Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Little Things

This year holiday time is tight. We usually end up celebrating a number of holidays in December because we have friends and families from different religions. This usually means that there are gifts to be purchased for all, gifts to be wrapped, cookies to bake and dinners to make.

However, this year, with the economy being so poor it became very apparent to me how much everything was costing. Sugar cookies and frosting cost almost $20.00 in butter and other ingredients, a tree costs $40.00, Turkey's cost $20.00, the meal costs about $45.00. Gingerbread houses cost $35.00, gifts, even at $5.00 a person were going to add up fast. And that was not even counting at least one gift for each child.

I had to cut somewhere. First we decided we would make gifts for everyone we knew this year. They would actually be much nicer than something we could buy anyway. Some family members are now getting gifts that would be posted on ETSY for about $75.00, which is a lot better than a cheap $5.00 gift from China that does not even support the economy. The kids have all agreed to accept the fact they will only get one small additional gift (not made by me) this year and we made sure to re-gift/deliver a lot of things we didn't want to Goodwill and other charities before the holidays so things we did not use so other people would be able to enjoy. Altogether we delivered 26 boxes of things - most of them in great or new condition.

It is interesting, because when you give away things your space and your house seems new - things around you that were buried reveal themselves and it almost seems like you received a gift yourself :)

Of course just being together is the best gift a person can have this holiday season. And the time we are spending together decorating and making things and baking is the main thing that makes this holiday special. However, gift giving is such a big part of the holidays, so that part was a challenge.

Gift giving can turn into a really big commercial me-athon. But gift giving can also be a lesson in giving and what role and function that has in a society. It can be a lesson in patience (waiting to open boxes) and can be a lesson in hope (hoping for things as gifts). Gifting is a sacred cultural practice (can you tell I majored in Anthropology) that needs to be

But the big lesson I learned this holiday season with gifts is that it is the little things that count. When I looked at our budget I had to fit a lot of things into a little money. The decision to let each child have only one small gift, was made because I realized, as I tried to cut other things from the budget that it is actually the "little things" that count more than the big gifts.

The most interesting item we decided to spend money on was wrapping paper. I have old bits of leftover wrapping paper from last year and I even have some that are in solid colors that will work for any holiday. I have tissue paper and we can always make wrapping paper. For me, I figured that was an easy $10-$15.00 I could save. Don't buy wrapping paper.

I was wrong. The children were crushed at the idea of not wrapping things in pretty paper they had chosen themselves. They found such joy in the idea of unwrapping things that Sunii even said he was going to wrap some old cereal boxes so it looked like we had more gifts under the tree and that he "really liked unwrapping things". Really. He was not just "being nice". The kids were really excited about the wrapping paper. So we went out shopping and each child was able to choose two kinds of wrapping paper - big tubes of sparkly decorated holiday themed paper-soon-to-be-recycled. I also chose one tube myself.

When I told them they would only each get one gift this year they seemed to understand "how things were" and were "ok". When I mentioned not getting wrapping paper they were very upset.

So we arrived home. Five tubes of wrapping paper. We wrapped the gifts we had, Sunii wrapped his cereal boxes, we wrapped some of the items we had made for people and there was such JOY in the house - just because of the colors and excitement of the wrapping paper (and thank goodness I had an entire package of bows from last year :).

It was a lesson to me. Sometimes when we think things are bad it only takes a small thing to change it. I thought that making things better would be impossible and that we would just be "making do". But my kids taught me that even a small gesture can make us feel special.

And we decided to do gingerbread houses instead of sugar cookies this year. Shhhh...don't tell anyone but I was sort of tired of sugar cookies anyway - whew! Glad I had an excuse not to make any this year :)

Happy Holidays!