I often begin classes in Economics with a discussion of how values of things are determined. I point out that the price of some things may or may not accurately reflect their importance in our lives. For example, water and air are vitally important in our lives, but often very inexpensive. Alternatively, diamonds are very expensive, but do little to sustain or improve our lives. The reason for this apparent paradox is found in the fact that prices are determined by the interaction of both supply and demand, allowing rare things that are not vital to our lives to become expensive, and important things that are readily available to become relatively inexpensive. I thought of this lately as I looked around at the current bustle and remembered a sign I saw in a store many years ago. Trying to encourage seasonal buying, it said "We make Christmas Cheaper."
Christmas is only one of several holidays celebrated at this time of the year, many of which began as holy days. However, many of them seem to have evolved into a frenzy that reminds me of a Flintstone’s cartoon. In it, characters pull out credit cards and gleefully cheer “charge!” as they run off to a store. This shopping spree now begins in the final hours of Thanksgiving and lasts until the New Year. As I make my way through another holiday season, I again ask myself how I can celebrate the season with my family while still teaching my daughter the values and lessons I want her to take away from December.
My own memories of Christmas included feasts of fish on Christmas Eve, Midnight mass afterwards, and a Christmas day spent visiting and being visited by relatives. There was always some uncle who turned on a football game, but the rest of us spent the time talking and laughing, with some of the women continuously encouraging us to eat more, or, more accurately, to "mangia."
I know I can’t reproduce those days for my own daughter, as I am one more generation away from my Italian roots. However, I can make conscious decisions that help make the season more meaningful. One such decision involves choosing gifts carefully, ones that might be higher in sentimental meaning than cost, such as, for example, handmade gifts or copies of photographs or of a DVD of my daughter’s fall school production. Another is to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas, a tradition my daughter learned while in pre-school. However, even this simpler feast does not always prevent the usual excesses, as I recall one year when my daughter wanted to make sure she would get as much candy as possible, and so put out all of her shoes for St. Nicholas. Not only did she put out her school shoes and sneakers, but she put out all the shoes in her closet. There were flip flops, sandals and fuzzy slippers as well as water shoes and crocks, all lined up in a row waiting for candy. She had quite a sugar high that December 6th.
We like to drive around the towns near us in search of Christmas lights, which are plentiful. I recall the year when my daughter was only one and one half, and would look out at the many decorated homes and buildings and say only one word, "more." There were plenty more to see as we drove on.
Many Decembers ago, my daughter came home from school with a notebook accompanied by a stuffed turtle named "Tucker." He was Tucker, the Traveling Take-home Turtle. She was supposed to take the stuffed turtle home and write about what he did that evening, adding a picture of her with the turtle to the notebook. When I first heard of this, I felt even more overwhelmed, as I was trying to dig myself out of the grading that covered my desk. However, the added assignment soon turned into a wonderful memory as we took Tucker to see the lights in our neighborhood and the lights down Main Street in a neighboring town. I saved a copy of what was entered in the notebook along with a copy of the picture she included, showing her holding the turtle. When we visited those downtown lights last week, she reminded us that this was where she took Tucker when she was younger.
Celebrating the season mindfully is even more difficult for those of us who are academics, as grading and final exams add more stress to this time of the year. Indeed, one professor friend always sends New Year’s cards in place of Christmas cards, which allows her to stay in touch without running up against even more time constraints. How do you celebrate whatever holidays you honor in this time of year, and what do you do to make sure that you are emphasizing what is truly of value?