Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Gift to Treasure

In the current onslaught of holiday advertising, it's easy for the Christmas message to get lost in the shuffle.

Mine is not the first rant this year about renewing the spirit of Christmas. And it probably will not be the last. But reminding each other about what really matters is not something that can be overdone, especially at the holidays.

News programs frequently offer interviews with shoppers hurrying along the street in some bustling city. An interviewer thrusts the microphone at a shopper who spews some inane comment about his/her shopping trends this year. The biggest question seems to be: Are you spending more than you did last year? The world economy awaits the answer.

The answer is spoken to the hushed audience: "More." Ahh, a collective sigh of relief. We can all relax now that the nation is avoiding financial disaster. Americans are spending more. Good news. Carry on.

From interviews and current information, it does appear that more "money" (or plastic) is being spent this year. One recent interview featured a frantic woman shopper with a heaped shopping cart who smiled and said, "After all, it's all for the children."

Is it? Really?

Think back to when you were a kid. Christmas was an exciting event, it's arrival heralded by several weeks, not many months. Kids began to anticipate Christmas when we began to rehearse Christmas music at school. In the lower grades, there was the making of some gift for the home. I recall such items as a candle holder with a Styrofoam base, decorated with sequins. One year there was a fabric table scarf displaying our family surname initial. These gifts were not great, but teachers seemed to enjoy the diversion of making an item which the students took home proudly. It was fun, everyone got involved and kids enjoyed providing a gift for the family.

So much has changed since those days. When I taught school, children who didn't observe Christmas had to be excused from participation in such events. There is ongoing discussion in many areas about what can/cannot be said in school about various holidays. But it's a little sad that many kids don't get to enjoy creating something that they can give as a present. Somehow those simple items convey the true meaning of the holidays and allow both parents and children to feel the joy of giving a gift.

Kids are missing out on a lot. If they receive a gift they don't want or something horrible -- like clothes! -- they protest, say something rude, have a tantrum or leave the room in a huff. What about behaving in some subtly civil manner? What about a "thank you"? Consumers have headed down a slippery slope in making everything about the kids -- and the kids realize this.

The next time you venture into a discount store, watch the kids. You will likely see enough displays of "gotta have" to jolt your system. Moms and grandmothers will do anything to get the kiddies what they want. As kids begin to appreciate that a human being is the holiday shopper -- rather than some jolly man in a red suit -- they set about to get what they want. They connive and plead to get the right result, knowing full well that parents will do just about anything to make each precious dream a reality.

We've gone way too far.

A few years ago, a friend was lamenting that her 12-year-old daughter wanted a cell phone for Christmas. My friend was a single mother on a tight budget and didn't see how another phone fit into her monthly expenses. Those of us offering our advice tried to convince the mother that her daughter was too young to be responsible for a cell phone. But the mother could not be convinced that she might have to disappoint her daughter. She would find a way.

Kids are running things now, like the proverbial tail wagging the dog. I'm not sure when that all came about and certainly do not understand why it happened. But if parents refuse to deny the kiddies things which are not only unnecessary but overpriced, poorly made and soon discarded, then it looks like we are in need of an overhaul.

Why not encourage kids to participate in some activity that might actually help others? Let them volunteer to help the homeless, serve a meal at a local shelter or collect coats for those who need them. Show them that there is more to Christmas than getting the latest electronic device.

Your action might just start something.

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