I’m having trouble with the season this year. First of all, it’s been a hard year—with everyone having financial troubles, getting by on getting by. And now, here comes the time of year when people are expected to be happy and cheerful and—most of all—to spend money. It’s almost your patriotic duty to spend money this year, since it will help the economy! But spending money is hard in hard times, so why do we do it anyway? Even though the economy is in terrible shape, Americans are out, crowding the stores, buying presents. I sometimes get a physical feeling of revulsion when I go in a crowded mall full of people spending money they don’t have. And I’m not excluding myself from that group. I’m out there, with the best of them.
My family celebrates Christmas, and I wish the burden of our particular holiday could be lifted a bit. I think it’s wonderful to give people gifts and show people you love them, but I wish there were not so much guilt wrapped up in this season. The mother’s version goes something like this: “But if I don’t buy my daughter those $200 boots, she might think I don’t love her.” Or, “But she has been wanting that Wii for ever, so really we should just put it on the damn credit card.” Or “If I buy this present at the bargain store, will she be able to tell somehow?”
I suspect the guilt factor is worse for mothers than for fathers, but fathers feel it, too. They just express it differently: “I should have gotten him that warmer jacket, no matter how much it cost!”
I’d like for there to be a big confession booth in the sky, where we could all step into at this time of year and say, “I have sinned. I came up short. I couldn’t buy all the presents I wanted to for people. I couldn’t give my children the trip to Europe that so-and-so gave to theirs. But could I please just get some extra credit for wanting to give them those things?” In my dream confessional booth, there would be a spiritual guide behind a curtain who would say, “Don’t worry. You are doing the best you can.” Then, maybe, we could walk out, our shoulders lighter, and enjoy the season more.
I hope we’ll hear from our readers about their ways of dealing with the stresses of this holiday season. I know that, for many of our readers, it helps to focus on the manger scene or the menorah or their own religious symbols that remind them of the wonder of life on this planet. And I agree that is important. But religious belief doesn’t always eliminate the demands of the season that can drive us to distraction. So I’m going to pretend that booth is there for me, and I guess I’ll have to be my own absolver, so that I can relax a bit and think about what really matters: my family will soon be gathered together for Christmas, all in one house, safe and sound for a little while, before we all scatter again to the four winds.