A stranger accidentally sent me a text about Christmas recently. It read:
"Hi everyone, I know you will be sick of me saying this for another year but I can't afford presents for everyone in the family. I can only do presents for the kids. I know you were all really angry about it last year and I don't want to fight about it and have it ruin the day AGAIN. With John* starting at the Catholic high school, I'm working as much as I can to save for that. Sorry. Maybe we can do a Secret Santa next year? Just wanted to let people know as I know some will be upset on Christmas Day if we don't have gifts when you have gifts for us. Sorry again. Pete*."
My heart broke for Pete. Here's this hardworking family man, just trying to make ends meet, and his extended family labels him a Scrooge for not buying gifts for every single person. Twelve months later, he's still feeling the effects of how last year went down. Poor Pete is expecting to be called selfish for deciding to hoard his cash for his son's education. I could feel his pain.
I responded to his message, explaining that he had not reached his intended recipient. He was terribly embarrassed and apologetic, and I...well, I couldn't help myself (doesn't take much for my heart strings to be pulled at this time of the year)...I texted back, congratulating him for drawing boundaries, mentioned that other people's opinion's don't pay the bills, and reassured him that many people are in a similar position, whether they admit it or not.
He messaged back a Santa emoji. I like to think that means he appreciated my support on his personal decision.
Whilst I gazed at that yellow Santa face, I thought about the politics of gift giving. Does equality need to come into the equation? Does it matter that you have spent $50 on someone's gift, whilst they spent $20 on yours? Or didn't get you a gift at all? Were you only giving them a $50 gift because you were expecting a $50 gift in return? (If so, then maybe you need to send your own text message next year.)
And families with three or more children -- do they realise that they may buy a child in a single child family a $50 gift, but for that family to reciprocate, it costs them at least $150? I definitely have known some families who vocally expect that. Why don't they then spend $150 on the single child, if they are so keen for things to be equal?
More often than not, I find that present-giving is not equal -- and that's okay with me, because everybody should be permitted to demonstrate their Christmas spirit (or disinterest) however they wish, within their individual limits. It's a cliché, but isn't it the thought that counts? And are presents the only point of Christmas, anyway?
Of course, gifts aren't the only controversial Christmas topic; dinner or lunch, Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, the inlaws or your parents, turkey/ham/seafood/lamb, no Cointreau or half a bottle in the trifle (I suggest the latter, yum), Boney M or Michael Bublé...the potential landmines and opportunities for snarky remarks and bickering are endless.
And this is why I think silence is the most under-rated Christmas gift. By all means, draw the boundaries you feel you need to draw on the important aspects, like Pete did. But then respect that people have different ways of doing things and enjoying themselves. Christmas means something different to everyone; for some it's a purely religious occasion, or it's just celebrating the holiday season, and for others it's simply a rare chance to get the family together.
For example, my friend Pete wants to celebrate being together with his family on Christmas Day, and that's enough for him. Pete, like most of us, doesn't really care if you give him a token Christmas present or not. He does not need "something to unwrap" on Christmas Day, and it's not a priority to him to see that you do.
What Pete wants is for everyone to keep their opinions to themselves. Basically, to S.T.F.U. That would be his Christmas present dream come true; to just be allowed to make the decision that's right for him, not be given grief about it, and enjoy the day with his loved ones. I think we can all relate to that.
You know I have your back, Pete. Text me if your family doesn't behave on Christmas Day, buddy.
*Names have been changed