Monday, December 21, 2015

I Hate Spendmas

It’s been a little while since I’ve had a good rant on this blog. I’m not in a chipper mood and I’m feeling really out of sorts, so … here goes.

I despise Spendmas. With all my heart, mind, soul and strength.

Twenty years ago, as a carefree bachelor, our most dreaded of secular holidays didn’t faze me. It was an excuse to exercise some good holiday cheer, usually at a bar or a club, and swap two or three gifts among immediate family members and have dinner where I could leave whenever I wanted to.

Here’s how it went back then:

I would take a personal day off from work, usually on December 18.

I would make a list of people I wanted to grace with a present. It was a blessed short list – my mother, stepfather, brother, my girlfriend (if I had one at the time), and maybe two or three of my close pals.

That was it.

I would withdraw $200 cash from my bank account and after an afternoon’s shopping I’d still have enough left over to buy myself dinner.

Oh, and I had all the gifts wrapped in the stores. Actually, two stores. Barnes and Noble, since all I know about gift-giving is books. And a “country” store that sold frames and pictures and all sorts of “country” stuff that my mother liked.

See, I’m terrible at gift giving and gift purchasing. Just don’t have a head for it. Maybe I lack certain empathetic skills. I don’t know. Maybe I’m too hung up on being judged based on the gift purchased and the reaction the unwrapping prompts in the recipient. Again, dunno, and really don’t care, except briefly during the Panic Days of Late Spendmas.

As far as Christmas cards go, didn’t send any out. Young single guys didn’t do that.

And as far as decorating the apartment, well, that was done in an hour. I had an extremely realistic fake tree I’d drag out from the storage room, and could assemble it, ornaments and all, in a half-hour. Then I strung a strand of colored lights over the kitchenette area and around my bulletin board.


And oh how things have changed.

Nowadays, Spendmas for my family begins the first weekend in December and runs right up to Christmas Eve. This year that means twenty days. Forget about taking one afternoon off for shopping. No. Now we need several strategic planning sessions to see who goes where when for what.

Our list now, now that I’m married with children, is now somewhere around five parents and in-laws, spouses, children, a half-dozen friends, children of said friends, children’s teachers, and the wife’s boss and subordinates. That all totals to around 25 individuals.

And we don’t use a budget. So I really never know how much blood we sacrifice to the vengeful god of Spendmas every year. Maybe $750? Maybe more, as each one of our children get around ten presents (that includes clothes with toys, books, and games). And I never quite know if we got everybody we have to get. And I never have any idea what the wife wants.

Another secret about the Hopper: He can’t wrap a gift to save his life. In the past the wife and I’d spend an agonizing Christmas Eve wrapping thirty presents at the dining room table. Now, since I’m out of work, I get to wrap ’em all later today, after this blog post is done. Then hide them in the garage until Santa, the avatar of Spendmas, comes on the night of December 24.

Doesn’t something else happen on the night of December 24?

A week ago the wife came up with a list of 60 names for our Christmas card list. 60 names! Which got pared down to somewhere around 45 in the long run (mostly due to not having addresses). Most were extended family and friends, some we haven’t seen in years, and my wife’s work mates. In the past she would personalize each card, but this year, thank God, we just sent out cards with the girls’ photo and a generic and bland non-faith message of goodwill.

Since I am out of work, I helped address the envelopes, stuff ’em, and mail ’em.

Decorating the house takes a full day and is done the first weekend in December. We have to buy a real tree. Then I have to bring a half-dozen boxes down from the attic for the ladies to ornament the tree and put out the Christmas candles, garland, pillows, etc. Once the sun sets, after the Giants have lost, I take the girls outside and we string five strands of lights in our bushes, over our front door, and spiral over a small fir tree next to the porch.

Then there’s the mandatory viewing of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in NYC. Never did this until I got married. Most years it’s okay, but this past year we were forced to meet relatives on a Saturday night and couldn’t get within 50 yards of the tree due to the immense swarms of people packed sardine-like in the canyons of midtown Manhattan. The claustrophobic cattle-car nightmare environment excised any mirth or goodwill from my mind, and is probably the closest I’ve ever come to a genuine, real-live panic attack.

We get to the reason for the season on Christmas Eve for mass. Earlier in the day we’re at my brother’s house for the immediate family dinner. Then, Christmas Day, the girls burn through their presents in a half-hour while the wife documents everything on digital video. We go to a friend’s house that afternoon, and I drink just enough to stave off my utter exhaustion and my building splitting headache from seeing too many people in too short a time for too long a duration.

Easter is Hopper’s favorite holiday, followed closely by Thanksgiving. Spendmas is a distant, distant third.

Hey, Spendmas, this middle finger is for you!

Perhaps I’m being overly harsh. Perhaps if I was enjoying more success in my life, had more of a financial cushion, was advancing in a career I loved, had some real meaning and sense of accomplishment, perhaps if any of these were present I’d be of more cheer. Perhaps if I was in better health, a better frame of mind, had a better year, this post would be different.

But not by much.

We are called to be in the world, not of the world.

And it’s so easy to be bitter.

The antidote, for me at least, is to go somewhere alone, somewhere quiet and peaceful, and just relax. Maybe pray, maybe not. Maybe think about the big things that matter, maybe just quiet the monkey mind. Try to remember the fond memories of Christmases past, stay focused on giving my children similar memories …

… and be thankful they don’t read this blog …

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, Hopper! Enjoy the season of giving and receiving and being with family and friends! Merry Christmas!