By R.F. Hosseini
It got to the point where I actually dreaded Christmas.
It had gone from being my favorite holiday as a child (Duh. Kids are greedy gift-hoarding machines.) to plummeting way past Thanksgiving, Halloween and New Year’s Eve, and landing somewhere just above national Acknowledge Your Postal Carrier But Don’t Make Lingering Eye Contact Day.
In other words, its stock had plummeted. How typical.
All those people I was lucky enough to have in my life—friends, family and their expanding broods (seriously guys, another kid?)—were reduced to chores, names on a list I felt obligated to check off.
Is this how Santa feels?
Doubtful. Saint Nick may have seven billion (and counting) folks on his Christmas to-do list, but the pathologically jolly franchisee also has an army of elves handling the particulars. Santa doesn’t have to deal with packed mall parking lots, screaming kids, overworked sales clerks, slow-moving herds of customers or Michael Bublé’s skit-skatting version of “Little Drummer Boy” playing on an endless loop. If he did, Santa would probably hate Christmas, too.
But a few years ago, my family did something that saved Christmas. Call it a Christmas bailout. (Or don’t. Yeah, let’s maybe not call it that.) It was shortly after the financial crisis brought our world economy to the brink, and people everywhere were understandably skittish about spending their dwindling dollars on frivolous trinkets no one really wants. (That nose-hair trimmer I bought a cousin’s husband one year? Total waste of $11.38!)
Besides the general economic uncertainty, our clan of parents, brothers, aunts and cousins had just flat-out OD’ed on the department store hustle-bustle. And not only were we tired of getting gifts, we were equally exhausted with getting them. No longer could I keep a fake grin plastered to my face and pretend a powder blue tracksuit was exactly what I always wanted.
As we gathered that year for a relaxed Thanksgiving dinner—swapping stories, needling each other, stuffing ourselves with stuffing and emptying a case of wine—someone finally wondered aloud, “Why can’t Christmas be like this?”
All the heads at the table quickly nodded in agreement and a plan took shape: No gifts this year except for the kids.
The following year, we took it a step further with a Secret Santa gift exchange. The year after that, we discarded the old pretenses altogether and embraced the dark side. Two words: White Elephant.
Now most of you know how this works. Everyone is responsible for bringing one purchased or homemade gift, and there’s typically a cap on how much people are allowed to spend. (We’ve fluctuated between $20 and $40.) Guests pull numbers to see in which order they get to choose the wrapped presents. And once chosen, a gift can be stolen twice before it’s “frozen” to the person currently in possession.
This has allowed myself and family members to focus on getting one good, unique, thoughtful gift, which basically disqualifies a quick trip to the mall. Participants have patronized local boutiques, quirky little shops and, yes, thrift stores just like Goodwill. (Plug!) This has resulted in a small treasure of highly coveted gifts, rather than a huge pile of meaningless tchotchkes.
As for the game itself, my family really gets into it. There’s something about the nakedly selfish, ruthless way in which we target each other to achieve maximum burnage. It really brings out the holiday spirit.
Even as the financial situation has gradually improved and Black Friday brawls are once again de rigueur, our family is sticking with this adopted tradition.
This year we’re adding a “mystery” gift that will remain unopened until the end. This could prove a pleasant surprise for whoever ends up with it, or they might just find themselves unwrapping a pair of slightly dusty, never-used nose-hair trimmers.
Either way, it’ll be a Christmas miracle.