Sunday, December 07, 2008

Retailers may feel Scrooged, but the kids won’t notice

I’m standing under the warm glow of our new, seven foot-tall Blue Spruce Christmas tree, cursing.

The Champ just ran over my foot with the back wheel of his ride-on car. As the ache subsides I realize I should really be thankful he careened into me and not the newly festooned tree with its many breakable baubles.

The dressed up house, just one day before December was official, is not the norm for our family. Ittybit insisted we decorate as soon as the first flake of snow floated down from the sky. She’s got the Christmas bug, and, evidently, only miles of twinkle lights and crinkled tissue paper can cure it.

And although I agreed to open the door to a tree (Ittybit can be persuasive) I wasn’t prepared to be ushering in the Christmas spirit so early.

I knew this holiday season was going to be a tough one.

I watched nearly half of my 401k swirl down the drain with a stiff upper lip. I laughed this week as people in-the-know finally announced the recession that the rest of us had already known about for months. We’re all tightening our belts, even those of us who are still wearing our “fat” jeans.

Sometime last summer I vowed to start living a more frugal life: I pledged to buy fewer things, leave my plastic money at home and do more with less. It didn’t really happen. My monthly Visa bill hovered at the same balance every month. Even when gas prices dwindled something else -- usually small trinkets, purchased on a whim throughout the year -- filled the gap in the balance sheet.

Nevertheless, I stashed the stuff away like a squirrel stashes nuts.

“Oh, maybe my sister would like that?”

“That would be fabulous for my mother-in-law.”

“What is that? The kids will LOVE it.”

I thrifted and crafted though I am neither thrifty nor crafty; I visited Goodwills from Maine to Connecticut, and looked for treasures tucked in among the Target overstocks. Sometimes I got lucky. Other times I took the loss, returning the items in another donation bin along my travels.

Yet, when I cleaned out my closet last week as part of my usual “let’s make way for the excesses of our Christmas presents by donating the excesses of our Christmas pasts,” I found the evidence of my Christmas future in the small bags filled with tiny puppets, pencil sharpeners, slippers and socks. There are sparkly shoes and story books, toy cars and drawing pads. There are change purses made in exotic places by people who were paid a fair wage. There’s even a set of wooden blocks I couldn’t buy in a store for a small fortune let alone the pennies I paid at salvage.

No one could be more surprised than I was to realize that not only am I prepared for Christmas morning, but by the time the 24th page of December is peeled off the calendar I will probably be simultaneously hiding eggs for Easter.
I’m not trying to gloat. My holiday organizational skills this year are purely accidental.

After all, it doesn’t take a lot of planning to decide you’re going to attend Christmas morning dressed as a modified Ebenezer Scrooge.

There will be no big ticket items and no expensive gadgets. There will be nothing of the must-have gift varieties under the tree. Santa isn’t visiting anyone over the age of 12 this year in our house, and he’s not bringing anything that requires batteries or an electrical outlet. He’s only bringing things that require an imagination.

I look though the bags wedged in between my shoes and handbags, and immediately make a mental inventory of their contents. I smile. In my imagination, I fill the stockings and stack the boxes under the now, very real tree standing in our front room.

There is more than enough, and there’s more than meets the eye.
There will be no more trips to mall. We’ll spend the rest of our weekends sledding if the snow permits or baking cookies.

It may not be a good Christmas for retailers, but I’m sure it’s going to be a good Christmas for the family.

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