Bah Humbug

Richard Quinn

MY LEAST FAVORITE time of the year is fast approaching—the holidays. The curmudgeonly part of me will be on full display.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many aspects that I like. I enjoy the spirit of Christmas, the music, getting together with friends and family, and eating. But lets face it, there’s a lot of stress, aggravation—and money to be spent.

My DVR stores A Christmas Story, which is my favorite holiday movie and which I watch every December. I can relate to the family in the movie, including the temperamental coal furnace, and I sympathize with Ralphie.

Unlike Ralphie, I never wanted a Red Ryder rifle. Instead, I wanted electric trains, which I did get one year. I can also relate to Ralphie’s pink bunny pajamas. One year, I asked for a basketball—pretty simple. What I received was a beach ball imprinted like a basketball.

In the first week of November, I was hearing holiday songs on the radio and I passed a church already decorated for Christmas, including a lighted tree on the lawn. Needless to say, stores have been stocked with Christmas decorations since Labor Day. Is there an actual season any longer?

I began writing this before visiting—not voluntarily—a Hobby Lobby, where we and many other shoppers were loading up on Christmas decorations. That’s despite our storage area already bursting with past years’ bargains.

A young Dick Quinn (second from left) at his grandmother’s house for the holidays circa 1953

Spend $269 on decorations? That’s what some research says the average American lavishes on lights, tinsel and such. My least favorite holiday items are those lawn blow-up things, not classy in my humble opinion.

My wife and I gave up exchanging gifts years ago. There’s simply nothing we want or need. Let’s face it, what happens to many gifts—perhaps most—is they’re returned, broken in a day or two, or shortly forgotten and go unused.

I recall the stress of finding the right gift for my wife. One year, decades ago, I thought I had it. I presented her with a microwave oven. It was a cold Christmas, but my marriage survived. Thereafter, it was one-stop shopping at my favorite jeweler.

Folks who celebrate Hanukkah aren’t immune to all this. The best research I could find estimated the average spent on that holiday at around $600.

They say it’s the thought that counts. I’m not so sure. A National Retail Federation study found that retailers expect about 17.8% of all merchandise sold in the holiday season to be returned, either online or in person. Thats $158 billion worth of goods.

Near the top of the return list is apparel. I can relate. As a kid, I received an endless supply of clip-on ties, socks and underwear. Whoopee.

Think of all the time, stress and money that goes into shopping. It’s greatly stimulated by advertising—often misleading when it comes to toys that don’t actually fly.

Then there’s the work involved. Dragging decorations out of storage, putting them up—occasionally at dangerous heights—and then putting all the stuff back after a few weeks. Fun, really? Or is it keeping up with the neighbors?

A simple wreath on the door would do, and would certainly be more traditional. Most Americans didn’t even decorate or have Christmas trees until the mid-19th century.

When I was a child, we went to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas. I’ve come to realize that Grandma didn’t have it so easy, doing all the work herself. Grandpa did none of that. But he did take the metal tinsel off the tree and reused it year after year. Can you imagine?

If you’ve never planned, shopped for, prepared or served a holiday meal—and then cleaned up afterward—you have no idea of the work involved. If you go elsewhere for a holiday meal, be sure to thank the host and perhaps help with the cleanup, too.

By the way, a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people cost $64.05 on average this year, or so says the American Farm Bureaus annual informal price survey. Who are they kidding? I spent $57 alone for a 19-pound turkey.

My suggestion: Let’s make all holidays less about stuff and more about what makes them truly special—time with friends and family.

Richard Quinn blogs at Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnsComments and check out his earlier articles.

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