One of my sisters wrote and directed a Christmas play, complete with carolers, a praise dancer, and a simple heart-felt narrative to be performed at her church. If it were a movie, it would air on the Hallmark channel, her favorite channel to watch back-to-back saccharine sweet Christmas movies, prompting me to tease her about the need to follow up with porn just to balance things out.
It’s no coincidence that she’s also the sister who, year after year, hosts our family’s Christmas celebration. With her husband, their three kids, my other sister and her son, my parents and me, we’re quite a full house.
I live alone, so sharing a space for several days with nine other people and two bathrooms, becomes intense. Optimistically, I like to think of it as an opportunity to put my yogic breathing to practical use.
In most social situations, I gravitate toward people with whom I share common interests and lessen my time with people who I don’t, but DNA and in-laws are in a special category since you don’t get to choose. You never know who’s going to be born or married into your family. So, there’s that unrealistic expectation that we should all just get along.
I’d finally reached another milestone of my adulthood when I permitted myself to admit that certain relatives and I would never be friends, but since we’re human beings with relatives in common who care about us, we should be cordial for the sake of peace.
So, my sister’s Christmas play was called, “What Christmas Means to Me.” I was the editor and I discussed with her the organizational logistics of how to run rehearsals and structure the play since she acknowledged my ability to organize things as one of my super powers. I call it just being a Virgo.
Her creative effort inspired me to write about what Christmas means to me, the Scrooge Edition.
There have been moments in Christmas pasts where the verbal jabs have bounced around the room like the inside of a pinball machine. That’s when I remember my mantra: “I will NOT curse anyone out for Christmas.” So far, I’ve held true to my belief. Even during the most intense times when I feel that I’m surrounded by religious hypocrites, who all attend church regularly, most have been baptized, and make explicit Christmas lists of all the material things they want in observance of the birth of Jesus. Even those who don’t literally write down their Christmas list, still bring their exacting expectation of what they should get for Christmas.
Holding my tongue, especially during the big reveal where we all gather to open our gifts on Christmas morning, I inevitably witness someone ungrateful about what he or she has received. One complaint that hurt was when the recipient of a sentimental cookbook I’d gifted, which had four of our recipes in it, was not well received because this relative now used online recipes, but didn’t realize that for that particular gift, that cookbook represented the most expensive gift I’d given anyone that year because I’d been chronically underemployed. Upon hearing the compliant, I thought, “Wow, that cookbook cost half of my weekly grocery budget.” The sad part, in the big scheme of things, it wasn’t even expensive.
Granted, this relative didn’t need yet another cookbook. As a matter of fact, none of my relatives for whom I regularly buy gifts, need another anything for which to encroach upon the limited floor space in their respective houses. For some, as I’ve said before, I’d love to buy “ambition or motivation or logic or common sense or sanity,” but alas, those things are never for sale.
Regardless of the size of my Christmas budget, I’m always mindful of buying for nine people. As much as I’d love to say that I spend equitably for everyone, I do a layered set of calculations to spend within my preset budget.
First, I take the total budget and divide it by nine, which tells me how much I can spend on each person. Then, I enter a free Christmas bazaar, because some have an entrance fee and overpriced things. So, I go to the free ones, and I browse. As I see something that catches my eye because it’s within my price range, I think about who I can gift it to.
Then the next layer of calculations kick in. Is the person I’m about to buy this for really worth the full portion of the money I budgeted? Did he or she commit, what I consider a major sin of actually complaining about something I gifted them last year, which is an automatic deduction from their amount to be spent on a gift for this year.
Then I toy with the fact that if I spent just a little less on this person’s gift, I could spend that extra dollar or two on a nicer gift for one of my parents. Then I have to evaluate whether the gift appears too cheap and how could I doctor it up with something in my artist’s chest of crafting material, which then leads me to reevaluate my entire budget.
If I stick to the cheaper end and just doctor everything, that’ll save more money and move some materials out of my closets, which is a dynamic I like. After all, I buy myself used things and clothes and fix them up, except for underwear and swimwear.
By the time I finally emerge from the bazaar with gifts in tow, I’m exhausted. As fun as doing mathematical-logic thought puzzles are, weighing the dollar amount of gifts against the worthiness of the recipient truly takes a lot of energy. I also have to actively suppress going against the prevailing logic of buying something not truly needed with money I’d rather do something else with for a person who probably won’t appreciate my efforts.
Yet the Scroogiest Scrooge thing I fantasize about doing is this: one Christmas, I’d love to pass out large, crisp, white envelopes. Inside would be an ol’ school polaroid picture. Each recipient would receive a different picture of me with some material good and at the bottom of the polaroid, where the convenient white paper frame is, I’d write a caption such as, “These are the memory foam leather slippers I bought myself. The receipt is taped to the back of this picture and you may reimburse me at your soonest convenience. Merry Christmas, Teresa.”
You may think that sounds bad and perhaps it does to the uninitiated, but I know that the only surefire way to get what I want for Christmas and every other day, is to buy it myself. For every gift someone else gives me, I graciously say “thank you,” whether I like it or not. After all, everything can either be used as intended, regifted or made into a future costume. Waste not, want not.
The most heartfelt loving thing I do every year is make handmade Christmas cards. I write a personal letter inside each card where I try at least three times to say something that will cause the recipient to laugh. I usually complete this task around the Thanksgiving weekend while everyone else is killing themselves with Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping. I finish up my Christmas cards, which some years, for certain friends, don’t even have a Christmassy theme on the front, especially for my Jewish friend.
Those cards represent something I do very well, which is use inexpensive things to create a product more valuable than the materials. Most of the card decorations are cutout pictures from junk mail. The cards themselves were invitations for a school that no longer exists, so I now get to repurpose them. Plus, I love loving people from afar because I can fit it into my schedule and organize the entire production.
What Christmas means to me, beyond the commercialism, the consumerism, the unrealistic expectations of reactions and emotions, is the joy that comes from eating, drinking, storytelling, joke telling, and laughing with my family.
If only I could convince them to change our focus away from exchanging store-bought gifts…