We’re well into January now, the tree is down, and our Christmas decorations have been packed back into the attic for another year. Most people have moved on to resolutions and are maybe even starting to think about Valentine’s Day (or so one might surmise from looking at the grocery store shelves).
But I’m still thinking about Christmas for two reasons:1) my Christmas cards are still sitting on a pile on my desk waiting to be addressed and taken to the post office to be mailed (I will do it this week, I will!), and 2) I can’t stop thinking about how I felt in the week leading up to the holiday, and my mixed feelings about celebrating it at all.
Even after the fact, after the fun week spent with my family,I’m still not sold on Christmas. I loved having them visit and I loved having the special, amazing dinner that Chris cooked, but as the presents came pouring in I started to feel worse and worse about the whole thing.
We appreciate everyone’s generosity so, so much. I can’t express how grateful we are to have such caring and thoughtful friends and family members. We were given things we need, things we’ve wanted, and things we love. But it was hard watching the pile under the tree grow, knowing we couldn’t give back.
Last week, this post card showed up on Post Secret:And though I didn’t mail it in, I certainly could have.
When we made the move to Nantucket and the choice for me to stay home, we also made the decision to live on a smaller budget in a more expensive place. Normally, I don’t notice it that much. Aside from an occasional worry about a high grocery bill or the few surprise student loan bills that popped up this summer, we haven’t been too impacted by our lower income. We aren’t stuff people, and even if we were, there’s not much space to put more stuff in our teeny-tiny little house. We never have to worry about food or clothes or rent or utilities. We have a brand new CRV that we have no trouble paying for. We eat out more now than we did in NY (almost once per week) thanks to free dining at Chris’ restuarant, and Nora has more toys than she knows what to do with thanks to yard sales and the take-it-or-leave-it. We never put anything on a credit card that we can’t pay for at the end of the month (never have, never will) and have no outstanding debt other than the car and student loans. By those standards, we’re better off than many, many people; and the fact that we’re raising our daughter how we want to raise her is priceless.
But Christmas…Christmas is hard. I used to dread Christmas at work, because I knew people were going to get me things and I was going to feel uncomfortable not being able to give something back. I know giving is about not expecting something in return, but year after year, it gets awkward…and this year, for some reason, it was magnified. Maybe it was because the pile under the tree was bigger than it ever has been. Maybe it was because I was already not in the Christmas spirit. Maybe it was because I had intended to try and make some things for people, but the time got away from me with the trip to Vermont. Maybe it was because a family member mentioned to me how s/he had never gotten a Christmas gift or birthday card from me and I had to explain about the budget and how even a card (which seems like a small cost but when magnified by eight siblings, seven parents, ten grandparents, and aunts/uncles/cousins is quickly a pretty big number) is hard right now. Maybe it was because my family was here and we didn’t want them to have a bad Christmas. Maybe it was a combination of everything. Whatever it was, in the days before Christmas, I was dreading the holiday and the present exchange that came with it.
Chris and I never did decide how we want to handle Christmas next year, but I know I don’t want it to be like this year. The build up was much, much too stressful for me; I felt sick to my stomach in the days leading up to my family’s arrival, but instantly better once Christmas morning was over. We love getting together with family and being able to enjoy the company of loved ones we rarely see, but for now I’m feeling like the gift exchange — which ended up being more of a gift taking — was too much.
Thankfully, we have a whole year to think about how we want to handle it. As I’ve learned, a lot can change in a year, and maybe next year we’ll be in a different place financially so we’ll actually be able to give as we would like to, more equally.
Have you ever been in a place where you couldn’t give to the degree you were receiving? How did you feel about it?