Are Christmas presents really the problem?

Today we accomplished what I thought was the impossible: successfully posing all five Haubs for a family portrait. My mom had a portrait package at Yuen Lui, so she gave us the chance to go and have a free sitting and get a a free 8X10 as part of the deal. After almost calling and cancelling the whole thing this morning (we were forty-five minutes away from our appointment, Elijah was still in his sleeper, Mercy and Aaron were in the bath, and Doug and I were trying to hunt down the Carney-family hair clippers to give him a trim), we ended up making it to the Lynwood studio on time, AND our sitting was smooth and without any incident!

Elijah never cried once, and unlike the time when my sister and I tried to have portraits of her son and Mercy taken, there were no fits, escape attempts, or attachments to dumb photographer props to contend with. Since it is all digital now we were able to preview our proofs and while the number of actually good pictures was small, we only needed one to turn out. We ended up with about three good ones to choose from, and we went ahead and placed our order. Truly a miracle in my book.

The photography studio is located nearby a large mall, and so for the first time this season I found myself in the heart of retail-dom. We thought about actually going into the mall (which would probably be the first time in over a year for any of us), but ended up in the nearby Red Robin instead. But we talked about our Christmas shopping lists and what we needed to buy and for whom.

I have heard more than a few people comment on abstaining from or reducing the amount of store spending for gifts this year, perhaps favoring hand-made items as gifts or using the time, energy, and money that shopping and giving requires and putting that toward service opportunities instead. Great thoughts, of course. All of our rituals deserve to be regularly examined, and the ease by which they can quickly become co-opted by powerful, and often well-disguised, forces should not be taken lightly.

But as Doug and I discussed our plans for gift-giving this year, I realized that the act of shopping and selecting gifts for our family members does not feel driven by any list of “isms”. Rather, it is that chance to use a material gift to express our care and joy. It doesn’t seem to me that there is anything wrong with that sort of symbolic gesture. It would seem to me that what makes Christmastime gift-giving feel creepy is what is happening, consumption-wise, the rest of the year. I read something recently that said there were people who, in some fashion, shopped every day. I found that suggestion inconceivable and scandalous. But after thinking a bit, even of people I know, I realized that that might not be as impossible as it sounds. And with that as a back-drop, of course shopping for someone feels absurd!

I am not a shopper, and our family budget does not even have line items for clothes for us or the kiddos. With those realities, the giving that happens at birthdays and Christmas is a fun way for us to get the couple of things we do need each year. But again, it is the backdrop of a commitment to simplicity the rest of the year that makes those material gifts at Christmas feel completely appropriate and quite welcome. I wonder, then, if it isn’t much easier to talk about reigning in our impulses to consume over these next few weeks rather than deal head-on with the ways that we bow to materialism the rest of the year? Again, I applaud the initiatives I have heard promoted recently. May it be that they not be relegated to holiday trendiness but rather become the trends by which the rest of our lives can be ordered when consumption and materialism are off the collective radar.


  1. I tried dropping much of the gift giving one year in favor of simplifying the holidays. Also, recognizing that there really is very little that I need at my age, why put the need to buy something for me on someone else for Christmas? My Christmas felt really empty – I missed all that joy of trying to think of that special something for my loved ones, and had spent too much time thinking of “simplicity”.

    I still choose to be aware of not “overspending” and staying out of the “consumerism mentality”, but have given myself permission to enjoy, enjoy, enjoy the season of giving!!! After all, the ones I give to are my most loved ones in my life, and I give what I can to the rest of the world throughout the rest of the year. But for me, Christmas is my opportunity (in addition to birthdays) to say “I love you” to the ones who are nearest and dearest to my heart.

  2. Hmmm good thoughts 🙂

    I think that that christmas, as a practice of giving, of chosing presents for others, of having to stop thinking of self for awhile and practice generousity and bringing happiness into the lives of others is a great thing. After all presents are part of the christmas story – it is what the wise do – whether that’s a God in giving themselves so generously or wise men who turn up to bring a prophetic blessing…

    Of course there is a negative, consumer crazed side to be aware of but presents in and of themselves strike me as a v good thing still…

  3. Great post. If you want to give, give. Awareness of crazy consumption is helpful of course. In our family, we try to give something that is unique to the person.

  4. Very good point. I generally am not one who enjoys much the “consumer” aspects of Christmas at all, but actually do like the giving especially of things unique. My issue is primarily with the excesses in spending, which you’d think I wouldn’t have any issue with considering we are also quite frugal any other time of the year…

    I wrote about this topic a few weeks ago (Christmas and gifts) and we probably will be doing a few of them but did end up buying some things (in particular, some candles) for cheap.

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