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Thank-You Cards

Cards, cards, cards. We had 25 holiday greeting cards printed. When I drew up a complete mailing list (after the fact, stupid, I know) I realized we needed twice that number. But it’s all good, because in point of fact we only actually mailed a dozen or so cards before time got away from us and oops, here it is the new year already.

Cards needed: 50
Cards ordered: 25
Cards actually mailed: 12

So if you didn’t get a card from us, please don’t feel slighted. We fully intended to send you one, and it’s the thought that counts, right?

Xy got ambitious yesterday and did a whole stack of thank-you cards. Hopefully we’ll get those out in a timely fashion. Hopefully we didn’t forget anyone. We’re trying to send a card to everyone who gave us a gift over the holiday — and there were so many.

There’s something nagging at the back of my mind, difficult to express, but I’ll try.

Everyone seems to decry the rampant commercialism of the modern holiday season. But what does that mean exactly? Too many advertisements? Too much pressure to buy too much stuff? In the end, what does “rampant commercialism” really boil down to?

Too many damn presents.

There, I said it.

Here’s my theory, which may be somewhat crackpot: Once upon a time, families were bigger and, as a rule, poorer. The quantity of gifts had to be spread around more. But these days, families are smaller and relatively wealthier. (I guess I’m speaking about middle class families in both cases.) Factor in also the huge amount of cheap imported goods now available. The result is an embarrassment of riches.

I feel like we already have too much stuff, and I felt supremely silly packing our car to the ceiling to haul home all the additional stuff we’d gotten over the holidays.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the tradition of exchanging gifts at this time of year. In fact, that’s why I’m critical of these excesses. The exchange of any individual gift seems to become less meaningful with each gift you add to the mix. Paradoxically, the more gifts you get, the less each gift matters.

One might think I’m just upset because I almost sliced off my finger with one of those presents. But that isn’t the case. I am truly grateful for all the wonderful gifts we received, including that sharp-bladed veggie slicer. Yet in the aggregate, it’s all just a little too much.

I don’t want the holiday to be an orgy of excess, a celebration of consumerism, a materialistic blowout. It seems what’s really important is spending time together, renewing relations and traditions.

Exchanging gifts is a central part of that. It’s a way of showing affection. Giving a gift says, “You matter to me. I love you.” It’s tempting to think that we can express greater love and affection by giving in greater quantities — more gifts, and more expensive gifts. But the mathematics of the human heart don’t really work like that. Somehow, giving more and more ostentatiously seems to put the focus on the gifts themselves, on the thing given, rather than the relationship to the giver.

I’d like to celebrate the holidays in a way that reflects a shared sense of values and community. Most of us seem to agree the season has become “too commercial.” We respect Mother Nature and want to live in harmony with her. It’s just a matter of doing the math, completing the equation, and consuming less. It’s the ideal way to express our shared values, and transmit those values to the next generation.

Ah yes, the kids. I was trying to avoid that. I really hate when people bludgeon me with careless arguments about morality and children. But it’s disingenuous to talk about holiday gift-giving and not acknowledge the kids. Who doesn’t love to see a little child’s face light up when opening a present?

Not to put to put too fine a point on it, but my daughter doesn’t need a massive amount of toys to be happy. Just to be clear, she does in fact have a massive amount of toys, most of which were purchased by friends and family. She doesn’t need all those toys, though, and I worry how all this might factor into her character development. When I consider how much plastic is in those toys, and the associated environmental cost of its production, not to mention the probable exploitation of labor involved in its manufacture in the third world — I have to wonder if this is really making a better world for her to grow up in.

See how easy it is to ratchet up the rhetoric once you get the kids involved? I apologize for that.

Back to the central question. How do you limit it? How do you ask eager friends and relatives to slow down, without offending them and hurting their feelings? How do you say, “Thanks but no thanks”? When I looked at the stack of thank-you cards Xy was working on, I fantasized about the idea of “no thank you” cards, to try to shape expectations for the next holiday season. That would be a tall order. It feels impossible, frankly. But I can’t accept the idea that I’m helpless to make a change, or at least try.

Published inConsumerismHoly Daze


  1. I couldn’t agree more, Bart, on every point.

    Last year I suggested to Cade’s family that we do an individual exchange–draw names and focus on that one person–because there are so many of us. Everyone agreed to do so but NO WAY was anyone going to agree to do that with the kids. Giving gifts to kids is a completely selfish act and no one wants to be deprived of it. But boy did Cade and I feel sick loading up our car on the drive back from Florida.

    I don’t know the answer, but I’m thinking that next year we might run the risk of pissing people off and ask them to donate to Abeona House in lieu of massive loads of Disney plastic.

  2. Anonymous Anonymous

    For the last couple of years, my friends and family have been doing a no-gift Christmas (I admit we are excluding the kids from this tradition). No one buys anything for anyone. However, the reason has nothing to do with any notions about the evils of consumerism. It’s just too darn expensive to buy presents for everyone on your list. We all save our money and perhaps buy ourselves something that we actually want.

  3. Mary Mary

    You missed one point Bart: back in the day, gifts were often HOME MADE and simpler. We’ve made great holiday gifts the last several years. Granted, my girls like to craft, and Mike and I aren’t exactly all thumbs. It’s less expensive, more thoughtful, less stressful and more personalized to each recipient. It just takes more advance planning.

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