December 2006

All I Want For Christmas

Author: Paul deVere

I should have seen it coming. I promised myself it would NOT happen again. But, because I am weak willed, sentimental, and suffer from an acute case of “Christmasphilia,” six years ago I insisted Santa Claus should bring our twelve-year-old children (twins) computers for Christmas. Of course, by the age of 12, the twins knew that Santa was a myth. They were in junior high! Their father, on the other hand …

Some families might consider a couple of computers mere stocking stuffers (as in, “Dad, I wanted the GOLD Lamborghini, not the SILVER one!”), but for our family, the budget for the BIG PRESENT was always in the $150 range (which I managed to exceed every year). With all the peripherals, the BIG PRESENT sent us well over the thousand dollar mark and into a big plastic (credit card) purchase. Though it is difficult to be exact, what with five intervening Christmases and my continued weakness (plus the usurious rates credit card companies charge), I believe we are still paying for those computers.

Why do I, and 34% of adults nationwide (Gallup Poll, 10/23/06), feel compelled to enrich the coffers of every corporation from Wal-Mart to Sharper Image by spending more than $1,000 for Christmas presents? Because (see “ Lamborghini” above) some of us can? Sure. But what about those people who allow themselves to go wild at Christmas and don’t have the January mortgage covered? Being a firm believer in a variation of the old maxim, “Physician, heal thyself” (substituting the word “Physician” with “Big Spender”), I made a concerted effort this year to understand the need for some to go for broke by the time December 25th rolled around.

In my initial investigation, I decided to go back to the source and blamed the Three Wise Men. Do you know how much gold, frankincense, and myrrh costs, by the ounce? I called my first thesis on overspending, “Keeping up with the Magi.” But with a little further investigation, it looked like the Three Kings of the Orient were more into aromatherapy with their presents (“Frankincense & Myrrh Bath Salts” from Zum Tub, this is not a joke).

My next attempt was to put the blame on St. Nicholas. “The Nicholas Syndrome” I called it. After all, he ran all over the place, giving out gold pieces to kids and the poor. Where did he get the gold? As a wealthy young man, he sold everything he had and gave it away. This thesis almost worked (like taking a third mortgage on the house to cover Christmas bills), but the motivation was significantly different. Nick sold all he had, following the teachings of Jesus. Christmas Overspenders mortgage all they have to cover the invoices from Gateway and Dell.

About to give up and wondering if the night shift job at the taxi company was still available, it started to come to me. As a kid, I had the perfect example of moderation at Christmas. When my older brother, younger sister and I slowly (dad was taking pictures with his 16 mm movie camera, so it had to be “slowly”) made the descent down the stairs from the second story bedrooms of our big, old house, we never knew what was going to be under the tree. We weren’t big on lists (though Santa did receive a letter from each of us kids suggesting what we REALLY wanted), the presents were (except for the socks and underwear) always a surprise. The spirit in our house was not getting what you wanted, but the excitement and, sometimes awe, discovering what someone wanted to give you! What a concept.

Somehow, maybe it was all the commercials, the music in the elevators, the very specific lists of wants, needs and desires of what someone wanted for Christmas (these lists included price points, directions to which store and hours of operation, and website addresses), I had forgotten something very fundamental. For some, gifts have become mere commodities, like pork bellies, rather than personally selected treasures to give away. The idea, the way I remembered it, was a combination of the giving and the thing itself.

The Big Present for my mom and dad was watching us kids giggle, tease, and rip through wrapping paper, and at our amazement and the wonder of it all.

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