Bah Humbug

MY LEAST FAVORITE time of the year is fast approaching—the holidays. The curmudgeonly part of me will be on full display.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many aspects that I like. I enjoy the spirit of Christmas, the music, getting together with friends and family, and eating. But let’s face it, there’s a lot of stress, aggravation—and money to be spent.

My DVR stores A Christmas Story, which is my favorite holiday movie and which I watch every December. I can relate to the family in the movie, including the temperamental coal furnace, and I sympathize with Ralphie.

Unlike Ralphie, I never wanted a Red Ryder rifle. Instead, I wanted electric trains, which I did get one year. I can also relate to Ralphie’s pink bunny pajamas. One year, I asked for a basketball—pretty simple. What I received was a beach ball imprinted like a basketball.

In the first week of November, I was hearing holiday songs on the radio and I passed a church already decorated for Christmas, including a lighted tree on the lawn. Needless to say, stores have been stocked with Christmas decorations since Labor Day. Is there an actual season any longer?

I began writing this before visiting—not voluntarily—a Hobby Lobby, where we and many other shoppers were loading up on Christmas decorations. That’s despite our storage area already bursting with past years’ bargains.

A young Dick Quinn (second from left) at his grandmother’s house for the holidays circa 1953

Spend $269 on decorations? That’s what some research says the average American lavishes on lights, tinsel and such. My least favorite holiday items are those lawn blow-up things, not classy in my humble opinion.

My wife and I gave up exchanging gifts years ago. There’s simply nothing we want or need. Let’s face it, what happens to many gifts—perhaps most—is they’re returned, broken in a day or two, or shortly forgotten and go unused.

I recall the stress of finding the right gift for my wife. One year, decades ago, I thought I had it. I presented her with a microwave oven. It was a cold Christmas, but my marriage survived. Thereafter, it was one-stop shopping at my favorite jeweler.

Folks who celebrate Hanukkah aren’t immune to all this. The best research I could find estimated the average spent on that holiday at around $600.

They say it’s the thought that counts. I’m not so sure. A National Retail Federation study found that retailers expect about 17.8% of all merchandise sold in the holiday season to be returned, either online or in person. That’s $158 billion worth of goods. 

Near the top of the return list is apparel. I can relate. As a kid, I received an endless supply of clip-on ties, socks and underwear. Whoopee. 

Think of all the time, stress and money that goes into shopping. It’s greatly stimulated by advertising—often misleading when it comes to toys that don’t actually fly.

Then there’s the work involved. Dragging decorations out of storage, putting them up—occasionally at dangerous heights—and then putting all the stuff back after a few weeks. Fun, really? Or is it keeping up with the neighbors?

A simple wreath on the door would do, and would certainly be more traditional. Most Americans didn’t even decorate or have Christmas trees until the mid-19th century.

When I was a child, we went to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas. I’ve come to realize that Grandma didn’t have it so easy, doing all the work herself. Grandpa did none of that. But he did take the metal tinsel off the tree and reused it year after year. Can you imagine?

If you’ve never planned, shopped for, prepared or served a holiday meal—and then cleaned up afterward—you have no idea of the work involved. If you go elsewhere for a holiday meal, be sure to thank the host and perhaps help with the cleanup, too.

By the way, a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people cost $64.05 on average this year, or so says the American Farm Bureau’s annual informal price survey. Who are they kidding? I spent $57 alone for a 19-pound turkey.

My suggestion: Let’s make all holidays less about stuff and more about what makes them truly special—time with friends and family.

HumbleDollar December 3, 2022

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7 comments

  1. You and I are contemporaries (also PS retirees) and youbring me vivid memories of my childhood in Brooklyn.  We lived in a third-floorwalk-up apartment where my parents spent all of their adult life.  Wasn’t easy for Mom preparing meals in akitchen that wasn’t much bigger than today’s walk-in closets, but Mom wouldn’thave it any other way.  Dad was there but she wouldn’t expect help.  He’d be in the dining room sharing differentpoints of view (arguing) with his brother and brother-in-law.  There was a kitchen table that no one eversat at.  It was in a corner so two sides were of no use.  It was used to hold the bread box, a toasterand some pots and plates that wouldn’t fit anywhere else.  Cabinets?C’mon.  The only one was above the sink and you needed a small ladder orwooden chair to access it.  And sink?  A double sink with a deep oneon the left and normal one on the right.  For big occasions, the big onewas filled with a couple of bags of ice cubes for soda and beer.  Not muchroom in the small fridge.  At that time of year, it was handy to have afire escape outside the kitchen window for keeping perishables cold.  There was a stove that had an oven where thedoor didn’t stay closed.  A washingmachine on wheels that was rolled to the sink when needed, having a manualroller, and a hose that drained into the sink (drying was on a clothes lineoutside of that same window). With all those obstacles, the holiday meals were shared family and friends, often 15 or more, at the dining room table, very much like the picture that you showed. Those relationships lasted for theirlifetimes.  Finally, there was a womanwho was usually invited and helped to clean up by taking home most of the leftovers.  Now, I’m going to put up lights on our tree. Merry Christmas.

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  2. I have a similar picture, where I am to the left of my dad (he too still had all black hair in my late 1950’s picture).

    Reminds me of gathering at my maternal Grandmother’s house (Baba) for our Christmas eve “vilija” – a meatless, Roman Catholic, slovak, “peasant” meal of oplatki (styled communion host wafers) with honey, various kinds of perogi (including potato, sweet cabbage, sauerkraut, cheese, apricot), fried Lake Erie perch, potatoes, cole slaw, machanka (mushroom soup with sauerkraut), bobalki and various sweets.

    The term vilija comes from the Latin “vigilia” or “night watch” … the joyful anticipation in waiting for the arrival of the newborn Jesus.

    One difference for us, when it came time to eating the feast, was that there were so many first cousins (my mom was one of five children, and I was one of 21 first cousins) that we had a set of “kids” tables in the main bedroom – there was no room for all of us at the dining room table reserved for adults (and my oldest cousin, Dave).

    After dinner, it was off to St. Cyril and Methodius (patron saints of Slovakia) church for midnight mass.

    Later, after my maternal grandmother passed in 1975, the celebration moved to my mom’s 3 bedroom home, and at one point, we had jammed over 80 people around the tables for that meal.

    And, yes, Ralphie WAS my older brother Joe (only Joe was much smarter), and yes, Randy WAS me – especially the pig eating mashed potatoes (I have a great picture with my 1 year old son wearing cups over our noses as pig snouts). My youngest brother, Mike, now proudly displays his leg lamp in his living room window (he lives in the house I grew up in) – and yes, you can see it from the sidewalk.

    We had pajamas with feet, and, snow suits, too. In fact, the home where the Christmas Story was filmed is less than 10 miles from where I grew up. In th emovie, I experienced that Christmas parade and numerous department store displays of wonder – there were commonplace in downtown Cleveland – Higbee’s, Halle’s, and Sterling Lindner (which had the biggest Christmas tree and some ornaments as big as my little brother Jim).

    Great memories. Thanks. Jack

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  3. Totally can relate to your (hi)story of youthful Christmas. I thought my saga was unique but after reading of your disappointing basketball gift I realized I have told that exact same story many times. I might add that I suspect you never told your mom that you were disappointed because we didn’t do that you just didn’t bring your ball to the courts unless you expected you would be by yourself but you shuddered every time it bounced and you heard the boing sound while the ball bounced 8 feet into the air. Why is it the few disappointments stay with us as opposed to all the good times we were blessed with? In fact when you start to dwell on it isn’t it the gifts you gave that really warm our hearts much more than those we recieved ?

    Good story thanks for the blog.

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  4. That $64.05 for 10 people must be per person, either that or they left off a number to the left of the decimal.

    When I was a kid growing up very poor we never had the lights or much else. Now I put up lights and spend what I want on decorations.

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