Christmas and Shame

Deb from Deb’s Daily Thoughts (shared by the awesome mmmeg in my Google Reader Shared Items), wrote a post called Christmas and Shame.

I highly recommend you go read it.

Here’s a choice paragraph from Deb:

So we were poor, and I got one Christmas present from “Santa Claus” every year, while my friends and neighbor children racked up.  I was ashamed…ashamed of the raggy clothes I wore, ashamed of never having anything nice, ashamed of my family, ashamed of my measly Christmas gifts.

I understand where she’s coming from.

I had a similar story that still follows me to this day.

I even have a photo to remember it by.

It’s a sad little 7 year old at a Christmas bash, in neon green, ill-fitting clothing (literally, the “long” pants came up to my knees, I was at least 2 years too big for my first Christmas outfit), sitting and staring glumly at another little girl prancing around with her 50 presents.

We didn’t have money for Christmas that year, my parents said.

So my parents went to the Christmas gathering but didn’t give anything to the kids (theirs or others).

What did I get from that family? A little teddy bear. That’s it. $2, probably on sale at Sears.

I still remember feeling a huge wave of tears being forced down my throat, because I felt like so alone and unloved.

(I was a kid!! What did I know about materialism?)

My parents (well, my mom), looked helplessly on as I sat there, depressed, and my dad didn’t really understand that he couldn’t treat us like mini adults quite yet.

And that presents at that age, mattered.

Especially when you had this small, little teddy bear to compare to the mountain of gifts given to another little girl of your same age.

The thought of even giving me a little teddy bear was a kind gesture on their part.

But I still feel like after seeing what transpired, the family should have been more sensitive to our financial situation, and not had a HUGE bash and big deal out of the other girl opening all of her presents.

They KNEW we didn’t have money.

And they purposely made a big deal out of the gift giving, to brag about what they did have to give their family.

I just kept getting smaller and smaller, watching her open and toss aside each gift.

Deb writes:

So I stopped celebrating Christmas when the kids were gone.  I haven’t celebrated it in years, haven’t put up a tree, haven’t bought gifts, nothing. 

This year, my sons are hopefully coming from their far away homes to have Christmas with me.  I’m trying to get excited, but all I do is cry, because this year will be like all the rest.  I can’t afford to even give them gifts. 

All I can do is decorate and bake.  I know that because they love me so much (more than I deserve) it will be enough for them, but it will never be enough for me.

And my heart goes out to her because I know how it feels.

But I feel incredibly different from what she is describing.

I don’t feel guilty, undeserving, unhappy or low on the holidays at all.

(Yes we have different circumstances, but I also never got a gift for any special occasion after I turned 10).

So I thought I’d share a couple of conclusions that I’ve realized about myself.

Maybe it’ll help others who are feeling the same sort of shame.

1. I STILL l-o-v-e that teddy bear.

He’s still with me, his mouth worn out from kisses, and his fur all matted down from playing games with me and my siblings to keep us occupied.

I’m pretty sure that other little girl in the photos had so much to play with, that she never really loved anything she got that year, for the same 20+ years I have loved that lone, single Christmas teddy bear.

And in hindsight, it was a good thing for me to NOT expect so much at Christmas.

It may have turned me into an incurably materialistic little FB.

I also ended up loving everything I owned or received unexpectedly, which made it better than wishing you had a pony for Christmas.


2. Now, I don’t put much stock into gifts at holiday time

Don’t get me wrong.

I still LOVE the holidays, with people rushing around, excitement in the air, everyone chatting about how Aunt Lucy is going to LOVE her gift..

I love the atmosphere, and I revel greedily in the feeling of happiness.

But I don’t give gifts at holiday time, I rarely send holiday cards, and I don’t receive holiday gifts.

I’d rather call, go out to eat or have a coffee with the people I love.

It sounds sad to some people when I say it, but it’s exhilarating how liberated you feel.

No holiday lists.

No spending of money trying to figure out what the other person wants.

No stress of trying to outdo anyone or to deal with family who really pushes your buttons.

No gifts!! 🙂 —- (Extra clutter that gives you GUILT sucks)


3. I’ve switched out Christmas shame and guilt for Inner Happiness & Minimalism

Less clutter, and more love is my philosophy.

When I DO give the occasional gift to people, it’s unexpected (not on their birthdays or holidays), and it’s something they need or REALLY want that’s practical.

Maybe it comes from the fact that my family halted gift giving once you turned 10.

(Arggg, cheapos! :P)

But when my dad or my mom DID give me a gift, it was out of the blue and totally unexpected.

My mom still does it to this day!

She’ll ask me to come back and see her, and she’ll have new dresses purchased for me that immediately made her think of me, so she had to buy it for me.

Sometimes I want to tell her I don’t need anything, but my mom gets more pleasure out of it than I do.

No ulterior motive, and no real purpose to give the gift, except to give it out of sincerity and unexpectedly.

People (myself included) seem to be the most surprised and happy when it’s a surprise out of nowhere with no forced purpose.

I’m not saying this attitude is any better or worse than what most people do, but it’s the way I feel.

I don’t know what changed over the years, but I’ve eventually just seen forced gift-giving as a burden and this sounds cliche, but I wanted to be the opposite of that.

I don’t even miss it.

I don’t feel the shame.

I don’t feel guilty.

And I’d rather have food. 

So Deb, you can bake for me any time 🙂

It’d be the only gift I’d want!!!

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.