The Boston Phoenix
December 23 - 30, 1999

[Out There]


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 Mohawk.)

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

| home page | what's new | search | about the phoenix | feedback |
Copyright © 1999 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group. All rights reserved.