In Search of Peace this Christmas Season
- Friday, December 16, 2005
The trouble with Christmas is not that it’s become over commercialized — tell me what part of our lives hasn’t? The trouble with Christmas is we allow it to get the better of us. We treat it as a contest or final examination rather than a time of rest, reflection and joy.
In our fantasies Christmas comes into our lives like a horse-drawn sleigh, decorated with holly, pine boughs and bells. As it glides to our doorstep we’re invited to climb aboard.
As we direct this thing of beauty through the crisp, sparkling holidays the only sounds we hear are the clippety-clop of horses’ hooves and the jingling of sleigh bells. We sing familiar carols, reflect on childhood memories, and rest more than we work. Every night we sit around the fireplace sipping hot cider. We participate in family traditions that bring us more joy and satisfaction than we ever thought possible.
Our bodies and souls are refreshed as we arrive at Christmas Day with grateful hearts.
But in reality, just about the time the Thanksgiving turkey carcass becomes turkey soup, the Christmas season comes roaring into our lives like an eighteen-wheeled, supercharged, nitrous-burning, straight-six, diesel-powered, self-propelled, juggernaut of a Big Rig. It pulls up and yells for us to get on board. We hang on for dear life believing we have no other way to get to where we have to be in less than a month than to ride this monstrous machine.
The 30 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas become a blur as we tear through the weeks with a heavy sense of obligation to decorate, shop, clean, cook, bake, wrap, send, attend, invite, participate and referee.
As hard as we try to ignore it, this machine needs fuel and lots of it. Sadly for many credit cards have become the combustible of choice to keep things moving. We feel compelled to do whatever it takes to just get through the season.
We find little time to sleep with so many parties, pageants and projects. We feel ourselves being consumed by guilt and obligation. The only thing that matters is getting done before midnight on Christmas Eve.
Somehow we screech across the finish line. Our bodies are exhausted and our spirits spent as Big Rig tears out of our lives. But instead of hearing the lovely strains of May Your Days Be Merry and Bright ... as it disappears into the distance, we hear only the promise of I’ll be back!
No doubt about it, celebrating Christmas in the 21st Century is a far cry from what it was even thirty years ago because of the evolution of consumer credit. Credit-card companies have made it socially acceptable to expect that we can have it all whether we can afford it or not. The more we have the more we want and the more we get the more we need to feel satisfied. It seems no matter how fantastic Christmas was last year we are compelled to make it even bigger and better this year.
The cost of holiday extravagance in America is staggering. In the 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2004, American consumers charged a whopping $108 billion on their credit cards. While some of these charges were repaid during the grace periods, more than $70 billion went on to become revolving debt plunging those who can least afford it into even deeper financial bondage.
For many the entire gift-giving process — which is what really started all of this in the first place — has become divorced from the actual impulse, from the love or the kindness. It’s just shopping; it’s just money; it’s just crossing names off lists and moving on.
As a child I recall my dad comparing his childhood Christmases to ours. His I was lucky to get an orange and a few nuts for Christmas was as much a tradition as anything around our house. And his point? To contrast how overindulged we were with how deprived he was. I rolled my eyes then, but every now and again the simplicity of such a time does hold a certain charm.
Look, I’m not suggesting that we return to the piece-of-citrus-and-a-couple-of-pecans standard. But I wonder if we have the courage to get off that Big Rig, to set our own agendas this Christmas and commit to not spend money we do not have. We will find joy and meaning in what really matters — things that will last long after the ornaments and snowmen are put away for another year.
Remember that it’s not the amount of money you’ll spend this month or the number of gifts you can get under that tree that’s going to matter much in the long run. It’s the time you spend and the effort you put into creating warm and meaningful times with those you love that will be long remembered and deeply satisfying.
And waking up Dec. 26 knowing the choices you made are all paid-in-full will only add to the joy.
"Debt-Proof Living" was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt. What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt. Today, "Debt-Proof Living" is read by close to 100,000 cheapskates. Click here to subscribe.
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