Christmas. Definitely among the most celebrated, most revered of holidays. A season marked by brightly-lit streets, bespangled trees, broken diets, nostalgic carols, and all of that warm, fuzzy-in-your-tummy goodness normally associated with the “most wonderful time of the year.”
It is also, however, a season of frazzled and fried nerves. Many people end up strung as highly as the twinkling lights atop their nine-foot polyvinyl chloride Christmas tree. It is the time of year that gift lists are as seemingly endless as the lines at mall check-out counters, and the astounding crush of people is rivaled only by the volume of cars inching their way in bumper-to-bumper traffic on city roads.
Stress and joy abound in equal measure; and scales are tipped either way, depending on such factors as time and money.
Yes, sanity groans under the weight of Christmas shopping; especially for those of us with crazy schedules, limited time, and an even more limited budget. This, dear readers, is the evil trifecta that besets many a hapless (and often helpless) Christmas shopper.
It is no wonder that many have opted out of the Christmas shopping frenzy; choosing instead to share a movie, meal, or some sort of memorable moment with friends and family.
But those of us still in the gift-giving way need not despair. There are tips we can apply to make the task a little less hair-raising.
First, a few facts about the Christmas ribbon-and-wrapper ripping ritual.
Fit for a King
The tradition of gift-giving goes back to a time long, long ago, in a manger far, far away. Jesus was born, and he was God’s gift to humanity. Three Wise Men traveled from distant lands to pay homage to Christ the child. Okay, so scholars contest if Jesus was, in fact, still in the manger when the Magi arrived, but lest we ruin many-a Nativity Scene, let’s stick with the general consensus.
The Three Kings – Wise Men, Magi; they go by several names – brought baby Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Three valuable and symbolic gifts, to signify Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection; but that message is more suited to Easter. Many cultures, especially in Europe, still celebrate the traditional date of the Magi’s arrival – usually the first Sunday after Christmas – with the exchanging of gifts.
It is quite ironic that the very roots of the gift-giving tradition – meant to remind us of the gift, the promise and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ – have snowballed into a commercial frenzy. Just a bit of food for thought.
From Saturn to Santa
Aside from the Magi and their presentation of presents, gift-giving is also traced back to the days of ancient Rome – in dire contrast with Christian roots – and the trading of gifts during the Roman festival of Saturnalia. Celebrated from the 17th to the 23rdof December, festivities were held in honour of Saturn, the Roman deity of agriculture. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, followed by a public banquet, and private gift-giving.
St. Nicholas, Saint Nick, Saint Niklaus, or – more popularly – Santa is likewise heavily associated with Christmas and gifts. This began in the 13th century, when French nuns would distribute presents to the poor on St. Nicholas’ Eve, which falls on the 5th of December.
It was not until late 18th century, however, that the gift-giving tradition took center-stage, when retail establishments got smart and decided to go full-force with the gift-pitch. Stores began placing Christmas ads in papers as early as the 1820’s and Santa somehow became the focal point.
History lesson aside, time for some handy tips to spare the stress, save your sanity, and help you kiss the Grinch goodbye (admit it; we all turn into a Grinch, at some point of the season):
1. Make a list. And yes, check it twice. Organize your list to include names, age, and preference or personality type. For instance, a person who is more techhie in nature would probably go gaga over a geeky gift or gadget. It goes without saying that the type of gadget would depend on the age of the recipient, as well.
Some nifty gift ideas for the foodie, geeky, sporty, fashion-forward, and craft-y people in your life:
• Practical gifts (good for no-nonsense, no -frills type people): Cookie assortment, bottle of wine, coffee; Self-help / inspirational books, point-and-shoot camera, classic pen; a nice scarf, gift cheques from favorite clothes shop; shirt of favorite team; stationery set, scrapbook
• Creative gifts (perfect for free-spirits, children, edgier-type people): Personalized food items, personalized entertainment accessories; Puzzles, board games, toys that stimulate creativity; Funky jewelry, statement tee-shirts, one-of-a-kind fashion accessory; personalized sports jersey; Wooden toys, handmade presents.
• Romantic Gifts (great for your spouse or special someone): “Voucher” to redeem dinner for two, artisanal chocolate; music player loaded with favorite playlist, headphone splitter, poetry books, plush toy; tickets to favorite team’s game; beaded purse, engraved cuff links; tickets to a stage play or musical, vintage jewelry or trinkets.
• On-trend Gifts: Designer kitchen gadgets, Flavored wine; latest gadgets, instant developing camera and film; edgy fashion pieces; sports gadgets; latest craft or DIY craze, box of tools.
2. Put a lid on it. Your list does NOT have to include your cousin’s cousin, thrice removed. Keep your list within your circle of family and close friends. Do not get sucked in by the retail vacuum of a commercialized Christmas. Please.
3. Start early! Easier said than done, but definitely a time and money saver. Keep an eye out for presents as early as August, if you can. This enables you, as well, to get gifts that are less generic and more suited to the recipient. Also, keep track of your list, as you progress with your shopping. Tick items off, along the way.
4. Let your fingers do the shopping. Or at least, the preliminary research. Use your online resources to check out what your options are. This not only gives you a better idea of what’s out there, it will also help you budget your time and money more efficiently.
5. Take advantage of sales. If you start early, then the crowds at sales will be nowhere near as crazy as the week or two before Christmas.
6. D.I.Y. Do It Yourself. Hand-crafted gifts are packed full of meaning, and are a touch more special than store-bought presents.
7. DON’T go for broke. Stick to your budget. One of the biggest pressures of Christmas is on the purse. Do not spend what you don’t have, and end up with a post-holiday mountain of credit card debt.
8. If you do find yourself caught in the last-minute craze, set a time limit. Determine how much time you really need to stay in the store, and try to stick with it. The less you have to deal with the mad rush, the better.
9. Green is not just a Christmas colour. Lastly, when wrapping your presents, remember to be as green as you can. Use recycled wrappers (the funnies of your daily paper are not only colorful, they are also eco-friendly), or simply tie a bio-degradable bow around the item. Think of the tons of paper, tinsel, and bows that go to waste each Christmas: Definitely not a “Ho-ho” matter.
10. Give love on Christmas Day. Remember, the gift is secondary; the love, primary in importance.
The bottom line is quite simple, really. So simple, it almost seems absurd, to some. Refuse to let the trappings of Christmas rob you of your peace and joy. After all, the true essence of the Yuletide Season lies beyond wrappers and bows. Way, way beyond it.