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 let’s 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.
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. That’s $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 Bureau’s 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 QuinnsCommentary.net. 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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Boy can I relate about gift giving! Thought I finally got the perfect gift for my wife’s birthday. I have a Fitbit smartwatch, (that she got for me a few years ago). She has an original Fitbit that she is constantly complaining about not being able to read the face. Turns out she doesn’t like the new watch because she thinks it’s too big on her wrist. Oh well. Back to the store it goes and back to the drawing board! Btw, I never made that mistake with an appliance. I saw what happened to my Dad when he gave my mom a vacuum cleaner 😉
Welcome to married life. Over the years I bought my wife what i thought was pretty nice jewelry. I recall a nice tennis bracelet – the diamonds were too big.🥴
Coming up on 40 years of marriage. You’d think I’d know her better by now, lol.
Exchanging gifts, especially between spouses, too often sends messages that were not intended or anticipated. I learned the dreaded “appliance” lesson early in our marriage and as a result, my wife has more jewelry than she will ever likely wear again at our age. What I have usually received in return is clothing or other practical things, which has taught me that there is as much art in receiving a gift as there is in giving a gift. Over time, a carefully chosen card with a meaningful message has meant more to me than all of the things that I can easily afford to buy for myself.
I’m with you on this.
My Christmas stress was dealing with 20 law firm partners in a firm of over 100 attorneys, each trying to maximize how much of the year-end financial pie they would get. My wife said I was in a bah humbug mood every Christmas season until I retired.
As soon as I saw the name of this article, I knew who wrote it.
Is that a compliment – i hope
I had not thought about my Mom saving all the tinsel each year for re-use. She didn’t do it to recycle; she did it because, while not poor, we had had no money to spare. No wonder I’m the frugal guy I am today! And Richard: $57 for a 19 pound turkey? Got to hunt down those bargains: we paid $0.69/pound this year.
That’s a crazy price for a turkey. Prices here (NH) ranged from $.39 to $.99 a pound, with pretty much all of stores selling at $.69 the week or two before Thanksgiving.
Yeah, i thought it was a bit much too, but it was a preordered fresh turkey. I did check on the price of a frozen one in another store and it was almost as much.
I’m guilty of “never planned, shopped for, prepared or served a holiday meal”. That may be a reason I like the season! My 12 year old son unequivocally loves the season. I like the title of your article as I’m “A Christmas Carol” fan. The George C. Scott version being my favorite.
I still put the tinsel on strand by strand and remove it the same way. Use it year after year remembering all the times my Mother and Dad and hubby did it together.
You deserve a lot of credit, that takes a lot of effort, but I bet it looks beautiful.
Great family photo! Reminds me of the famous Norman Rockwell painting .
Funny you say that. Three days ago we were at the Norman Rockwell museum. While standing in front of the famous Freedom from Want painting I showed my picture to the tour guide and he wanted a copy to show folks on future tours that Rockwell had captured an actual slice of America at that time.
That’s great follow up info, Dick.
I feel the pain! One time, with the joy of the purchase of our first home, I gave my now X a….. Kirby vacuum.
If I remember correctly, a 35mm camera was a pricey luxury compared to the everyman Brownie, but Grandpa made the huge effort to tediously recycle the tinsel – how funny, but then he lived during the Great Depression.
Yeah, a 35mm anything was a luxury far beyond the budget of my rural family’s (very) humble 1950’s financial background. And color film? Oh, my, that’s what the wealthy have, like those new-fangled color TV’s!
That may be one reason why color photos of the era are so treasured, there doesn’t seem to be all that many around. And that’s a great one, it really captures the essence of the era, IMO.
Interesting point. I never thought about that. I just looked it up and you can buy the camera he had for $79.99 on ESTY no idea what it cost in 1950 though.
My trusty inflation calculator claims the ETSY camera would have only cost $6.50 in 1950 for example. Bet it was more than that! Maybe he picked it up in Europe while in the military possibly?
No idea where he got it, but I know he was never in the army or Europe.
Since you are a fan of A Christmas Story, will you be watching the new sequel that was released this year, entitled A Christmas Story Christmas?
I sure would like to, but it seems it’s only on HBO now.
Dick, I’m impressed with the color photo. My family was still in black and white. We picked out our tree at the farm yesterday. John—the friendly owner and the big reason we enjoy the experience—is retiring after this year. His son, however, has planted the trees I noticed just up the road and will be open next year. A new chapter of our tradition begins.
As I’ve grown older, and not wiser but perhaps more thoughtful, the simple experiences I share with family and friends at home and church are far more meaningful to me than the Christmas marketed by the retailers. And I get a better value for my money.
My grandfather was into color 35 mm slides. After all these years we realize there are few pictures of him as he insisted on taking all the pictures.
Make sure there is no squirrel in that tree. We often found a birds nest.
Also look for praying mantis egg sacks. We once had one hatch in the nice, warm house after the tree was brought inside. We had hundreds of tiny critters in the living room looking for their first meal.
Yes, I’ve heard about those, but I’ve never seen one. Thanks for the warning!
I just read that this week on a FB post. Love my artificial tree even more now 😁
Good article Dick. Justice Jewelers in Springfield, MO was owned by Woody Justice, who died years ago. He was the consummate TV pitchman, and in his commercials this time of year he showed an appliance (upright vacuum with a long cord was my favorite) with the admonition of “Guys, don’t get your wife anything with a cord!”
Good advice indeed. I learned the hard way. I still shiver when I think of that Christmas.