or "I'm Opting Out."
My family spent Thanksgiving with the extended clan, 40 people spanning four generations around the table. We were around several tables, actually, and we all thought it was one of our best gatherings yet, with fantastic food at every meal and interesting conversations in each room of the house. There were new in-laws we had not yet met, and there were lots of new babies. Oh, the babies.We didn’t spend a fortune on food or activities, and we didn’t go shopping, either during the wee hours of Black Friday or on Cyber Monday or any time in between. Our holiday was a good one because we enjoyed each other free of charge.
We returned home to news reports that holiday shopping showed signs of loosening wallets and that Americans spent $52.4 billion over that weekend, up 16 percent from last year. The National Retail Federation projects holiday retail sales will exceed $465 billion this year, and that’s considered just a modest gain from previous years.Not to sound like a curmudgeon, but I just don’t get it. I don’t get what we’re spending all this money on, all of these billions of dollars. In the glow of a grand Thanksgiving, I have determined to put my foot down, fold my arms in defiance and refuse to have my holidays eclipsed by cash. I am opting out.
Fortunately, my family agrees. Despite our nation’s heavy focus on money, we have decided to scale back on gift-giving this holiday season because we all came to the same conclusion—we don’t need any more stuff. We need each other.
In past years, I have enjoyed gift shopping for others, absolutely savoring the prospect of matching the perfect gift with each name on my list. I would spread out all the purchases and carefully wrap them with the recipient in mind, and I would present them with watchful anticipation, hoping my loved ones would be pleased.
But there comes a time when you realize you have enough things, and someone suggests a simplified gift exchange, maybe drawing one name to shop for instead of shopping for all 15, or 40. And maybe the name drawing evolves into a group gift or a charity donation, and you realize that it isn’t the gift exchange that you relish so much, it’s the family and friends that bring so much delight.
Every year about this time, PNC Bank prices the gifts named in the holiday song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and the prices reflect the ups and downs of general goods and services. For example, the cost of a partridge in a pear tree is up 14.2 percent this year at $184.99. The price of five golden rings is slightly down for a total of $645. Seven swans a-swimming are up to $6,300. And eight maids a-milking working one hour each at minimum wage will cost just $58. Their wages haven’t increased since last year, so that’s a stagnant figure. If you were to purchase every gift in the song, you’d spend $24,263.18.
But there isn’t a single item from these lyrics on my Christmas list—not a laying goose or a turtledove or a leaping lord. My kids have asked what I would like, and all that came to mind was a bottle of scented goodness from Crabtree & Evelyn. I can’t get enough of the stuff, and the nearest store is more than an hour’s drive from home. But if I don’t find that bottle under the tree on Christmas morning, I won’t miss it.
Come visit me instead, dear children of mine. Make me laugh, bake cookies with me and sit beside me through all of “It’s A Wonderful Life” without complaining, and I’ll be just fine. Leave the golden rings on the store shelf and bypass the drummers and the calling birds and the poor milk maids in need of a raise. Those things won’t make my holidays any brighter or more meaningful anyway.
Emerson said, “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” Whether you’re giving or receiving, that’s a gift that can’t be factored by any price index. It can’t be projected or measured against last year’s spending totals. Yet, it’s the best gift of all.