Becoming an adult requires you to either find your own meaning in major holidays or get sucked into someone else’s interpretation of them.
For a long time, the latter was my default position. I assumed that the only way to enjoy Christmas was to pay for it by consuming stuff — stuff like elaborate presents and swanky events and tasteful wreaths and eggnog lattes and significant others wearing coordinating festive sweaters. Basically, the representation of Christmas you see in nearly every type of media published between Thanksgiving and Dec. 25.
And because I spent most of my time as a young adult perpetually broke — such is the life of a full-time student with a string of on-campus jobs who pretended not to have the time to budget — Christmas was fraught with a peculiar stress, year after year. I struggled to come up with affordable gift ideas. After procrastinating to the point where I’d rush to the school bookstore to charge an armful of college-mascot-adorned coffee mugs, I worried that the cheap and crinkling wrapping paper looked sloppy and therefore lessened the gift itself. I’d arrive at my family’s house in a passive state, feeling like a leech as I unwrapped my own gifts and drinking the wine they’d stocked up on for dinner (just kidding — I’ve never felt bad about drinking wine).
Along the way, I learned the truth about budgeting — how it’s a plan for money, not a prescribed and fixed set of rules. I learned that I did, in fact, cobble together enough money each month to pay for my basic expenses and then some. Creating even a loose budget brought to my attention that Christmas fell on the same day every single year and that it was quite easy to financially plan for it.
Creating a budget also required me to acknowledge what about the holidays was important to me, not to default to buying crap in a panic. What are my priorities during this season? Where do I want my money to go in order to do the things I want?
And with this knowledge, I found it easy to dismiss the pressures of the holiday that for me are truly insignificant. Fancy wrapping paper in not important. Neither is another treat-yourself sweater, as I have plenty of lovely sweaters in my closet. Decorating with anything that’s a magnet for cat hair is also not. Spending money I don’t have on gifts my fiancé and our families and friends may not even want is absolutely not, and will never be, a priority.
What is important? Finding a novel to give my grandma that she’ll love. Watching A Muppet Christmas Carol with my fiancé. Gleefully skipping “All I Want for Christmas is You” and instead listening to Spotify’s Classical Christmas station so that I can harmonize to the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Peppermint schnapps. Putting up my artificial tree that doesn’t shed needles. Giving money — even just a little — to organizations I value. Taking time to walk the streets of my city and appreciating how the decorations transform its normally lackluster downtown. Treating my future in-laws to a Christmas Eve dinner out. Selecting fancy canned cat and dog food so that my pets can also enjoy a gourmet Christmas dinner (not a joke — I cannot wait to watch their furry faces as they realize they’re not getting their regular dried food).
Funny — most of the things on my “important” list are either cheap or free.
Asserting my agency by budgeting for Christmas has been essential for me to appreciate the holiday. It lets me decide what the season means to me, and how I deliberately choose to celebrate it.
Whatever I choose to do to enjoy Christmas isn’t a judgment on someone else’s choices. Mine are simply a reflection of how I interpret the meaning of this holiday.
Gail is a writer and a recent Boise transplant, where she lives with her fiance, adorable dog, and tolerable cat. Find her on Twitter at @gailmariecole.
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