A Gift-Less Holiday Might Actually Do Less Damage

Tis the season to be jolly?  Fa la la la la la…?  I was 5 years old when Santa walked in my classroom door, said “Ho Ho Ho,” and I asked my classmates, Who is he??  Somehow I made the naughty list by making the other kids cry by the end of the year.  More than 2 decades later, I was just contemplating what it would be like to have a gift-less holiday in the world.  I don’t mean to sound like a grinch who stole Xmas (or whichever holiday you celebrate), but I seriously think a gift-less holiday might actually do less damage.

You’ve probably heard this many times before.  “The more important thing than holiday gifts is being with your family and/or friends this holiday.”  I say and/or because some aren’t surrounded by family by blood, but have really close friends who are like family.  My ideal of a pleasant holiday is being around those who treat you well with kindness and respect and nothing less.. Maybe topped with some cheese. 🙂

Flash back to a little over 20 years ago (wow I feel old saying this)…

I was 5 years old in kindergarten class when this stranger, (which I found really strange at the time), appeared at the door, in a bright red suit, with white trimmings, a great white beard, and a belly walked in  “Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmassss!”  I was wondering “Who is he?  and why is he saying Ho Ho Ho??  …What’s a Ho?.”  The only Ho’s I knew is this boy named Ho, who was this bully, that called me ugly and stoned me repeatedly with hand full of rocks.

A classmate whispered in awe, “That’s Santa.”  I was so confused by this jolly fella in a red costume, yet so fascinated staring at a distance from my seat in the back of the room.  He went around the room asking all the kids “What would you like for Christmas???”  I was so confused, What is going on???“Santa’s going around asking what everyone wants for Christmas so that the elves make it for us.”  What??  I was soooo confused.  She continued explaining that he has a good and naughty list, and if we’ve been good kids, he goes down people’s chimneys and leaves gifts for us.  “Christmas morning, when you wake up, you’ll find your gifts under the tree.”  What?!  He goes into my house while we’re asleep???  No way in heooo my parents would like that.. and I don’t have a chimney in the living room anyways…   My classmate said “He’ll leave it outside then.”  OK.. COOL with me and my classmate continued explaining to me, whispering.

Then Santa looked at me and it was my turn to tell Santa what I wanted.  The first thing that came out of my mouth was “Ummm…..”  I was totally holding up the line and everyone was getting impatient.  So many thoughts was running through my mind at that point, especially knowing that my parents couldn’t afford buy anything in world for me.  My classmate whispered “Say, a Barbie!”  I thought, No.. that’s not what I want.  Time was ticking and I was still thinking.  She whispered again, “Just say a Barbie!”  Everyone was staring hard at me at that point, and I got nervous so I gave in.. “Barbie.”  The other kids were smiling and whispering amongst themselves, because they wanted a Barbie too, including the classmate who suggested it.

That day, when I went home, I was so excited to tell my mom and siblings about Santa.  Do note the cultural difference, that Christmas traditions, and Christmas gift-giving was not normally part of our family tradition, but we did take on the American tradition of having a faux tree.  After explaining everything about Santa that day, my siblings broke it to me.  “Santa’s not real.”  What?  But Santa showed up at the door and my classmates said he’d give me a present if I was a good this year.  I also finally figured out what I REALLY wanted, and I wanted a Bike.  “Santa’s going to give me a bike! You’ll see!”

Christmas morning came.  I jumped out of bed all excited to find my new bike.  I looked around in my house.. no gifts under the tree,  Maybe it’s outside!!  But when I looked outside, to my disappointment, I did not see a bike.  Where is my bike???  Have I been BAD this year???  

I was beyond devastated.  I didn’t know what to believe.  My siblings tried reassuring me that Santa was not real, rather than me being a bad kid, and after applying all logics to the reasonings they gave me, I eventually came to the conclusion that Santa was not real, (..or maybe I just didn’t want to believe I was bad kid).  Unfortunately for everyone else, when I returned to school, I wanted everyone to know the truth.  So I told all the kids,“Santa’s not real.  He’s just a man in a costume.”  Not realizing at 5 years old, I was their grinch who stole their Christmas and made many other kids get angry and cry.

Flash forward, 20+ years later….

I wonder how all their parents handled their children being told the truth too soon by the grinch, how they were able to get them back into believing in Santa and the Christmas-Santa-Gift-Giving spirit, and when and how, they finally broke it to their children about Santa.  I also wonder how my former classmates felt about me being right all along.  Did they want to keep believing?  If so, for how long?

In the midst of hearing quite a few Xmas horror stories of crazy Xmas shopping, Black Friday, trying to decide the best gifts for their extended family, kids, in-laws, etc, and the overwhelming pressures of getting the “perfect” gifts for everyone, as so they won’t get scolded or gifts get rejected.. many people have asked me this year and the past years, “So what are you doing for Christmas?” and I said “hmm nothing really planned.”  Baffled, they asked “You mean.. your family doesn’t celebrate Christmas?”  I respond, “Nope, not in our culture.”  I could almost sense the slight sadness or disappointment that they seem to feel, and my guess would probably be that they are imaging themselves what life would be like without all the Christmas festivities.

Don’t get me wrong, a long time ago, my family and family friends used to get together during the holidays for karaoke parties and feasts, just because everyone had days off from work.  It was an exciting time because I always looked forward to seeing my childhood best friends.  Some of us did adopt the American tradition giving us children some gifts, candy canes, briefly for some years.  But thinking back to my experiences, I’ll be brutally honest, unfortunately, I have witnessed the holiday’s gift-giving highlights, as having brought on more tears, anger, frustration and even fights than any other time of the year and I remember dreading that part of it.  Not.. counting the year I was the 5 year old grinch who stole Christmas.

Flash back again…

It was 5th grade, when my teacher announced that this was going to be the final year we’ll ever have a Grab Bag in the school systems, because we were growing up.  So he decided to put a twist the rules of Grab Bag, which notoriously became the most troublesome traumatic Grab Bag experience I’ve ever had.

Basically, one by one, our names were chosen randomly via piece of paper, to grab a gift.  But we had to open the gift right away, and show everyone.  If there was a gift that you wanted that someone else had already opened, you can swap once at your turn, AND do note that the person who has it, MUST give it up.  So advantage is being chosen last, because you have the most selection to choose from.

Some kids were happy with their gifts and did not swap, some kids were eyeing other kid’s gifts but didn’t want to take from others,  some kids really wanted to keep their gifts so badly that you can see it in their eyes or begged for others not to take, so everyone had the heart to not take from them… Then there were the kids who were after what they wanted, not always out of spite, but some assuming it was just fun in games.  There was this one gift that most people wanted, (I can’t remember, I think it was a gum ball machine?), and so many people were taking it from each other, next person after another.  There was crying, begging, pulling, snatching, and screaming.  It was a chaos and many kids were truly upset.   I don’t recall at the moment what gift I ended up with, or if someone took from me, I might have re-gifted it anyways, but I do remember the gift I brought was a box of fruity candy canes that the kid who received it was really happy about.  Anyways, although I was the kid who kept my gift regardless if I really wanted it or not, I never wanted to be part of another grab bag again.

The gift circle…

My 5th grade teacher was right, we never had grab bag again.  In middle school my friends who sat at the same lunch table decided to have the tradition of exchanging gifts.  Although I thought that was a nice idea and over all fun, there was about 8-10 of us that we had to give gifts to, and all I could afford to ask my parents to get was usually the dollar store and even so, $1 back then felt like was like what $5 feels today.  Plus I put a lot of pressure on myself, even as a kid, to give my friend’s the perfect gift and a lot of pressure on my parents to help me get it for them.  Maybe I was an exception, a kid with clashing cultures; I wasn’t mentally prepared for all this.

There was this a friend growing up who would complain how little she got.  “I got only $85 from my grandma this year…” and it wasn’t until high school it directly affected me and I realized the extent of how much it effected me even to this day.

The Unappreciative…

By the time high school rolled around, there were no more of those family karaoke parties and the brief 3 or so years of yearly christmas-gift giving traditions ended.   (Do note again, that we don’t really celebrate it in our culture).  But I still enjoyed the holiday season of chocolates, cards, lights and fun stuff.  I often gave a little something with a holiday card to my closest friends, eventually old enough to realize I wanted give out “Happy Holiday” cards instead of “Merry Christmas” not to assume everyone celebrates Christmas.

One year, a friend broke it to me that our mutual friends were really upset about my gifts.  What do you mean?   She said that they got angry, had a huge fit and said “That’s it?!  That’s all she gave me?  Just some chocolates and a card?!”  The irony of it all was that the friends who complained about my gifts, didn’t give me any gifts, but I didn’t expect any.  My friend had no reason make up such a thing, and one of the friends she was talking about was the one who complained about how little she would get from her Grandma & family, so I was pretty upset, said “That’s it!  I’m never going to give them any gifts anymore!!”

Although I couldn’t go through every holiday without the incident crossing my mind, fear not, the grinches didn’t totally steal the holidays for me.  I continued to give a little something to my closer friends each year throughout high school and bigger presents to my closest friends (which consisted of my best friend, her bro and her mom).  My best friend would spoil me with nifty gifts, more than I felt I deserved or could accept.

College years and beyond…

I had made some more friends and gave out little things each year.  It was the first time in a long time I went over friends’ house to chill with a family for the holidays and they exchanged gifts.  Knowing the kinds of things they normally get for themselves, which is beyond my budget, I admit I put pressure again on myself to not give a unwanted gift.  I also give people odd gifts out of the norm, which usually gives people laughs, but I also never want to disappoint so at one point I implied not to give me stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally appreciated the gifts and generosity given to me over the years.  I still have some things I received since middle school, which gives me back good memories.  But now, I’m having trouble getting rid of all the things I technically don’t need, that someone else could probably make good use out of, (whether it’s another family wanting to pass on these hand me downs to their kids or whatnot).  So don’t take it personal if over the years I pass on these things or donate.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate it.. I do, it’s just I don’t need EVERYTHING, and I moved around so much that it would be nice to have less to move with.  If I kept everything, by the time I’m in my senior, I’ll needs like monstrous X amount of storage space for it, totally unnecessary.  I’ll keep a few things for memories though.

I don’t force people keep their holiday gift either, (I try to give gift receipts), and I don’t oppose re-gifting it to someone who can find a better use for it.  But I’ll admit it was awkward as a kid when a friend gave her bday present I gave, to a mutual friend’s bday… so… OK… maybe not my bday gift to you to a mutual friend’s bday, in my case.  Also none of that, “That’s it?!  That’s all you gave me?”Don’t be a grinch!! because you definitely won’t be get anything next year or at all… ever. 🙂  Appreciating the gesture of a gifts, means a polite thank you and keeping all negative thoughts to oneself.

So eventually, gift giving somehow faded again, depending.  Sometimes happens and sometimes it doesn’t.  Overall, I actually like it a lot better this way, because it’s what I’m used to growing up, (and I wouldn’t have gone through all that if it didn’t existed).  Lesson learned.  Now, I’m not speaking for everyone, and this may not work for everyone; this is just how I feel in my situations.  I’m not saying, “Stop giving gifts.” either.  Having gift-less holidays for me has been less stressful, and I can instead focus on the more important things like planning on some stress-free good times with people. I really like just hanging out with good people, eating food, giving out little treats like chocolates.  Who doesn’t like chocolate?  Not to sound cheesy, but the most important things for me are the memories that I have from these good times.  I might need someone to remind me when I’m 80 but that’s OK..  I don’t need a big present every time to remind me.   It doesn’t make me any better or worse than anyone… That’s just a choice.  If you’re ever curious what it’s like.  Try a gift-less holiday get together one year and see what it’s like.  If you have kids, I understand that it might be a sensitive issue, but I’ve been through gift-less holidays as a kid, and I think I turned out alright ;).  The worse that can happen is your kid doesn’t expect anything for the holiday.

Anyways, I realized I just wrote a novel.  These are the confessions of my holiday experiences.  This is not meant to be a sad story at all.  It’s just another one of those odd, humorous, experiences I had growing up.  Regardless, I still do get excited about holiday parties, lights, and the food, of course!  😛  Happy Holidays!  I hope yours is enjoyable.  I’m likely heading out, doing my own thing in a few.

Let me tell you later about the 1st time I met the Easter Bunny…

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