Last Friday was our staff Christmas party and the ladies at my table got to talking about what Christmas was like in years past, as children and later on as parents. We got around to the topic of the cost of Christmas and most of us grew up in rather poor households. We all agreed that Christmas doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg in order to be enjoyable, even though it seems like parents spend far too much money.
The first Christmas I remember was the year I was eight. I don’t ever remember believing in Santa Claus. I remember that my two younger sisters had already been put to bed, and mom and I jingled bells and ate the cookies and milk that had been left out for Santa. The next Christmas I remember was the year I was eleven. My mom had a new husband and we were a little more stable financially. My stepfather had a silver Christmas tree with a disc light that was red, yellow, green and blue that shined on the tree to make it appear to be colored differently. Remember those?
I didn’t like the fake tree, much preferring a real tree. I remember that year my new Grandmother who lived in California sent wrapped presents, and my new little sister who was two years old found the closet with the presents and opened everything! Mom of course had to rewrap everything. My frugal Grandma (my mom’s mother) made us slippers almost every Christmas. She would trace the shape of our foot and asked us for our favorite color.
The year I turned fourteen I remember that I got a cookbook. A Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book. I remember feeling disappointed and cheated, because it was the only gift I got. But it was what I’d asked for, my mother explained, and she was only able to spend about ten dollars on each of seven children for Christmas. My stepfather worked two jobs just to make ends meet, and there wasn’t a lot left over for Christmas.
I don’t remember many other Christmases as a youngster. When I was sixteen my mother sent me to live with a foster family and I felt like Cinderella in that family. I was made to feel like a burden, and even though I worked full time and handed over my entire paycheck, my mother was still urged to pay “child support”.
As an adult I’ve always been rather frugal at Christmas. Most years I tried to find something frugal to make to give, until my children were older. Eventually they began to be more selective. I realized it was best to try and buy them exactly what they asked for, than to buy the things I wanted to buy for them. Now before you get the wrong impression, let me explain that more fully. You see, even though I was a welfare mother with debt, I managed my money carefully so that I could buy my children most of the toys and things they wanted throughout the year, within reason of course. As a result, when Christmas came around, they often had only one or two things they really wanted. I remember one year I tried buying a bunch of gently used toys, but my children really didn’t like them all that much. Children with Down Syndrome tend to be bluntly honest and if Big A didn’t like something, he expressed his disappointment. I realized I was spending money on several items that the boys really didn’t care about. It ended up being more cost effective and less expensive to get them the one or two things they really wanted. And they were a lot happier as a result, and that made me happy.
This caused me to really examine my motive when giving presents. To this day, unless I know someone extremely well, I tend to give gift cards, rather than something I choose, because I want the recipient to get what he or she truly desires, not what I think would be ideal.
Nowadays we don’t do much for Christmas. We have an artificial tree but haven’t put it up in years. I always plan a nice meal for the day. I love to wait until Christmas morning to unwrap presents, but my husband can’t wait to give me whatever he’s bought me the minute he gets home with it.
So how were your Christmases growing up? And now that you are an adult? Do you go all out, or are you frugal throughout the year?