A Fix-it Christmas

So the numbers are in, and according to the National Retail Federation, Black Friday 2011 was the most “successful” ever (1). A record $52.4 billion was spent between Thanksgiving and Sunday. Check out these stats:

bullet 226 million shoppers bought items during Black Friday weekend, 14 million more than last year. 

bullet The average Black Friday shopper spent $398.62 during the weekend, up from $365.34 last year. 

bullet Shopping online increased, and purchases in every major area increased (clothing, electronics, toys, etc.)

Many analysts see this as a step in the right direction for our economy. But is it a step in the right direction for our materialism dilemma?

I am definitely one to appreciate a good deal. And there are certainly good deals to be had during the Black Friday weekend. I usually have a rule that I don’t leave my house on the day after Thanksgiving because the traffic and crowds frustrate me (living in L.A. has forever given me a complex). However, I threw caution to the wind this year and decided to go to one store, JoAnn Fabrics, to get some items I needed to make stockings for someone.

Never again.joanns

To start, the parking was out of control (that’s o.k., I told myself, I like to walk). Second, all the carts were gone (that’s o.k., I told myself, I like to carry things). Third, the line at the cutting counter was two hours long (that’s o.k., I told myself, I can get the ribbon for the stockings another time). Fourth, the line to check out went halfway back through the store (that’s o.k., I told myself, I like to waste time – OH WAIT – NO I DON’T)! That last one was a challenge to my positive attitude I tried to have, but I defeated it by thinking of what to do for our December challenge, and it plays right into this scenario.

What I do not like about Christmastime it is how commercial it has become. When I was younger I am not even sure I remember there being a Black Friday, let alone a Cyber Monday. My kids are bombarded by crazy amounts of toy commercials starting in November, followed right behind by the big toy catalogs (Jesus who?).

When my oldest child was one, I remember flying to our corporate offices for a meeting and chatting with my boss’ secretary (that is what they were called back then) about what she was getting her granddaughter for Christmas. On her desk was her granddaughter’s list, about a dozen items long, and by the handwriting I guessed her age to be about 7. “So what item will you get her this year?” I asked. “Why, all of them of course!” the woman said matter-of-factly. I was horrified! Is this what all kids expected? Was this in my future? NO NO NO!! From that day forward, I have told my kids that they are welcome to make a list, but they will never get more than one item on the list from us. And to this day, the complaints have been minimal, even when they have seen their friends get boatloads of gifts from their parents. There was no way I was going to start a trend of them being “entitled” to a shower of gifts they don’t really need (or we can afford)!

So I had a thought. Even though we don’t go overboard with Christmas presents, could it be that our kids, as well as my husband and I, still feel entitled to get gifts from each other? Suddenly I heard Boris Karloff’s voice in my head… "Then she got an idea! An awful idea! THE MOM GOT A WONDERFUL, AWFUL IDEA! ‘I know just what to do!’ the Grinch mom said.”

What if instead of getting each other a gift, what if we just fixed something for someone and stuck that fixitunder the tree? Not only would it make us examine our expect-a-gift attitude, but it would save us money AND would help us recycle the items we already have (according to the Stanford Recycling Center, Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Christmas and holiday season than at other times of the year (2)). Lord knows our “fixit” box of broken items was overflowing and could use some attention. So I ran the idea by my husband and he gave the experiment a thumbs up. Now to tell the kids. This should be interesting.

1. http://www.nrf.com/modules.php?name=News&op=viewlive&sp_id=1260
2. http://recycling.stanford.edu/5r/holidays.html

We told the kids. I think at first they thought we were joking. They were in a bit of a shock, but I pointed out that they get so many gifts from others that they won’t even know they aren’t getting a present from us. We also explained the purpose behind it and they were on board with that. We did a bit of compromising, however, in that we will still do stockings with the grandparents on Christmas Eve and we won’t write a letter to Santa to NOT bring a gift (forgot about that issue – awkward! -but it will have to be a small gift from Santa). We are also implementing our “25 days of giving” calendar, where each day up until Christmas we look for opportunities to help people and give to those in need.

The kids seem well adjusted now to the idea of a fix-it Christmas, but I am reminding myself that the real test will be on Christmas day. However, as of this week, our children are putting my husband and I to shame. They have been proactive and have been searching for things to fix and we have not. Meagan already fixed and wrapped something for her dad and sister, and Morgan has fixed two things as well. Dad has fixed one thing, but mom is scoring a big fat zero. I need to get crackin’! The 25 days of giving calendar is going well though. Not everyone is entering what they did on the calendar, but at least every day has something filled in where someone in the family has helped out someone or given something. For example, Meagan spent her allowance to buy a toy to put in the Toys For Tots box at school, and Morgan went to someone’s house to help them clean. 

Everyone has just about fixed all their items. Meagan expressed her nervousness that she won’t get anything for Christmas. On the upside, everyone seems to be enjoying fixing their items for other people.

So we just had our Christmas. It felt much like any other Christmas morning, but it was more fun watching the family open up each of our "gifts". Meagan seemed the most excited of us all. Joel’s dad didn’t even know we were doing a "fixit" Christmas, so when he saw us open the gifts to each other, he declared we should do it every year and include him as well. Truthfully, I don’t think the kids missed not getting a gift from us. They were all happy with their one modestly-priced (ranging from $10 to $50) Santa gift, and they are just playing with that one toy a lot.

All in all, I think this worked out great. I asked the two older kids what they thought of a “fixit” Christmas, and they answered me by giving me the thumbs up sign (I’m glad it was that finger that went up!) When I asked them to elaborate, Meagan said “it was fun to actually DO something for Christmas,” and Morgan said “It felt the same as a normal Christmas, plus you fixed my coat.” Then I asked them if we should do it again next year. Meagan said yes, and Morgan said maybe every other year. Finally, I asked them if this experience taught them anything about entitlement. Morgan said “Well, so many kids get everything they want, and that is bad. But it is nicer to get one thing you want because you cherish it more.” Meagan’s answer was sort of in reply to Morgan’s answer, for she said “but I did get everything I wanted this Christmas. It was awesome. I was happy with what I had, this was the best Christmas ever!”