November 19, 2019

Christmas, Consumerism, Etc.

I started my Christmas shopping a couple of weeks ago. I've been thinking about this post for a year now though, so here we are: diving into the Christmas talk before we even buy our Thanksgiving turkeys. 

Last year's mini Christmas tree,
 and the Christmas books I so optimistically 
wrapped up for a 5 month old. 

Last Christmas, we didn't actually "celebrate" in the traditional sense. We* had a week until the new year and a week to get our house finished and on the market: I had to be in Pittsburgh before the new year. I took Wells with me, leaving Colorado on December 26th. We got to my parents' house around 1:00 am on December 28th.


For this reason, we didn't really celebrate much. I had decorated early in Wyoming just so I could pull out my decorations. Wells wouldn't remember it anyway. It definitely made me long for Christmases past when we had our big tree set up and lots of presents and friends to have dinner with, two weeks off of work before the long haul of January started, etc.

It was a weird transition between Christmas 2017 (being pregnant) and our new normal of having Christmas with a kid. This was something I was forced to dwell on and think about, it seemed, each year as we waited to have a baby: Christmas card season is awful when you're unable to *just* have a baby and make your card look the way you want it to look. I could write a whole blog post on just that topic.

Scott and I didn't do presents last Christmas. Wells got one gift, and it's not like he could open it. Our families got him presents so he got multiple Christmases (again, he won't remember a thing) once we arrived in Pennsylvania.

So there were no new traditions, no elaborate decorations, no special outfits for Christmas Eve, no get-togethers, etc. It was a sacrifice, in a weird way, for a greater good. It sounds silly to make it seem so if giving up celebrating one year of Christmas in a very first-world way was a true tragedy.

But, hear me out: If you took any average person's Christmas traditions away from them for one year, I guarantee there would be a fit thrown. I know grown adults who relish in only doing the same things, the same way, every single year. Heaven forbid things be different for one year, right? Any slight upset I felt was only because it was Wells' first Christmas, but this was offset by the fact that we had a PCS to accomplish (many military families move around the holidays...we'd just been lucky so far) and Wells wouldn't remember it anyway.

In addition, every single Christmas for us has been unique and different; each one stands out in its own way. So I wasn't used to having a hard and fast rule for THIS-IS-HOW-IT-HAS-TO-BE. I've grown to enjoy the not knowing.

2009: I was alone in Alaska (with friends, thank goodness) and Scott was deployed.
2010: Just Scott and I in Alaska.
2011: I went back to PA, as Scott was deployed again.
2012: We went on a cruise and then bopped back to PA for a week before returning to Alaska on Christmas Eve.
2013: We drove home to PA for two weeks from Missouri.
2014: Colorado. Just us, remodeling over the Christmas break.
2015: Colorado. Just us, remodeling over the Christmas break.
2016: Colorado. Just us, remodeling over the Christmas break. Though we did do a Swedish Christmas Eve dinner with our friends.
2017: Drove home to PA from Colorado.
2018: One last Christmas Day in Colorado, with a 5 month old, and packing up for the drive to PA... and remodeling.

We always did lots of presents. Buying them for each other, mailing a bunch home to family, etc. We always did some sort of Christmas dinner. I always baked a lot of cookies. We always watched Christmas movies and then usually found something on Netflix to binge-watch for a week or so.

But last year...I left Colorado when I did because I needed to find us a place to live so I could set up our health insurance, and I needed a place for all of our belongings to be dropped off before mid-January. No one in Pittsburgh would let me just rent a house...they made me look at it and fill out applications. This was something we never had to do in Alaska or Missouri. To say this was the worst house-hunting experience we've had to date is an understatement. Driving to Alaska with an U-haul and no place to park it upon arrival was actually better, when I think back on it.

(This is also why we didn't do presents: there was not one.more.thing I was going to be packing up if I didn't have to pack it up.)

When my parents and I were driving through Pittsburgh to look at prospective rentals at the end of December, we ended up in a really nice neighborhood.
Brand-new-ish brick mini mansions. Not a regular development. They were actual mini mansions.
All about 10 feet apart, with no space for the new saplings they'd all just planted to be able to grow.
Fancy driveways, fancy street names, fancy sidewalks, people in fancy workout clothes walking their dogs and giving me weird glances because I had Colorado plates.

It was about four days after Christmas. It was also trash day. Meaning that, at the end of every fancy driveway, were the biggest piles of garbage I'd ever seen. All the trash from Christmas day. Wrapping paper, cardboard boxes, trash bag upon trash bag, overflowing the cans and just piled up into literal mountains, every 20 feet, at every driveway. It doesn't help that the day was gray and dreary, as Pittsburgh is prone to be in the winter.

If I'd been driving through on Christmas Day, I would've seen huge Christmas trees in windows with presents piled high and people going to family's houses for dinner and brand-new Christmas outfits and decorations looking just-so ...perfection. Because it was that kind of neighborhood.

But what's left after the holiday? After the commercials aren't being played anymore on TV and everything is for sale in the stores and the Weight Watchers advertisements start playing? You know what I'm talking about: That time of year when Target puts out the organizing bins and spring cleaning supplies next to the half-price artificial trees. It's that time of year four days after Christmas.

That's what I saw when I drove through this neighborhood and I thought about how unfortunate it was that they went all out and I didn't do anything special for Christmas and we still all got to December 29th at the same time.

I'm not saying not to go all out for Christmas. I'll do whatever I can to make this Christmas special for Wells and set up a few new traditions. It'll be our only Christmas in this house, after all. I'll take pictures and make sure we remember it down the line as our only Pittsburgh Christmas.

But to get hung up on all the sales and all the details of traditions being exactly in place? Totally not worth it. Even if Christmas only comes once a year and there's no guarantee of how many we'll get to experience, the meaning behind it is bigger than one day.

Plus, we all get to December 29th at the same rate.

This also reminded me of how Scott and I did Christmas in February one year and Christmas in November two years after that.That same year, he left my birthday presents under the tree so I would know where to find them in January.  It is what it is.

A military wife I know recently posted: We don't get hung up on dates because you never know when you'll be together. So we just celebrate that holiday/birthday whenever we get the next chance to do so.


  1. I can not tell you how much I love this post!!! I am in the same thinking as you ... & am so disheartened when everyone else in my family is all about the piles & hills of presents & spending & debt... & expect us to join in with them. & we do for the most part just because its what's expected. You are inspiring me to take that stance to say, NOPE - we're tapping out. For us - for our holiday sanity!

  2. Our Christmases lately have all looked a bit different too. Some of my family members have left the state, and our big family Christmas Eve party doesn't exist anymore. A lot of things have changed once my brother and I started having kids, too. Now we do more lowkey things with each other and our parents. We're also trying to start making some of our own little traditions in our house. This year, we are getting each of the boys a Christmas book to open on Christmas Eve. A lowkey, inexpensive new tradition to try going forward!

  3. I can relate a lot to not having much in the way of set traditions or expectations for Christmas specifically. 2010 Christmas, we'd been married three weeks, and hosted Christmas day for my dad's side of the family at the last minute due to illness at my aunt's our very empty house with folding chairs and borrowed folding tables. 2011, Angel worked Christmas and I drove myself to the other side of the state to spend it with my Mom's side of the family, 2012, we drove to Texas to spend with Angel's family, which was a very new experience for me (midnight mass and midnight tamales vs. ham Christmas dinner, etc.), 2013 Angel worked and I went to the other side of the state again...2014 was in China, just the two of us, 2015 was our first Christmas in Malaysia with my family here, and that was nice. 2016 Christmas was shortly after my miscarriage and I was not in a great state of mind. 2017--I got steroid shots and put onto bedrest on the 22nd or 23rd of December due to early labor. 2018 with Cyrus felt special, and like a lot of redemption after a couple years of not feeling up to much "Christmasing". And I'm so, so thankful that this year we get to have another "first Christmas" and I'm starting to dream up little traditions and introducing Cyrus to classic Christmas films and playing Christmas music all December and reading the Christmas story together...Angel's work has a family Christmas party that Cyrus will be old enough to go to this year...maybe I will even bake but I'm not getting too crazy...
    I definitely have "traditions" in my mind that communicate Christmas to me--boardgames with family, candlelight service at my Grandparents' church, but they've had to be very flexible over the years. And it's just reality that Christmas seems a bit less "Christmas-y" in SE Asia, since it isn't widely celebrated or even if it's slightly commercially "celebrated"...the meaning isn't known or is ignored.
    I agree that people would do well to consider consumerism and whether their Christmas traditions and gifting add joy to their lives and others or add weight. My "minimalism" definitely comes out at Christmas...last year I let Cyrus open up on Christmas, with no shame at all, some megablocks that a coworker of Angel's had handed down since her son no longer played with them. And Cyrus still plays with them on the daily! For my little sisters here, we've normally done "experience" gifts (particularly since my parents are getting older, and aren't as big on going to places like waterparks with the kids anymore, this was fun over the past few years).

  4. We don't have any Christmas traditions. We're usually in a different place every year anyway, and I would happily have pretended Christmas didn't exist last year. Jan didn't even get me a present because he had just started a new job and had no time (he didn't get anything for his family either, or write the Christmas cards I had made for him... they're still here, waiting to be used this December).

    We're going to England this Christmas and I've paid an absolute fortune for flights... literally triple what I normally pay - and it's not like it's our first time flying to the UK for Christmas. Thanks to that I'm now officially broke. It will be nice to see my family (especially since my dad has been having health issues and is currently waiting for the results of a bone scan) but no matter how magical it still won't be our first Christmas with our boys like it was supposed to be, which will never not suck.

  5. I relate a lot to this. We have no family here any more. We’ll generally travel to see my parents for Christmas, but they’re always moving. This year they’ll move into their new house about a week before Christmas. It will be chaos I’m sure. Who cares. We don’t do a lot of presents because my husband gets super hung up on the consumerism/materialism aspect, and financially we don’t want to be stressed out. We’ve never had Christmas in our own house in all our married years and I wouldn’t even say we have traditions anymore other than cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast. It is what it is, and I’ve learned to roll with it.


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