We are all aware of the current COVID pandemic and the new variant strains of Delta and Omicron, BUT, has anyone heard of the most recent epidemic…CHREXCESS.
No?? Well, that’s probably because I just made it up, BUT it is an epidemic and one that I think we need to talk about. It’s an epidemic that has the greatest impact on our children, but it does affect adults as well. It’s an epidemic that attacks the rational part of our brains and affects our ability to understand how excessive Christmas has become. (What’s a holiday blog without a clever word mashup, right? Christmas and Excess….Meh, I tried.)
I don’t want to make light of the current pandemic, but I do want to draw attention to this particular topic. So, here we are. T minus X days until Christmas. How many times have you been asked, “Are you ready?” Pandemic seriousness aside, it’s kinda funny, actually. We are asked this looming question, “Are you ready,” as if we are preparing for an apocalypse, which, I guess, if apocalypse is defined as widespread destruction or disaster, I guess Christmas could technically be considered apocalyptic.
Admittedly though, it is a valid question. As the mother of three, I’m well aware of all the things that I need to be ready for and getting ready for me means SHOPPING and lots of it. I don’t particularly like shopping either. I’m a minimalist by nature, so that makes this season of spending and splurge even more difficult. Combine that with worldwide supply chain constraints and shipping delays. If you can believe it, I started shopping for “the big man” clear back in late September to avoid the last minute, super expensive, rushed shipping situation that I fell victim to last year.
I shop for “us'' meaning, myself and my husband, and although he is literally the most amazing husband and father ever, he only has to concern himself with buying for one person..me..and I don’t personally like excess, so I usually make it very clear to him if there is something that I absolutely need. In addition, my parents are older and my aunt (although she loves to shop) has a hard time knowing what my kids would want, so I shop for them for my kids as well. Ugh, thank goodness Christmas only comes around once a year.
You get the point, lots of shopping, and lots of presents for my children. They know it and they very much look forward to it every year, as all children do, but the question I have is: How much is too much? At what point does this go from enjoyable to excessive?
I had a conversation recently with my mom who is all about Christmas excess. She’s not satisfied unless there is no sight of the living room floor with literally piles of presents. Don’t get me wrong, the “reason for the season” is not lost on her, but even she would admit that Christmas isn’t Christmas without all the presents. In our conversation, she asked me why I didn’t want to do a cousins exchange among all the grandkids and why I didn’t want to do an exchange with my siblings and their spouses. I responded by saying, “It’s that many more presents that I have to buy and it’s that many more presents for my kids that they don’t need.” My response was the same for the siblings and spouses exchange. I don’t want to buy more presents and get more presents that I don’t need. It's time spent, money spent and to me, it’s totally unnecessary.
I knew she was disappointed. I felt bad saying “no.” I just feel like it creates this unhealthy, unrealistic sense of entitlement. I’m not lying when I say that one year, I saw my children along with my nieces and nephews, open presents and say, “next,” not even acknowledging or appreciating what they had just opened. I have no other way to describe it other than to say it felt gross.
Instead of Ho Ho Ho, I’m the one saying No No No and I look like a total Grinch.
Well, not entirely. I am going to admit that when there aren’t lots of presents under the tree, I also feel like something isn’t right. Maybe part of it is what I’ve been used to. I feel like we’ve all been so conditioned to expect excess, that when we set some very normal limits, we actually feel guilty. I feel like I’m not giving my children a memorable Christmas if they aren’t opening an excessive amount of gifts. WHY???
Believe me, I love the joy of Christmas morning. I love my children's’ excitement. I love hearing their happy squeals and their pleas to open their highly anticipated presents, BUT, I also understand that excess isn’t necessarily the way to elicit happy, healthy children. Is there a way to enjoy with limits so as not to foster an environment of entitlement?
I’ve compiled some ideas from myself and also from friends and family to combat the ChrExcess epidemic.
No new stuff comes in unless some of the old stuff goes out. We have limited space, so I’ve asked my children to consider what they no longer use to make space for the new. Keeping some important stuff is fine, but I want to be mindful not to foster dependence on too much stuff.
Buy and wrap gifts that your children will use all year round. This year I bought and wrapped new tennis shoes, socks, underwear, electric toothbrushes, hair brushes and clothes. A big part of the excitement is in the unwrapping, so wrap up those items that you would buy throughout the year anyway. Also consider your children’s hobbies and supplies you would also buy anyway. For us, that is lots and lots of art supplies.
Ask your children to contribute. This year my children used some of their own money to purchase a present for the “Giving Tree” at school. I’m not saying we have a lot, but my children have never NOT had a wonderful (and plentiful) Christmas. I really want them to consider how they can give to those that are less fortunate rather than solely focusing on themselves and what they are getting.
Let the grandparents spoil them, BUT within reason AND have a conversation with grandparents about what they are giving your children to ensure that it doesn’t contradict any personal/parental boundaries that you have set with your children. A perfect example from a friend was when a grandparent gave IPads to her children. If your parental boundary has been to limit screen time, you, as a parent, have every right to set that boundary and it needs to be respected.
A friend of mine always gifts her children books and they have made it a tradition to read them together over the holidays. What an awesome tradition for their family and a great way to encourage literacy and family time.
Another friend talked about the option of “experiences” over “stuff,” so as a family, they are going on a trip to Colorado as part of their children's’ Christmas present. As part of my children's’ stocking gift, I am planning to do a day visit to BounceU. It might not be Colorado, but it will still be a fun family experience.
Every Christmas, my mom donates money to a Haitian charity. This charity is particularly meaningful to her because she spent some time there as a nurse doing hurricane relief. She donates on behalf of each of her five children and their families and is provided information on how each donation is being utilized. Before any presents are opened, our new tradition is for each family to read how their donation has helped a family in need. It has become a family favorite and a great way to offer the children a valuable perspective about the privileges that they have.
I know this might not be the popular opinion and that’s okay. I also don’t want anyone to worry that my children are only getting underwear this year. I’m (mostly) confident my children made the nice list this year and (fingers crossed) hoping they will be pleasantly surprised on Christmas morning. With each Christmas morning and each passing year that I get to be a parent though, I realize the value in being on the nice list all year long and if what I need to do as a parent is to periodically set limits to keep my children’s expectations in check, so be it. Chrexcess may not officially be an epidemic, but it’s an idea that affects us all. Let’s do our part to help our children understand their privilege and promote empathy versus entitled expectations and we’ll all enjoy an epidemic free holiday.