As I slogged through December 2010 with one eye on my wallet and the other on my Christmas shopping list, I arrived at an important realization: Despite not being able to afford it, I'm sitting here in this crowded, noisy, dirty department store because I feel obligated to do so. I feel that I have to go out and buy stuff, because that's what we do starting in November. Will my family and friends even like what I'm getting them? Are these things I'm shelling out for going to end up in the closet or in the trash? Do I feel good about subjecting my friends and family to this same unpleasant experience to buy something for me?
These feelings started surfacing early on in college in 2004, though I have been quiet about them until now. Things were financially tight enough to where I wasn't sure I was going to be able to afford to stay in school. I felt like I had failed my friends and family in being unable to afford to get them much of anything. The TV commercials, posters, radio ads all talked about buying and gifting. But I was working two jobs and barely affording tuition at Clemson. I couldn't swing it. Even as my career progressed and I reached relative financial comfort, I had grown to dread the holiday season for what I felt it to be: a commercial holiday.
2010 was my last “regular” Christmas. Starting with 2011, I laid out my desires going forward: Do not buy a gift for me. I will not buy a gift for you. However, I will gladly donate to a charity of your choice, if you’ll do the same for me. The amount doesn't matter, let's just make something happen.
As expected, I received a very mixed reaction to this. Some were happy that they could cross me off their list, some really understood my reasoning, and others pressured me to re-join the commercialized mosh pit that I resented. I ended up donating to six different charities and spent more time with family (instead of shopping). Financially, there was no difference, since I donated what I would have normally spent (which is great). Best of all: my conscious was clear, and I didn't have my normal holiday blues.
This year, I will be doing the same. I will gladly donate to a charity of your choice if you will donate to mine: Shriner’s Hospital for Children. Simply shoot me an email letting me know that you donated (no need to tell me how much), and which charitable organization you’d like me to donate to.
As far as why I chose Shriner’s:
When I was in high school, the band would send a small detachment to Shriner’s on Christmas Eve. We'd play for the children who were too far from or too sick to go home. Given that they needed an extra and that it seemed like a great thing to do, I volunteered in December 2003.
We arrived, got set up, and were ready to greet the children, who were starting to filter in. Some were wheeled in on gurneys, others walked, some were in wheelchairs. I was surrounded by scared, sick kids who wanted nothing more than to be well and back at home with their families for Christmas. We played our set and for a brief moment, the kids were happy and all smiles. As we started packing up, the patients were carted back to their rooms. Some of them would be spending the holidays alone.
Going forward I’ll be donating to a charity of your choice instead of buying you something. I'd also rather spend time with friends and family instead of scrambling around (away from you) on Black Friday.
This will be the last you hear from me on this, as my intent is not to preach or look down on those that enjoy gift-giving. My intent in sharing this is to help friends and family understand why I'm such a scrooge.