You've probably already seen this photo. It has been all over the internet. It sums up how I feel about this holiday season in just two words.
I've never been a fan of all the hype and grotesque consumerism that goes on this time of year. Well, never is not the right word, I'm sure I was all about it when I was a little kid.
There are two Christmas seasons in my past, that stand out more than any others, that have greatly influenced my distaste for the excess. First, was the year my parent’s divorced. I was in the fourth grade and struggling to learn my times tables. My Dad had taken an apartment in town, above a flower shop. You had to climb a rickety stairway on the outside of the building to reach it. The stairs were only treads, with no back to them. I always thought I was going to slip through them and fall to my death. Luckily, I never did, and looking back now I realize the worse that could have happened would have been a sprained ankle.
The apartment was very small, but had an open kitchen/dining area and living room that made it comfortable. It was sparsely furnished with cast-off furniture that friends and relatives had given Dad. I can remember he had old wooden barrels that he turned upside down to use as end tables. There was plenty of room left to put up a Christmas tree, just no money to buy one. I didn't know that at the time. If you would have asked me then, I would have told you my Dad was rich.
My Dad often piled us kids up into an old Chevy passenger van and went out driving through the countryside on safari, making up stories as we drove. This Christmas was no different, except this time we were hunting the perfect Christmas tree. Anybody could go to the store and get an artificial one, or go to the tree farm, but not us. We were going to go out into the woods and find our own. Just like the pioneers! We drove and drove--probably in circles--faces plastered to the windows, hoping to spot "the one". Finally, we stopped, Dad pulled a saw out of the back and we started tromping through the woods. We found the straightest, tallest tree in the bunch, cut it down and dragged it back to the van. Boy, were we ever proud of ourselves.
When it came to decorations for the tree, Dad had none. Not a single one. One of my aunts gave us a tree stand, a strand of lights and some funky turquoise ornaments; I'm sure she was thrilled to get rid of them. She owned a gift shop in town and we picked out a beautiful angel tree topper. I don’t remember if we paid for it or if she gave it to us. Then we popped popcorn and strung it for what seemed like hours. When we were finished, we had the gaudiest looking Charlie Brown tree you'd ever seen.
But you know what? I still think it was the best one we ever had. It wasn't the quality or quantity of the decorations that was important. It wasn’t the number of presents under the tree. It was the process. The can-do attitude. The memories made.
The other Christmas that stands out in my mind, was the year my daughter was born. I was only 19 years old and dirt poor. I mean there were weeks I couldn't scrape together enough money to buy a box of macaroni and cheese ,let alone a loaf of bread, poor. I mean, if it weren't for the Women Infants and Children’s government program I don't know how I could have fed my baby, poor. Had to make the choice of buying gas to get to work over eating, poor. These were not good times.
Somehow, I don't know if it was because of the WIC program or what, but somehow our name ended up on one of those adopt-a-kid for Christmas lists. I had no idea. So when someone showed up the day before Christmas with a huge box of gifts for my 6 month-old, I darn near died. You'd think I would have been grateful or overwhelmed by the generosity, and I guess in a way I was. But more so, I was humiliated. Absolutely humiliated. I swore right then and there my name would never find itself on a list like that again.
It wasn't that I was ungrateful, please don't think that. We just didn't NEED it. Sure, the diapers they included were helpfu,l but the toys? She was six months old for crying out loud. What I needed was a better job. I needed an education. Or some other method of improving my situation. We didn't need toys.
There are plenty of folks out there who donate to these Toys-for-Tots type programs, and I would never want to come right out and discourage this. If you are feeling generous, and this makes you feel good then by all means continue. However, I choose not to participate. I have done it in the past. I guess I felt obligated to give back or whatever. Now though, I don't feel that encouraging consumerism is the right way to give. Having been there/done that, I'd much prefer to donate to a cause that provides the children with books, for instance, or the adults with a scholarship or teach them to grow their own food. Something, anything that will help them become self-sufficient and gets their name off that list. Things happen. People fall on hard times. When they do, they need a helping hand, not a box of toys. There are a lot of people out there right now that don’t want to be on that list any more than I did. Give. Just give wisely.