I’m No Early Bird

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.

Me?

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.]

procrastination

Sacramento, 1973

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.

Middle Years

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.

Current Days

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.

Summary:

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.

Question:

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]

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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13 Responses to I’m No Early Bird

  1. That peek into your life was beautiful, Jeff. What a great memory of your first Christmas with a child. I loved it.

    As I said before, I shop year round and our decorations start going up the day after Thanksgiving, per my mother’s tradition (I don’t have to think about birthdays in December. My mother’s was the only one, and she didn’t like celebrating it – although she tolerated my doing something small for her each year).

    On the other hand, Arnie is one of those last minute shoppers. After designating a time to meet, we go together once during December (usually around the second week) and each go our separate ways after parking the truck. Then we meet at Starbuck’s for Mint Mocha when we’re done. He usually only has one little package, if any. LOL

    Sometime before the end of the last the week before Christmas, he’ll announce he has some “errands” to do and will be back in a couple hours. Yep, that’s his Christmas shopping. He usually takes about 3 or 4 hours, and comes back laden down with packages which he hides in his office. Until after Christmas, I’m not allowed to clean in his room. “I’ll handle it,” he tells me. Yeah, right! LOL

    Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your memories, Jeff. Sweet ones. We’re not near family at all anymore, and they don’t seem to like traveling during the holidays, so we usually only exchange phone calls now. But Arnie and I have learned that celebrating Christmas with just the two of us and our dog is a pleasant experience too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Nice outline of your memories. It’s great of your family to wait until your birthday to pull out the Christmas stuff. I have a nice who was born on Christmas Day – but I know she’s used to sharing the holiday.
    At the risk of sounding sexist, I know of very few husbands/fathers who take an active part in planning and procuring Christmas gifts and decorations, so I’m really impressed that you took the time to shop for your grandkids. My husband’s shopping involves opening up his phone or iPad and finding things to purchase online. His involvement in decorating amounts to saying, “That’s nice, hon.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      yeah, I have to be careful how I phrase this, because I don’t want it to sound sexist… but it seems to me that the ladies have a lot more focus and care about the decorations than most men I know.
      Of course there are guys who go whole-hog about the EXTERIOR decorations — e.g., Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — but the interior decor seems to be a province of the distaff side of most couples.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Patricia Kiyono says:

        I hadn’t thought about the OUTSIDE decorations! You’re right, that’s not something I would even think about.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I like decorating both, but Arnie isn’t really into either. He helps me, but if it was left up to him, he’d just have one of his RC cards on a table with Christmas lights on it. LOL Oh wait, that’s right, that’s what he did do until we got married. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I applaud your mother for keeping your birthday special. I have seen too many December children miss out, often with relatives giving one gift and telling the kid is was for both their birthday and Christmas, when their siblings got another present for their birthdays which fell in other months. It isn’t sexist to point out a strength in another sex, although I guess it would be considered so if someone said that men were generally better in a role. Amazing, isn’t it? There IS a difference between men and women, but the strengths in each can no longer be acknowledged without someone getting mad.I hope that sanity returns.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Funny you’d mention the notion of a gift that would cover both birthday and Christmas. I remember several years when a gift I wanted was “too expensive” for either birthday or Christmas, but Mom said she’d buy it if I’d count it toward BOTH events. That’s a hard choice for a kid to have to make.

      Like

  4. I usually start shopping for Christmas on December 26, although this year I’m off to a very slow start. I start decorating the day after Thanksgiving. However for two weeks in early November, I am busy dusting my angel collection (and their shelves) so they’ll be at their best for Christmas time visitors to our home. I will be doing this for as long as I can physically do it. I love Christmas! It’s such a celebration of God’s great love for us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      The pure, true reason for celebrating Christmas is indeed a beautiful remembrance. However, I dislike how commercialized it has become and how greedily “entitled” some kids appear to be about the gift part of things.
      That said, I think your approach — taking advantage of the after-Christmas sales — is smart-thinking.

      Like

  5. That’s great that your family has always waited until after your birthday to decorate for Christmas. It certainly lets the day be about you. My brotger is a Christmas Eve kid, growing up my parents would have my birthday then do his birthday about a week or two later so he could have a party. Extended family tried to convince my parents to not do a party for him but they understood he needed to be able to celebrate his birthday just like any other kid.
    I enjoyed reading about your different memories. That first Christmas with your small family sounds beautifully simplistic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I would not want to go back to pinching pennies, as we had do do in those Air Force years… but I do relish the memories of how we enjoyed much simpler things. In that same setting — Sacramento — we’d ride bikes about half a mile to a department store (might have been TG&Y) and watch the hamsters play in the pet section. Sometimes we’d laugh so hard that we’d almost bring tears. It was free and that was all we could afford.
      I’m glad your family DID have a separate celebration of your brother’s b-day. Very important.

      Like

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