Family and finance in the holiday season

The ups and downs of spending time and money during the holidays

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all my loyal readers. To everyone else, have a decent December or whatever.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or any other wonderful holiday or non-denominational winter festival, we are officially entering the holiday season. I grew up nominally Christian, so Christmas was my favourite time of year, other than my birthday of course.

As I got older and learned that Santa Claus, the guy from the Coke commercials, wasn’t real, my enjoyment slightly faded until I got old enough to make stacks of cash. Once I had some semblance of an income, I started buying gifts for others, at which point my joy returned in force.

Years later as a 22-year-old, I feel a sense of childlike joy in getting gifts for others, but an adult sense of dread looking at my chequing account. Of course, I could always spend less money on people. But my mother might stop loving me if I don’t spend enough money on her.

Well, probably not. But still, there is a certain pressure to get the right gift and spend the right amount of money. Giving and receiving gifts is a critical part of the Christmas holiday, and my family goes all out for Christmas.

Of course, this process of exchanging gifts feeds into consumerist tendencies since we live in a capitalist society. I spend my money on gifts which I buy anywhere from the beginning of November to Christmas Eve. I try to set about a $50 limit, and in the long term that is not much. But when I compound all the people in my life whose presence I enjoy, that number adds up.

However, between all this spending money, there is something that is, very possibly, more important than gifts. That something is time spent with loved ones.

Growing up, because of winter break, the better part of December was free from school for me and my siblings. To complement this, my dad would often take around a month off from work as well. As a result of our combined days off, the days leading up to and following Christmas were one of the few periods of the year where we all had free time together. All the time spent decorating the Christmas tree, eating Christmas Eve dinner and the days spent lazing around eating leftovers after Christmas are memories I will never forget.

The image of my mom and grandma playing dice while my dad and grandpa sipped coffee after we opened all our presents is almost more memorable than the gifts themselves — almost. Make no mistake, I enjoy watching people open the gifts I spent too much money on and I enjoy getting gifts my family spent too much on.

But when I have a family of my own and years have passed since I woke up on Christmas mornings, eagerly waiting to open gifts, I’ll miss the time spent with my parents. I can always buy a video game or a snazzy new jacket, but I can’t buy my mom and dad waiting for me at the dinner table on Christmas Eve.

Before you get teary-eyed, my family and I still spend most of the holiday season together. But when I was a kid, I wasn’t as appreciative of our time together as I am now, especially since I have started spending Christmas Eve with my boyfriend’s family. I appreciate his family of course, and his mom is an excellent cook, but this change in tradition has made the memories of Christmas Eve spent with my family so much more valuable.

I would say I spend too much money around Christmas, but being able to show my family I appreciate them is worth the cost of the few gifts I end up giving each person in my family. We have to remember what the holidays are all about: family, as corny as that is. And by family, I mean anyone you care about who you surround yourself with.

Money will forever be a part of life, but family might not be, so appreciate it while it’s here.