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I often hear people complain about the commercialism of Christmas. I think I’m more concerned with the illegitimate offspring of commercialism and instant gratification; ungratefulness.

In this time of joy and well wishes, people are demonstrably at their worse. Any Black Friday sale will show you that. We need bigger tvs, newer gadgets, the hottest toy, and that last scarf that we know no one will like – but it’s the last one!

We fret over what to get the kids/the Boss/Uncle Ernie that smells funny.  What did we get them last year? What do they need/like/want/hate? We have anxiety attacks because we wait until week #49 to put any thought into the way we want to express our heartfelt notions to family and friends. Or worse yet, we have a bunch of unnecessary stuff from the Black Friday sales and no idea who it goes to. (Does Aunt Lisa really need a blender?) You’ve run up credit card debt and your blood pressure, and for what?

Now of course this isn’t the only predicament. I bet when you opened a gift (or two) this year you were touched by the sincere warmth the giver invested, the clever thoughtfulness that said they were thinking of you when they purchased that particular gift. (Was that too much sarcasm?)  Chances are you smiled and thanked them, then either looked for a gift receipt or started pondering who you could re-gift the item to.

Of course it is possible you have the opposite problem. You did actually spend some time fretting over your choice, thinking specifically of the recipient, then went above and beyond in your quest for perfection. You waited on gleeful pins and needles for the unveiling and…(drumroll)…”mmm, thanks, what’s next?”  Excuse me? I hunted for that! I had to do research, fight off other buyers, drive two hours out of the way, and then hide it for three months! BE GRATEFUL DAMMIT!!!

Either way, the question is the same…why bother?  Why put ourselves through the torment? Why go through the financial struggle and weeks of anxiety? Why do we feel guilty about buying presents for people we don’t even like? Why go insane buying gifts to symbolize how close we are to family and friends? Either you are or you aren’t. A new coffee maker or iPad isn’t going to change the actions of the other eleven months.

“But what about the kids?” Uhm, what about them? If you want to bring Santa into this, then you have to ask, were they really good this year? Or just passably tolerable since Thanksgiving? And taking them to see the big man and mete out their list of demands is just setting YOU up for failure and adding to the growing problem of ingratitude. Do you really need so much stress over a bunch of stuff your kids won’t care about in a day? (A week tops).  Save the money and headache, then do something as a family that will make memories and doesn’t require batteries.

Ok, I should take a moment out of this rant to clarify that I’m not opposed to gift giving, and I’m definitely not anti-Christmas. But after this particular season I just feel that the expressions of joy, faith, and kindness are lost in our world of instant-gratification. Holidays are supposed to be for sharing precious time with loved ones, not making ourselves ill over missing the 5 am door-buster sale. If they love you January to November, why would they stop if you didn’t offer them a gift? And if you feel compelled to give one, why does it have to be extravagant? When did simple and heart-felt become a sign of disrespect? (For instance, someone gave me a magazine subscription this year. Not extravagant, but I love it! It’s like a reminder every month that this person truly knows me.)

If you experienced ungratefulness this year, I hope you will rethink your plans for next year. Maybe we should warn family and friends ahead of time not to expect much, or anything. Maybe in August we start planning a family adventure in lieu of gifts.  Maybe your large family sets spending limits or number-of-gift limits.  Maybe we make charitable donations in honor of family members and send them a card telling them what a difference “they” made. We could tell co-workers and friends to make a donation to a cause we believe in. Or maybe we just offer small tokens of handmade love that say “This was made by me, just for you. Love it or else.”

I don’t think we can cure ungratefulness in one holiday season, but we have eleven months to get the process rolling. Hopefully with time, patience (mostly with ourselves), and a gradual cutting back on both our stress levels and expectations, we might get to that point where gifts, both given and received, are once again true reflections of Christmas and of what we mean to each other.