It Came Without Packages, Boxes or Bags…

Someone called me a Grinch today.

Not because I was ranting about how much I hate Christmas -I wasn’t and I don’t – but because I was ranting about the fact the people were complaining about having to do their Christmas shopping.

Now, I’m one of those annoyingly organized people. I make lists and check things off (much like the jolly old elf himself), and most people are not surprised to learn that I keep Christmas on a spreadsheet in my computer. That’s right – a spreadsheet. A workbook actually, with lists of what I bought for people, what they bought for me and what stuff I baked, how it turned out and who liked what (ie. no fruitcake for brother, extra Turkish delight for the folks).

I like to think I know what my recipients like and keep an eye open all year for appropriate gifts. That’s why my Grandmother’s gift was bought in August during a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake, and that book for my brother was nabbed at a holiday book sale in 2008 at a publishers warehouse sale. Yes, that’s right… I buy Christmas gifts a year ahead.

Lest you think I’m insane, let’s talk about right now. My holiday shopping is done, wrapped and shipped off. I have no need to enter malls, fight crowds, settle for crap no one wants or needs, or spend more than I had budgeted. There will be no last minute trek out into the cold night for scotch tape, and no one will receive those dubious pre-packaged gifts of hot chocolate and ugly mugs (because nothing says “I had no idea what to get you and couldn’t be bothered to think about it” more than a pre-packaged gift basket).

What I don’t get is why people put themselves through the whole thing. You had a whole year… why did you leave it to the last minute – again???

In the book Scroogenomics, economist Joel Waldfogel points out that Christmas is a waste of money because most people over-estimate the amount of joy people will receive from their offerings. In more practical terms, we’re better at buying stuff for ourselves than we are for other people. We can get around this somewhat by giving cash or gift cards, but both have a connotation of being somewhat crass.

No, the concept of buying a gift for someone, of taking the time to make the purchase, is part of the traditions of this holiday within our society. Even if we don’t want or need anything, even if we’d rather give up the whole holiday shopping thing completely, we drag ourselves out to the stores in search of something… anything, that we think will bring our recipient joy. Maybe that’s why people procrastinate and leave it until the last minute – because they don’t know what to buy for people and can’t face the indecision. Having stood by while Greg dithered and fussed while attempting to purchase a gift for his mother, I can understand how this works, even if it doesn’t really happen to me all that often.

So why do we keep doing it? Buying each other stuff we don’t need or want, that is. I would be happy to make a grand donation to one of those charities that sends your recipient a card and uses the money to buy goats or cows or chickens or wells for people in 3rd world countries, particularly for those annoying people who, when you come right out and ask them what they want, reply with, “oh.. whatever you send will be lovely”. FFS! That answer gets you a picture of some happy African children with a goat. For serious. I’d do this too, if I didn’t know it would cause an uproar with all the relatives on both sides of the family. And would ask for donations to send goats to Africa in place of stuff I don’t want or need, except the reaction would likely be the same.

(Family members, if you’re reading this – please feel free to weigh in on the goat issue – if you don’t need a damned thing, it would please me to no end to put the money to better use than a DVD you’ll never watch or a sweater you’ll never wear.)

So I don’t know if I have the right to be so smug about having my Christmas shopping done. I don’t know if my organized efforts will make a difference on anything other than my own wallet and stress level. (Which does count in the grand equation, after all.) I’d like to think that the more careful consideration given to gifts selected with a cooler head throughout the year will be received with more delight than some frantic last-minute purchase, but really, who knows?

But we’d all save ourselves an awful lot of grief if we just sent the money to poor children in Africa and sent each other pictures of goats.