Back to the Future: Ghosts of Christmas Past

I didn’t post anything on I’m Losing It Here about Christmas in 2009, and have no memories of what we did or didn’t do that year. Brett and I may not have exchanged gifts, and presents for the girls may have been less than usual but I don’t remember anything other than it was a grim time for us. We probably still put up a big tree at the beginning of the month, but anything else about how we spent Christmas that year is lost in a fog.

However, I clearly remember writing the post below a year later, in early December 2010. I had accumulated a lot of heavy baggage from my childhood about Christmas, and 2010 was the year I was finally able to let all that baggage go and truly enjoy the holiday for the first time. We continue to enjoy simple Christmases these days with gifts kept to a minimum. As our oldest daughter said earlier this year, “Mom, it’s not about the presents anymore. It’s about us being together.” So, although this post jumps a little bit ahead in our get-out-of-debt story, I think it’s worth sharing now.

(I’ve also decided to use Brett’s name instead of other references to him because they were driving me nuts and I can only imagine what it is like for readers.)

This Year’s Christmas Non-Shopping

Christmas was not a happy, festive time at our home when I was growing up, and I don’t have any warm, fuzzy memories about those times. Christmas seemed to be another financial burden as well as a nuisance to be borne by my parents. While my dad didn’t deliberately choose the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, we usually seemed to get the nearest thing to it, with our tree shedding most of its needles before it ever came through the door. Christmas lists were eagerly drawn up by my siblings and myself every year but I don’t remember ever once receiving anything I asked and hoped for. Parsimony ruled the day unless it was for hockey gear for my brothers, then no expense was spared. The worst Christmas gift I can recall receiving (and there are many to choose from) was the November and December volumes from a Time-Life series of books my parents subscribed to and that the whole family shared. My mom wrapped the two books and put them under the tree for my gift that year. I dreaded going back to school after the holidays because I didn’t want to hear about or see all the wonderful and thoughtful gifts my friends and classmates had received.

The gifts we children gave were unimaginative as well, but there wasn’t much you could buy for five other people with a dollar or two (we didn’t get an allowance, so our funds were from pennies we had saved throughout the year). My father eventually would pass out a little money to me and my siblings in early December, but before that happened I remember giving him a bar of Dial soap for several years (and him acting thrilled) or giving my mom a bottle of “Evening In Paris” perfume from the dime store one year. She was not thrilled, but then who could be?

As you can imagine, I collected a whole lot of baggage along the way about Christmas and how it should be celebrated. After Brett and I got married, I was determined that Christmas was going to be the happiest, most exciting time of the year, with a big tree, the house decorated to the nines, lots of baking and parties, and presents, presents, presents! Money was no object, not at Christmas, even if we didn’t have it, and I tried to fulfill every wish on everyone’s list as well as knock their socks off with something totally unexpected and wonderful. As you can probably imagine, we incurred debt every year at Christmas and spent the first few months of the year paying it off.

This year is the first where we’ve had a realistic budget for Christmas, one that we’re adhering to. It’s amazing how freeing it is. There’s been no agonizing over how we’re going to pay for Christmas. We’re spending less than half of what we did in the past, supplemented with Amazon credit from Swagbucks. Each of the girls will receive one “big,” special gift that Brett and I have carefully thought about and can afford, and another smaller gift from us (clothing). There’ll be a few small things in each of their stockings, but that’s all. We cut back the amount to be spent on each “Secret Santa” gift to $25 or less per person (we exchange names within the family, including our son and daughter-in-law), and the girls have had fun thinking of useful or much-desired gifts that fit within the budget.  For gifts outside of our immediate family, we are either not giving anything this year, at least not now, or giving homemade treats. We’re also keeping decorations to a minimum, with a small tree on a table this year versus our usual 7-foot noble fir.

You know what the best part is? I’m just as excited about Christmas this year as I’ve ever been. So are the girls and Brett. Being on a budget has not made us feel stifled; in fact, we’ve found we’re having a lot more fun and being more creative and thoughtful about our gift-giving in the process. Who knew?

It appears I’ve finally tossed all that old baggage out for good. Bring on the holidays!

7 thoughts on “Back to the Future: Ghosts of Christmas Past

  1. Something they want, something they need, something to eat, something to read…and all with love rather than extravagance in mind. Happy Holidays to you and Brett and the girls.

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    1. This is what we do now now, but it took a near catastrophe for me to finally figure it out. I wish it was something I had learned earlier from my parents but I’m glad I eventually figured it out. Christmas now is a fun and stress-free event for me, and all about family.

      Happy Holidays to you and the boys and their families! Hopefully we can set something up so you can see the girls and vice versa!

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  2. My childhood Christmases were similar to yours but with a violent father. We did get better gifts, though. I have a picture of a tree that Daddy cut from the woods with very sparse limbs. I think it is a tall Charlie Brown Tree. Plus, from my mother was lots of love and baked goods. She saved us from Daddy. She saved Christmas. I am glad you are happier.

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    1. My parents really didn’t like Christmas and it showed. They were Great Depression kids and they carried that with them always to the point of ugly cheapness at times. They always made the Christmas season feel like an ordeal to be endured versus a holiday or even a small celebration. I finally realized that I had created and carried around all that baggage all on my own and it was such a relief to finally get rid of it.

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  3. Yeah, you are in a better place with this approach and your children have learned how to do Christmas without getting bankrupt. As a child, I received one gift at Christmas but it always had the wow factor-my parents were really resourceful at finding the most amazing gift every year. We lived modestly and we knew that there is going to be only one gift and that gift will be within our means, nothing extravagant.
    As for the the rest of the family, about 15 years ago I proposed everyone to stop buying each other presents. Parents and grandparents are to gift their own kids and grandkids ( if they want to) but the other adults should be happy just to have a family gathering with joy, laughter, music and of course good food. And that’s how everyone got their sanity back and we now actually enjoy more the holidays without all that stress.
    Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones!

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    1. Your Christmases sound wonderful – that was very special of your parents to do it that way. I would have been very happy getting one gift if it had been a “wow” gift, or something that had come from my list.

      Brett and I sometimes exchange gifts, but usually we try to do something special during the year (like upgrading our seats) instead. And, I don’t regret going so crazy for so many years over Christmas because I learned from it, but I’m much happier with how we do it now.

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  4. So very true regarding the baggage of youth spent with unhappy circumstances. I think most would agree despite all of the things we do to overcome the difficulties of childhood from being a good reader, making good grades, going to & completing college, a masters and professional school—- in our souls we may still be the scared child we were in a difficult household. Only made better because our older siblings helped us to help ourselves…and then trying to insure our children did not suffer when we were in charge of making memories. But in the end recognizing how although those formative years may have shaped us then —-they do not still have to define us now. I have to wholeheartedly agree with you and your readers.
    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

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