Why minimalist holidays suck
by Kris Frieswick
Over the past decade, I've noticed a disturbing trend in the Christmas
holidays. Everywhere I look, there are articles telling me that this year, I
should "Simplify, simplify." Media commentators wax nostalgic for the days when
the holidays had real meaning, and they decry the blatant consumerist orgy that
Christmas has become. In December's Redbook magazine, author Joyce
Maynard explains that she's giving her children fewer presents this year to
teach them the deeper message of Christmas.
I've got just one thing to say to her and all these Christmas minimalists. Cut
it out. Now.
Christmas was the most magical time of the year for me when I was a child, and
I'm here to tell you, it wasn't 'cause it marked the birth of Christ. Nope. It
was all about the goodies. I will not stand idly by while these holiday
ascetics attempt to rob a generation of children of the wonder, the enthusiasm,
the pure excitement and anticipation that consumed me, my brother, and my
sister around Christmastime.
Without the promise of a treasure-trove of presents, Christmas is just another
holy day of obligation, but with more music. I'm certain that there are
seven-year-olds out there who have divine thoughts and celebrate Christmas as
the birthday of one of our most influential religious personages, but I don't
know any. I mean, come on, do we really want to turn Christmas into another
Lent? Who, exactly, started the rumor that "less loot" equals a "more
meaningful" holiday? Meaningful for whom?
My holidays were plenty meaningful when I was a kid. Frankly, they rocked. At
our house, at 5:15 on Christmas morning, our eyes would pop open, and my
brother, sister, and I would rush into our parents' room. "Is it okay if we get
up now?" we would yell, and hop on top of our parents, dodging my father's arm
as he groggily attempted to swat us off the bed. Finally, after 10 minutes of
threats, my father would relent. "Stay here while I go make sure Santa came,"
he always said, filling us with a momentary panic that maybe Santa had found
some incriminating info and skipped our house. (My fear was especially acute
one year when, days before Christmas, I ran down my third-grade teacher, Mrs.
Hughes, with my Flexible Flyer during play period.)
When we heard the words "Okay, he came," all hell would break loose. We would
scream down the hallway to the living room, where a veritable mountain of
sparkly presents teetered underneath a brilliantly lit tree. Nothing was better
than tearing through that stack of gifts, finding box after box of unexpected
treats. Sometimes we received our hearts' desire, sometimes we didn't, but it
didn't matter. What mattered was the anticipation, then the excitement and
surprise of opening all those cool boxes.
Now, we weren't rich. Far, far from it. And our presents, in retrospect,
weren't very big or expensive. But there were lots of them. And they were
individually wrapped with loving care -- even if they were just batteries.
That's all we cared about: volume. I've forgotten the gifts, but I will always
cherish the memories. (Well, actually, I never forgot one gift, a Chrissy doll,
with the luxurious, growing hair. I got her when I was eight. She became Punk
Chrissy the day after Christmas, when I cut all her hair into a two-inch
Today, simplified Christmases may sound all righteous and moral, but I can tell
you from firsthand experience, they aren't gonna get anyone up at
5:15 a.m. Yes, sadly, my family's Christmases eventually downsized as we
adorable children became petulant teenagers. I don't know what happened,
exactly. Maybe my parents blew their Christmas wad when we were young, or maybe
it was the first wave of the "simplify" movement, but their enthusiasm, and the
volume of presents, seemed to wane dramatically as we hit late puberty.
At first, there were fewer and fewer boxes under the tree. I'm sure their
dollar value was double what my parents spent when we were kids, but it was
quantity we were after, not quality, and the change took the exciting edge off
of Christmas morning. We began sleeping till 7:30 a.m. Our parents
interpreted our sleeping habits as a lack of interest in the holiday, which
caused them to buy even fewer gifts. It was a vicious, horrible cycle. Once
we'd left home, the volume problem got so severe that when we did visit for the
holidays, our parents had to start waking us up. I even swatted at my father
one dreary Christmas morning; "Jesus, Dad, go back to bed. It's only 8:30." I
feel a pang of sadness every Christmas morning when I realize I've gone through
yet another holiday season without experiencing that delicious anticipation on
Christmas Eve. Why inflict that on a kid any earlier than you have to?
I realize that, for some, Christmas is the celebration of a sacred holiday,
nothing more. I give those selfless people all the respect in the world. But
face it. Christmas taps into one of our most basic human instincts: the desire
to get free stuff. Why do you think Christmas got so popular in the first
place? Whether it's a pagan ceremony, a solstice festival, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa,
or Christmas -- almost every winter holiday ritual involves gift-giving. Heck,
even Christ got lots of presents on Christmas. (Does anyone know what a newborn
would actually do with myrrh?) I strongly believe that giving to others
is a wondrous and fulfilling act. But receiving -- now that's worth getting up
at dawn for.
On behalf of children everywhere, I urge you to fight Christmas minimalism.
Search your own hearts and memories. Remember what it felt like to be a kid.
You couldn't drink alcohol, drive a car, stay up late, or use a credit card,
and you had to eat vegetables you hated . . . remember how being a
kid kinda sucked. But then there was Christmas. It was the one day of the year
that made it all worthwhile. You got showered with presents and you never had
to worry about who was paying for it or how. You didn't feel guilty for not
buying anything in return. This year, keep the tradition alive. Help another
generation of children hold on to this precious birthright. Who knows
. . . maybe next year, someone will shower you with presents.
Wouldn't it feel good, just one more time, to wake up at 5:15 on Christmas
morning and barrel down the hallway to see what Santa brought?
Kris Frieswick is a magazine writer living in Newton. She can be reached at