In Fact, I Procrastinate
(about Christmas gifts & decorations)
By Jeff Salter
I know people who begin the countdown to Christmas during the stifling heat of mid-summer. And we’ve already seen – from some of the Foxes this week – that many folks shop sales as early as January.
Well, before I tell you what I do now, I should back up and tell you how I grew up.
Back on the Old Days
Like one of the Foxes, I’m a December child – born on the ninth, to be exact – and December kids are typically in danger of having their birthday celebrations absorbed by the nearby Holiday. To assist in keeping my birthday a separate event from Christmas, my mom didn’t do ANYthing seasonal – at least nothing visible to us kids – until the day after my birthday, Dec. 10.
You’ll have to understand that we kids had already been poring over the Christmas catalogs of Sears, Montgomery Wards, and J.C. Penney’s for a good six weeks or more by that point, so WE were certainly already “tuned” to upcoming Christmas. Even back then, however, I appreciated Mom’s effort to keep my birthday observance separate.
[As a side note, my daughter’s birthday is Dec. 23, so for many of her younger years, we’d observe that day with birthday gifts of course… but we’d hold her party (with her friends) in January after families were back home from traveling and/or local family events after the school term vacation.]
I’m not certain this actually fits this week’s stated topic, but it will give y’all some context on the part of Christmas I find most important. When I was still in the Air Force – as a buck sergeant netting about $660 a month and supporting a wife and toddler – things were understandably tight. Furthermore, we were some 2000 miles from the nearest relative and it was our first Christmas to be completely away from any family. On the Saturday’s leading up to Christmas, the three of us would ride the city bus from North Highlands into downtown Sacramento for a dime each — it was their so-called “Santa Fare” and was considerably cheaper than the gasoline that would have been required (plus parking fees). We’d walk along a section of streets that had been closed to vehicle traffic and window shop. That Christmas, we had a total budget of around $25, as I recall, for gifts and decorations. While downtown, we found a few inexpensive (but attractive) components of a manger scene. I made the “barn” out of cardboard. I think the manger itself was a matchbox or a soap dish. Most of the gifts we had under our scraggly tree were whatever our parents had mailed us. [Don’t recall where we got the tree, but I assume it was either free or very cheap.] I find it interesting that one of our most meager Christmases is one of the few I remember best.
My wife had her own family holiday traditions to maintain, including specifics with the stockings, antique ornaments, etc. She was usually in charge of both the tree and the household decorations – as well as acquiring most of the gifts – but she followed my family’s tradition of holding off on the visible aspects until after my birthday.
Okay, fast-forward to my years working in the library system in Shreveport LA. We four – Julie having joined us in 1975 – lived in a tract house with neighbors about 10 feet on either side of us. During most of those years (1980 through about 2000) I made a big deal of buying gifts for wife and both kids… and did whatever we were doing at the office gift exchange. During some of those years, I was also involved – either at church or at work – with buying gifts for a family that we’d “adopted” for the holidays. Yes, I bought each of them gifts also.
At some point around middle December, I’d take a day of vacation so I could shop the mall on a weekday and (presumably) not have to fight as many crowds. [I encountered plenty of shoppers, however, so maybe other folks had that same idea.]
I was so focused on “balance” that I’d try to spend the same dollar amount and get the same number of gifts for each child. That, of course, was over and above whatever my wife was getting them. After several years of that gift “doubling” – and partly due to my own medical issues – I had to drop most of that frantic activity and just left almost all the shopping to my wife. In many ways I miss it, but in other ways, it’s a relief not to have to deal with it.
Since grandkids entered the scene, I’ve relied more and more on my wife to handle things. She seems to thrive on it and she would spend the same amount on kids and grandkids even if I was out there in the trenches frantically searching for the “perfect” gift for each. So I just buy something for her and let her deal with the rest. As before, she waits until after my birthday to pull out the decorations and our artificial tree.
Some years we have one set of grandkids to celebrate with, some years we have both sets, and some years we don’t see either set. This past Christmas (2018), our local grandkids were in Texas, my wife traveled to Louisiana to be with the other grandkids, and I was here at home, tending to my elderly mom who’d recently fallen and was needing multiple visits each day. [This was a couple of weeks before she entered the nursing home.] It felt odd to be “alone” at Christmas, but that was not the first time. I’d spent the Christmas of 1972 at the “top of the world” at Thule Air Base in Northwest Greenland.
I guess you can tell I’ve drifted off the assigned topic. Very sorry, folks. The short version is that I don’t think too much about Christmas until after my Dec. 9 birthday. And after that point, I just try to fit in with whatever plans, events, and decorations that come our way. A lot depends on where the grandkids will be, what our Sunday School class is doing, when the church services are, etc. And since I do very little shopping (of any type) any more, I tend to deal with it around the middle of December.
What about YOU? Are you an early bird with Christmas decorations and shopping? Or do you deal with everything as a frantic finish-line rush, right before the holiday itself?
[JLS # 457]