Last year I became intrigued by a review on the book "Unplug the Christmas Machine". It has been out for several years, and can be found at book stores and online. I purchased 3 used copies last year and gave 2 of them to my 40ish kids. I have to be honest and say the impetus came from the whammy the economy has dealt us. Funds were/are tight. Somehow when younger I found time to really search for the perfect gift for everyone. Now, I'm at a loss for doing that, both time-wise, fund-wise and creativity-wise. My Mother always says "don't get me anything I don't need anything....and really she's correct, she doesn't. Like me she's trying to get rid of "stuff". I'm typically frugal (tight!) and was never a clothes horse, always sewed and made many of my own things and gifts. But the last few years I found myself just buying "stuff" because I didn't know what to get unless the recipient spelled it right out for me. The fun I had shopping and selecting became stressful and dreaded.
My kids read the book and agreed it was time to reorganize what we were doing, basically trading x$ of gifts. The saying Christmas is for kids is true. The joy comes in seeing their excitement, their anticipation and wonderment in Christmas, Santa, the sparkly tree. I'm fine with photos at the mall on Santa's knee and can't wait to see my new Grandbaby and the huge eyes in glee, hopefully not in terror! But I think most of us are feeling this burn out of Christmas in October, crazy people herding into stores at 3AM the morning after Thanksgiving, the constant bombardment that someone will be happier if you "buy, buy, buy". Enough...it is out of control. And I haven't forgotten the religious message in Christmas, but it has been smothered many years by the stress and crazy month of December and the commercialism taking up sooooo much time.
Although this will make this blog post long long long, I wanted to share some humorous parts of the book, humorous, but tell me you haven't been there!! The Ten Hidden Gift Rules of Christmas (from the book)
1. Give a gift to everyone you expect to get one from.
2. If someone gives you a gift unexpectedly, reciprocate that year (prewrapped gift stash helpful)
3. When you add a name to your gift list, give that person a gift every year thereafter.
4. The amount of money you spend on a gift determines how much you care about the recipient.
5. Gifts exchanged between adults should be roughly equal in value.
6. The presents you give someone should be fairly consistent in value over the years.
7. If you give a gift to a person in one category (e.g. neighbor or coworker), give a gift to everyone in that category, and these gifts should be similar in value.
8. Women should give gifts to their close women friends.
9. Men should not give gifts to their male friends -- unless those gifts are alcoholic beverages.
10. Whenever the above rules cause you any difficulty, remedy the situation by buying more gifts.
We exchanged several emails back on forth and the week after Christmas one of our solutions came to fruition when everyone was here in Florida and we volunteered time at the The Orlando Day Nursery.
The nursery loves volunteers to come to the facility and volunteer time in any area. You can assist the teachers with the children, or you can help with chores on or in the building; my son started helping with the kids, then found out the office was having problems with 2 of their computers and found a need by checking them out and fixing. Rooms are assigned by the age of the children. There is a nursery for newborns and babie, classrooms for 1-2 year olds, and classrooms for 3-5 year olds. 5 years old is typcially the oldest age accepted, there is no after-school program at the nursery.
We arrived en masse and met with Program Director Karen Aldrich. Karen gave us a tour of the nursery, asked us where we felt we'd like to assist, then went through a screening process and asked us to fill out paperwork and supply some information that attested we were upstanding folks. She told me I could not take photos of the children. I kinda knew that was coming in these days of privacy and also because of weirdos who have ruined a lot of innocent intent by others.
I can tell you we all had a marvelous time! And each of us took a different age group. I started in a room with 2 teachers and 14 kids, and after a few hours, shift changed so our room was then full of 24 kids when teachers elsewhere left for the day. Luckily 24 kids, 2 teachers and 1 volunteer (me) went outdoors to channel energy onto playground equipment and into running. Them, not me.
I ended up the day in the baby nursery helping until it was time to leave for the day. The Orlando Day Nursery is a ultra clean, bright, light, recently-built building; and one of the largest supporters, and the group responsible for spearheading funds for the new building is the Orlando Kiwanis. This background behind son and daughter-in-law was painted and the birdhouses designed by volunteers from Disney.
The rewards that day were fabulous, it was not only the volunteer work, but the sharing of a project by my family. It was one of the best Christmases for me to remember. I don't know how they felt, but the stress was almost non-existent for me this year. Did I miss opening gifts, yes....I'd be lieing if I said it was a not big change. But it was a ritual, not the materialism, I missed. Those of us living here in Florida got together Christmas Eve for food and cheer. After Christmas we all got together again at my ex's home for a big "Christmas dinner". That was a bit of a change too as we usually all get together at a fondue restaurant.....a fabulous but $$$$$$ evening. We didn't miss the true meaning of Christmas because that doesn't require gifts, trees or a restaurant.....it was finding new ways to celebrate and share.