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The Jefferson Journal is JPR's members' magazine featuring articles, columns, and reviews about living in Southern Oregon and Northern California, as well as articles from NPR. The magazine also includes program listings for JPR's network of stations.

Taking The Frenzy Out Of Christmas

There are those who love Christmas. I am one of them. I love the Christmas tree with its special ornaments, the evergreen-scented wreaths, the bells, the carols, the lights. I love making pies and cookies, making presents, wrapping presents, and giving (and, yes, receiving) presents. It is all so much fun.

But there are those who do not like Christmas with all its pressure to give (and receive!) gifts, to decorate, cook, do the Santa Claus thing. What if one doesn’t want to do all that? Department stores’ Christmas music puts subtle pressure on shoppers to buy now before Christmas comes: buy, buy buy so one can get, get, get. Parents’ pressure on married children to spend Christmas with them ties the adult children in knots as they grapple with dividing their time between families, where to go and what to cook and whom to have dinner with or which family to fly home to, and it’s all just too much pressure, too much frenzy.

Okay. It’s true. Christmas is frenzied, and consumerism leads the way. Even my childhood family didn’t escape the frenzy, in spite of its emphasis on making rather than buying gifts. With five children in the family and often other family members visiting for the holidays, the pile of presents under the tree was enormous. It was wonderful. It looked extravagant and lush and exciting, but Christmas morning was, I am sorry to say, a frenzy (think about it: five kids), with children elbowing each other out of the way as they run, yelling with excitement, towards the Santa Claus bicycle or swing or Raggedy Anne doll, and then Dad reaching under the tree for one wrapped gift after another, calling out the name of the recipient, who would grab it excitedly, tear off the wrapping (Dad, meanwhile, calling out another name), shout “Wow!” and would no sooner have torn open the box than her name was called again, the box tossed aside, more wrapping paper ripped away, another box opened, a new puzzle or doll or pair of pajamas to enjoy, and everyone shouting “Wow!” and “Hey, thanks, Dad!” and “Oh, look!” all at the same time. When it was all over, when the tree had been stripped of its presents and stood a little dazed, when the hubbub had died down and the floor was strewn with wrinkled and torn wrapping paper, and gifts stood in piles all over the room, then a couple of kids started a game with the new jacks in a corner of the room, someone sat on the couch to begin a new book, Dad set out the new jigsaw puzzle in the den, Mom turned to the kitchen. The frenzy was over.

It was fun in my family when I was a child, but my son and daughter-in-law have decided to de-frenzy Christmas. They don’t want their daughter to know Christmas as get-get-get. They would rather emphasize giving, but even that, as my childhood testifies, can turn into a frenzy of gift-getting. They admire friends of theirs who have a young child and who did have a Christmas tree and who put under that tree one gift. One, for the little girl. The tree, yes, the cookies, yes, and the gift, yes. Singular: gift.

So for my granddaughter there is no huge pile of presents under the Christmas tree and no madness of grabbing under the tree for gifts. There is instead a relaxed, extended day of bringing out a present for someone now, then, later, for someone else. My granddaughter can paint with her new paint set before I give her her puzzle book. She can work a maze in it before her dad gives her her kite.

I admire that kind of restraint. I admire my son and daughter-in-law for walking the delicate balance between Christmas joy and Christmas consumerism. I try to be amenable, though when it comes to Christmas presents for my granddaughter, I get carried away and end up with too much to give her. I agree that the frenzy of gift-giving isn’t good for her and that if I find a game she would love and a book that seems perfect and a gadget she would like to fiddle with and if I make her some clothes and a doll—I agree that all that is too much, no matter how much fun it is for me, and that I should give her one thing for Christmas and save the other things for later. I should practice a little Christmas restraint myself.

I agree that the frenzy of Christmas gift-giving and -getting makes the wrong point and teaches the wrong lesson for young children. “Here, look, I made this for you” and “Oh, thank you, for this gift! It’s just lovely!”—simple, direct, person-to-person, meaningful—are closer to everything I love about Christmas, anyway.

Diana Coogle has been a JPR commentator for more than twenty years. She recently wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on Old English poetry and is currently working on a paintings-and-essays book with Applegate artist Barbara Kostal. Her first book of collected commentaries was an Oregon Book Award finalist. Her latest book, co-authored with Janeen Sathre, is Favorite Hikes of the Applegate: A Trail Guide with Stories and Histories.