“What do people who aren’t religious celebrate at Christmas?” a dear friend’s daughter recently asked her – or something along those lines. “Well, some people celebrate a religious Christmas and some people celebrate a secular Christmas,” she explained, describing a friend who celebrates the season by hosting friends and giving to others even though she doesn’t recognize the spiritual significance of the holiday.
Crisscrossing strands of white lights dangled from the 200-year-old rafters of my friend Jenny’s barn. In one corner, pinecone angel ornaments hung from a fresh-cut tree. A picnic table at the end of the room held paper cups of markers and scissors, ready for the children and parents who squashed up the rain-soaked hillside last weekend to celebrate the launch of my first children’s picture book, The Christmas Cradle. After nearly two decades of spending much of my free time alone, clacking computer keys in the fragile hope that what I wrote would someday be published, last week’s party was a true delight.
I’d been meaning to visit ever since she’d called early last fall with the news. A neighbor’s pear tree was ripe with unpicked fruit. Since she could no longer drive, did I want to pick the pears? If so, she’d give me directions. Also, she’d soon be moving from our former city of Bath to an assisted living facility in Manhattan. My heart sank. I knew she was in her early 80s, but I’d never once thought of her as elderly.
The perfect gift. For those who love Christmas, isn’t that what we hope to give? Something that communicates the depth of our love to the one who will receive it. A physical, tangible way of expressing the value of those we cherish. Finding such a gift is a challenge. The better we know the recipient – their hopes and needs and desires – the easier it is. Driving down our country road last week to visit his great-grandmother, I asked my 4-year-old son, “What do you think Grammy would like for Christmas?”
I get giddy at the sight of twinkling holiday lights. Candles softly glowing in windows warm my heart. And Christmas music makes me want to sing along. But there is a part of the upcoming holiday I dread: the push, push, push to spend, spend, spend. As if peace and goodwill could be purchased with a credit card. To offset the commercial takeover of Christmas – and the dreaded credit-card debt that often goes with it – here are 5 tips (in no particular order) to help curb overspending.