My childhood memories of Christmas are wonderful. We were on holidays with no homework to complete for next term. We could do what we wanted with our days. We roamed the neighbourhood with kids from the street, riding our bikes and swimming in the pool next door. I could read all day if I liked.
Christmas was a time of anticipation—decorating the Christmas tree, adding wrapped presents underneath, putting up tinsel and spray-on snow*, waking early on Christmas morning to race out and see what Santa had left for us, then playing with new toys all day. Of course there was some sort of Christmas meal, but they don’t feature in my memory.
*Do you remember that stuff way back then? It was impossible to get off. The ghost of Christmas snow haunted the windows for months.
Magic Reality Of Christmas
I’m trying to think when I lost that magic of Christmas. Not while I was still living at home. It was after I’d moved out, and suddenly had the responsibility of creating the magic, instead of just participating. These days, I would say Christmas is my least favourite holiday, for the following reasons:
- Both of our workplaces shut for 2 weeks over Christmas. This means we are forced to use our precious, limited annual leave.
- It’s hot. At home, we’ve got the aircon on (and are likely fighting about the appropriate temperature.)
- The reason we are at home is that EVERYONE ELSE IS NOT! The seething tide of humanity is frantically present whenever we leave the house.
- The holiday season adds a premium price to everything. Want to travel? Add 40%. Want to eat seafood? Those in the know predict prawns will reach $50/kg this year.
- People will come to visit. While that’s a good thing, it means we need to spend the first week deep cleaning the house. And before you say “Mrs. ETT, true friends/family don’t care about the state of your house,” I agree. Unfortunately, being lax housekeepers throughout the year, this is the only motivation we have to give it a good going over. Self-inflicted.
- Christmas parties/get-togethers. I have eight this year. EIGHT! For an introvert who isn’t keen on social gatherings at the best of times, all this does is pile on guilt because I have to decline some of them. Not to mention the cost involved. The majority are set around going out to eat. At least in regard to Kris Kringle at work, I set the expectation last year by declining to participate. This year the cost has risen to $30!
- I have to think of a present for each member of the entire family who all have the means to buy what they want, when they want. Except for the kids. Happy to do it for the kids.
- There is an expectation that the family will all get together for a meal. Even if you don’t like each other, or get on. Then if there’s more than one family involved, how do you fit them in? Run around from house to house, shoving down a meal so you can get to the next one? Drag kids away from toys? Fight about who gets the ‘privilege’ of Christmas Day and who gets Boxing Day? Guilt, guilt and more guilt.
I know, this is all very bah-humbug, and a little change in attitude would make all the difference. But one of the tenets of Financial Independence is to tread your own path. Don’t do what everyone else is doing, just because you’ve always done it that way. Stop, look at your actions, and make mindful decisions. So let’s pause to think for a moment…
Why Do You Celebrate Christmas?
At its heart, Christmas is a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus. Being a public holiday, it is also a cultural celebration for many non-Christians. Traditions have emerged over thousands of years, including sending Christmas cards, singing Christmas carols, and putting up a Christmas tree.
Perhaps I need to go back and read Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. According to Wikipedia, “Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, linking ‘worship and feasting, within a context of social reconciliation.’”
I like the sound of that.
We are both lucky enough to live close to our families, so we see them regularly. Aside from the children experiencing Christmas and all that entails, the day doesn’t feel any different to getting together for a weekend BBQ to celebrate someone’s birthday. Yet, it has all the holiday expenses associated with it. Maybe it is the loss of tradition that has blended this day with others. Maybe it’s because I haven’t made the effort to differentiate it that I feel the way I do.
Until this year, Mr. ETT’s family always got together on Christmas Day for the full British Christmas dinner, consisting of baked ham, huge turkey with home-made stuffing, dumplings, mashed potato, peas and gravy. This is a lot of work for those family members with the skills to create the meal, and we have found that after 4 or more hours of cooking, it’s eaten in 15 minutes. This Christmas we have decided to attend an organised meal at a local pub. No cooking, no cleaning, then back to someone’s house to laze the rest of the afternoon away.
Every year we contribute $5 a week to the family lottery syndicate, but nearly half of that and any winnings are kept towards the cost of Christmas dinner. It’s almost like a family Christmas club, with the added 1 in 45,000,000 chance of winning it big. Usually we have the cost of the meal covered, along with a small refund of cash. This year we may have to contribute to eat out; we’ll wait and see. My one money-saving tip of this post (aside from cancelling Christmas) is that if you can save $5/week all year, you will have $250 to spend on food and drink. Sweet!
My family gets together on Boxing Day, usually for an Aussie Christmas brunch or lunch, including cold ham, salads and seafood. We spend a couple of hours together, then head off to do our own things.
In recent years, I’ve found myself drawn towards the modern-day celebration of Thanksgiving in America. I know it has a historical basis also, and that there’s potential for commercialism. However, in Australia, it isn’t a thing. That means we could pick a date any time during the year to come together, share a meal, reflect on those things we have to be grateful for, and take time to appreciate each other. No gifts needed. No tacky/costly decorations. Just time out of our lives to mindfully spend with each other.
To quote Mrs. Frugalwoods,
Thanksgiving doesn’t encourage excessive spending, it traditionally has no gifts, there’s little commercialism associated with it…, and it enjoys a cult of personality around leftovers. What it does promote is essentially the time honored frugal agenda: cooking a meal at home and spending time with family and friends.
We Won’t Cancel Christmas…
I’m not going to fight the family on this. It’s difficult enough to stop them buying me presents. Sometimes obligations are good for you. As I said above, all it takes is a shift in thinking to make all the difference. Do I like spending time with these people? Yeah, I do. So what am I railing against? Just the expectation and the commercialism. Of course there is choice and free will involved.
A colleague at work said the best thing they ever did was decide to go camping with their kids each Christmas. It removed all obligation to their extended family over that period. They defined Christmas for themselves on their own terms and in a frugal manner! They still see extended family when they return.
I too have the option to do something similar, but the truth is, I don’t want to face the consequences of exercising that choice. It’s extremely important to our extended family that we all be together on Christmas Day. It’s more important to them to be together, than it is for me not to participate.
Do I value decorations and wrapping paper and cards and tinny carols on repeat? No. But I do value the joy that my family derives. That is why I celebrate Christmas. I may have a poor attitude that needs adjustment, complain about the cost and heat, and be too outspoken on aspects of commercialism. But in my heart, I’m there.
Where’s The Money Saving Tips?
Obviously, there are no money-saving tips in this post. I simply encourage you to take a few minutes to ensure that you know what’s truly important to you in the Christmas season, before spending money because it’s what you’ve always done. So for those of us who will continue to participate in tradition, or those of you who love celebrating Christmas, you can find some excellent money-saving tips from my fellow bloggers:
Would you cancel Christmas if you could?