Friday, December 25, 2015

Just Because

So it's Christmas again, and that means, among other things, the annual ritual of people announcing to strangers on social media that Christmas has become too crassly commercial, and so they're opting out. While I understand the principles behind such proclamations, all in all they tend to strike me as being pedantic and posturing - indicative of the sort of thing that we do not because we understand the value in doing it, but because we want others to see us doing it.

But I get it. Thanksgiving is now the kick off of a competition for the money that people will spend on gifts, and the oversupply of goods and services places downward pressure on prices. And that price pressure also makes the holiday shopping season a good time to pick up things for yourself. Which has lead retailers to discount things that are unlikely to be given as gifts in order to draw people into stores. Add in the occasional trampling of a shopper or store employee in a mad rush to snag a "doorbuster" deal, and all of the elements are in place for someone to decide that a public show of hand-wringing is just what's needed to polish their counter-cultural bona fides.

At the root of this is a simple issue. Christmas has become the time of year that we think about, and buy gifts for, people that we've mostly ignored for the previous twelve months, with the possible exception of birthdays. This means that there may be a simple solution - don't wait until Christmas. My parents became Jehova's Witnesses when I was in my mid-twenties, and suddenly the standard gift-giving occasions, Christmas or birthdays or mother's and father's days, were off-limits as "not-biblical." Giving gifts "just because," however, was perfectly acceptable (so long as "just because" wasn't too close to a off-limits day - my father was strict about such things). Which required a change in thinking that I have yet to really manage to make. (In part because I became sensitive to times I needed to avoid, but didn't know all of them.)

The obligatory nature of gifting on Christmas, birthdays et cetera had created a habit of "banking" gifts. If I came across something that I thought my niece would like, I would buy it and set it aside for the next gift-giving occasion, so I would be sure to have something. But the nice thing about "just because" gifts is that you can give them (almost) whenever. And when released from the obligation to have gifts for particular days, it's easier to cover everyone - rather than needing to rack your brain over a few weeks to make sure you didn't forget anyone, you can pick something up for someone when they cross your mind, and then simply give it to them.

I am, at present, bad at "just because" gifting. But it seems a useful skill to have, because it provides a way out of the "commercial Christmas" issue, without going into full-on Scrooge mode. Maybe I should make a Resolution for the coming year.

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