sweater.”
But when Christmas and my birthday (which happens to be the day after Christmas) roll around, I’m able to get things I otherwise wouldn’t spend money on, from dishes to designer handbags, to winter coats (one year a red leather jacket. It was hot!), to a dress for the Christmas ball.
But my father-in-law makes a good point. If we didn’t exchange gifts, the thought is I’d be able to go shopping with the money we didn’t have to spend on gifts. Honestly, it would never happen. I’d never use that money on a designer handbag or a red leather jacket and if I did it would definitely be an anxiety inducing experience.
And so, I ponder the mishmash of our tradition: the cockeyed giving money for a gift, just to get the money back, and my personal fondness for receiving gifts. But under that superficial stuff, I wonder “What’s the purpose of gift giving? Why are humans compelled to give gifts?” I know it’s more than trading money we have boiled it down to.
For those of you (and you know who you are) wondering what the point is, there is no point. Basically I’m confused about it and looking for other’s thoughts on the subject. I see it like this: it seems impractical to continue exchanging gifts when it’s become simply an exchange of money, yet there is something fundamentally off-kilter in discontinuing for that very reason. And to put it crassly but truthfully, I like having the guilt-free shopping experience and I know that’s affecting my judgement on the subject.
The countdown has begun– Christmas Shopping Extravaganza 2011 is on the calendar (Tuesday, November 16). Will I be mentally prepared?