Monday, December 28, 2009

The Auntie Clause

I have been accused for years of being a Scrooge around the topic of Christmas, but I feel that I have merely been misunderstood all of these years. I have earned this reputation over the many years of requesting family members to not buy quite so many presents for our children. Long ago I requested that there be no gift exchange for adults, or at least remove us from that when others objected as they did.

I read a book this year called "One Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas" by Bill McKibben and the book really resonated with me. The author argues that when Christmas (the commercial version involving trees and toys, not the religious version) was created (by merchants) it was a time when families lived and worked together and there were few diversions like TV or video games to interrupt that family time. What was less readily available was material wealth, so the gift of an orange in the winter was truly a special treat. A handmade doll, would likely have been a child's only toy and was therefore treasured and loved to pieces. Now, however, most people have far more possessions but a lot less time together, but we still treat others to things , which we have in abundance, rather than time, which we need.

Like Bill McKibben, I am not against the celebration of Christmas, even as a practicing Buddhist. I just don't like the material focus of it. I want it to be more meaningful, special, and spiritual. Even if you are not a Christian, there are plenty of opportunities for a more spiritual tone for the entire month. This month, for homeschool, we learned about and celebrated Bodhi Day, Hanukkah, Christmas, the Winter Solstice, and Kwanzaa. The history and meaning behind each of the rituals and celebrations was more important than the commercial aspect of them. I want my children to understand that happiness comes from within, not from things and Christmas as we know it now, undermines that lesson terribly.

I don't like how the season feels like more of a transaction than a celebration. We are reminded to give gifts of money in this season to people who serve us in various ways throughout the year, like nannies or teachers and the like. To me, when we are required to give now, it reinforces the commercial nature of the season and becomes an expected transaction that spoils the spirit of giving. It also stresses out many families, making December spending something to worry about later. Why not generously tip your waitress in September or every time you go out eat? What if we supported our children's teachers throughout the year, helping and participating all year? What if nannies and housekeepers knew just how much we appreciated them at any point in the year? I prefer to be generous with praise and gifts when it is not expected of me. It feels more meaningful and sincere that way.

Last night at dinner John asked the kids to name every present they got this Christmas. I added, jokingly, that if they couldn't name it, they couldn't keep it. When including the gifts from family, santa, and the contents of the stocking, each kid got more than 20 presents and they needed help to remember them all. Clearly as a whole, this family spent far more than $100 for the holiday. At one point John jokingly called me "The Anti-Clause" but my children, who didn't understand that, cheered and said that "Auntie Clause" was a great thing to be. I liked that and would prefer to think of myself as the loving Auntie who brings cheer and joy with as many interactions as possible all year long. The kind of Auntie who you are certain loves you, who wants to spend special time with you, and who you would turn to when you had a problem or a reason to celebrate. Auntie Clause isn't like Scrooge, she is all about love and joy.

Right now, my kids are playing in a fort built with boxes that held the multitude of presents they received. Although they liked the things that were given to them, they have had far more sustained, cooperative, laughter-filled playtime with those boxes than any of the presents that arrived in them. There is a lesson in that.


  1. I love it - Auntie Claus. I might have to steal that one. A few years ago we also insisted that instead of giving us gifts (adults, that is), a donation be made to the charity of our choice. My parents and my sister have totally embraced it. Hopefully some day Lidya will too ;)

  2. My husband and I really agree with your comments in the 4th paragraph. We are both teachers and he jokes that it's kind of insulting to just give a tip to the children's teachers at Christmas. This is definitely the norm at the preschool and early elem. level. We both teach at the secondary level so any gifts we get are really personal and special. His point is that teachers are not on the same level as waiters or housekeepers. Let's show that support year round. This year we organized a really special treat for our son's K teacher in November and we've been sure to give little gifts thoughout the year to show our appreciation for all that she does for our special needs boy.

    I do have to admit that I love giving and getting gifts for the children but I'm so over the adult gift exchange!