Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Conscious Consumption, Christmas edition #1 -- Giving what people need.

My life has been very busy since I wrote the precursor to this series, and my mind has been full of ideas for posts. I've decided to go very personal with this, since there are so many great sites out there about simplifying the holidays. No Impact Man Colin Beavan's great article, which inspired this series, is a good place to start, and I will share others as we go. But I decided that what will work for me is sharing my own favorite Christmas memories and best gift experiences and use them to discuss underlying principles. (Oh, how pedantic! But that's what you get from a professor!)

My family was never well-off, but my mother was a great manager, so as kids we really didn't notice. I am sure economics lurked beneath one of my favorite traditions: pajamas. Instead of getting new pj's when it got cold (in Nebraska, that would be early October), we got ours on Christmas eve. It seems rather comical now,like something out of "A Christmas Story". We always opened all of our presents -- except the pajamas -- on Christmas morning. Christmas eve was reserved for reading the St. Luke version of the Nativity and attending a candlelight service at our church, often with my father singing "O Holy Night" in his beautiful tenor voice. When we got home, the silliness began: we would beg and wheedle for "just one present" to open, knowing very well what was in them. Wow! Brand new pajamas! Then we would put them on and head off to the coziest sleep ever. In the morning, we would all be splendid in our new finery, adding to the specialness of the event.

Principle #1: Necessities can be wonderful gifts. In fact, receiving them as gifts can make them special. My brother-in-law used to get several pair of black socks from his wife every year, which was obviously a well-loved inside joke. I used to buy my mother things she needed, but get nicer or prettier items than she would have bought for herself. In tough economic times, if you can only afford necessities, put them in the spotlight.

Caveat: Giving necessities can be tricky, so you need to know your giftee. This is not a great option for adults who enjoy shopping and who prefer to pick their own socks or pajamas. It is also not a license to get people things YOU think they need (example: the anti-frizz hair products my mother used to put in my stocking). It does work for the people who consistently minimize their own needs, and for kids at the stage when anything in wrapping paper is a present, and if they get to open it early, it's a bonus.

5 comments:

Emily said...

I got a vacuum cleaner for Hanukkah two years ago from my mom & dad--something I actually needed and didn't really want to spend my own money on--a perfect present!

Still, it started smoking this year, and I'm scared to use it...

Jo said...

It could be something simple and fixable, like a belt. I agree; smoking appliances are scarey!

Some people hate appliance gifts (or, like me, prefer tech toys to cleaning tools) so it probably helps to know the giftee. Sounds like your mom & dad had you pegged!

Seis Manos said...

I'm not sure how this started, but when I was a kid growing up in Denver in the 70s, some member of my family was always sure to get a bottle of A-1 steak sauce in his/her stocking, and someone else would always get a can or two of sardines. These gifts would go straight into the kitchen cupboard to be used by the whole family, but they still made my siblings and me feel special--perhaps because they suggested that Santa knew about our "sophisticated" tastes....no candy canes for us, no sir....

Emily said...

This year I think I'm getting my car detailed...semi-practical, but I feel like it's a necessary luxury. One that this grad student can't afford!

Jo said...

That's sort of like getting a massage for your car, right? Pampering falls into the category of things people often hesitate to do for themselves, which makes pampering in its many forms a great gift!