Friday, December 19

Holiday paranoia & other fun traditions

Well, it's officially the holidays.

Can I tell this from the lights all around? The near omnipresence of the word "Christmas"? The bell-clanging Salvation Army volunteers?

Okay, all that helps, sure. But what really tips me off that Christmas is here is my annual panic.

Tonight, I wrapped most of Tim's presents (read: all the ones that have arrived). As I looked at the stack, the only thought passing through my little head was, "THIS ISN'T ENOUGH!"

It was pure, undiluted panic. A small voice in my head told me I had been thrifty to a fault. That I had avoided spending and, in the process, short-changed Tim on presents.

The stack of gifts looked meek and unassuming. It looked vastly inadequate. The feeling was so strong, I nearly jumped onto the computer to start plotting what else I could afford.

It was all I could do to keep from dashing out the door, credit card in hand, and materialism unchecked. Instead, I focused on calming down and tried to visualize the list. When I had looked at the list, the items seemed like enough. But as covered, unknown shapes, the offerings seem paltry.

I also reminded myself that a couple more gifts are due -- this wasn't everything. Somehow, though, I doubt the additions will make the panic vanish. Especially since this happens every year, regardless of how many gifts I have.

What is it about covering gifts -- which should add mystery and inherent value -- that makes an otherwise worthy pile seem downright miserly?

Is it that I've simply internalized the retailers' message that love equals material possessions? Is it because I am always careful about staying on a budget, even for holiday shopping? Is it a fear of disappointing people? Or is it simple guilt because I'm excited to receive gifts, and I'm trying to overcompensate with generosity?

Honestly, I don't know. Probably each plays at least a small role.

Unfortunately, I think a large part is that I've been sucked into the rampant materialism of the season. I sometimes forget that Tim knows I love him, regardless of the presents I give. I forget that presents aren't about proving your love for those close to you. It's about showing generosity and thoughtfulness because you love them.

The other big part is that I like giving people gifts. I enjoy the surprise and happiness that come when the recipient unwraps the presents. It's fun, and it's great to be able to show people that you care about them and know them well enough to get them what they want. The fact that we can't afford a whole lot right now, well it's frustrating.

Of course, it's not exactly fun to live carefully all the time. But during the holidays, when so many gadgets and clothes and books and jewelry are dangled in front of us, it's a major shackle. Yes, there is an element of fun in figuring out crafty ways to afford gifts: DIY, MyPoints, shopping sales.

But, by and large, it's irritating to be forced to scale back, to separate what I would like to give to Tim from what I can afford to get him.

And when every other Sunday ad features a $200-$400 gaming system, I just get so frustrated. Together, Tim and I may spend $400 on all our gifts. To spend it on just one? It's hard not to be jealous.

So is that all there is to the holiday-gift anxiety? I doubt it. I'm pretty sure everyone has at least one moment of similar panic. Even those people who do get the $400 gaming systems.

Maybe they've just internalized the materialism more than I have. Or maybe we are all just neurotic. I'm not sure there is a clear source of this panic. Or an obvious way to avoid it.

Rather, I'll simply have to win the lottery. That way, when the panic strikes, I can have the driver take me out to buy more -- which I'll call 'propping up the economy.' Or, if I'm too tired, I can send my personal assistant out for me. Heck, if I'm rich enough, I bet they'd bring the store to me (or, at least, parts of it).

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Blogger Donna said...

I had the same problem last night when I wrapped presents for you and Tim.
Of course, that's clearly because I *haven't* bought enough gifts for the two of you.
Off to the mall!
Or not.

December 19, 2008 at 11:07 AM

Blogger Shtinkykat said...

It's clear that a lot of thought went into the gifts you got Tim. I know how frustrating it is to want to give someone you love something dazzling and expensive that's not in your budget. But trust me, if the recepient knows you're busting your budget to buy something unaffordable for him, he'll feel very guilty rather than appreciative. (I know from experience with my overly generous mom who used to buy expensive gifts for me on credit.) I'm sure Tim will be thrilled with the gifts he gets. Happy Holidays!

December 20, 2008 at 9:05 AM

Blogger Maryea said...

I go through the same thing you describe every year at this time! Then I remind myself of how I'll feel AFTER Christmas (well at least by after Jan 1st) if I buy more than I can afford! I know my recipients will be pleased with what I gave them...that is not the problem, so I just have to tell myself that materialism is NOT what this holiday is all about even though that tends to be what our society has made it about.
Have a truly merry Christmas and don't worry about all the stuff! :-)

December 20, 2008 at 10:22 AM

Blogger Abby said...


I know he'll be thrilled. Just that one fit of frustration that I had to get out of the way this season.

And, if we go overboard, Tim would not only feel guilt cuz he'd also have to pay it off along with me!

December 20, 2008 at 5:49 PM

Blogger Abby said...


You have a good point, and it's nice to know that other folks go through this as well.

December 20, 2008 at 5:49 PM

Blogger Meg said...

I tend to have some sort of panic episode/attack around Christmas each year. Not this year, though -- at least not yet.

I think a big part has been that my husband and I are keeping it really simple. One tree, a strand of lights around the living room window, no presents, not even for each other. Really, we don't need more stuff and everyone we've talked to has said the same.

As much as we do like giving gifts, we realized what we like even more -- spending time with people. I think of all the time I'd be spending running around town looking for gifts, waiting in traffic, waiting in lines, etc., and I am so thankful that we're opting out.

Today, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, we headed a little ways out of town to visit and walk around a historic farm site. Then we went to my in-laws' for dinner. It was a great day and all we spent was $4 to enter the farm and a little gas to get us around.

December 20, 2008 at 7:00 PM

Blogger Abby said...


Put that way, it does seem rather overdone to even bother with presents. Except that I like getting things. (Probably because Tim gives good gifts, or maybe I'm just greedy.)

But the gift of time -- especially when it saves *you* time and stress -- does seem like one of the best gifts of all.

December 20, 2008 at 7:07 PM

Blogger Shevy said...

Abby, you seem to be over your little moment of panic but I thought there for a while that I was going to have to chide you and your mother.

It's not the content of the presents that really matters, is it? It's about the connections between you all. The thing about the gifts is that they should show you know what their tastes are, not that they be the most expensive thing you could get. And I know you get that.

You just got derailed for a moment because we've been so brainwashed for so long into thinking that the size of the pile somehow relates to the amount of love *and it doesn't*.

December 20, 2008 at 8:57 PM

Blogger Abby said...


Even as I panic, I know that gifts aren't what the season is about -- or at least not completely.

Still, since Tim has ADD he gets distracted by lots of shiny baubles. And so it's tempting to get him everything his little heart desires, even as the more reasonable side of me knows we'd be driven out of our apartment if I were to do that.

It is, as always, a matter of balance. Balancing what he wants versus what we can afford and what he'll actually use. Balancing the thought behind the presents with how much you actually want to get.

That said, you are a great conscience. You should consider renting yourself out. I hear a lot of people these days lack that important tool. At the very least, perhaps the American gov't would hire you to hang out around Wall St and kick some butt!

December 21, 2008 at 10:41 AM

Blogger Donna said...

Just FYI -- that was me being sarcastical.
-- Abby's mom

December 21, 2008 at 7:02 PM


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