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Merry Christmas! (The shopping version)

Urbanmamas_toy_sale
The Sunday after Halloween was the launch of the holiday shopping season; I found two "toy books" and several other circulars in the paper. I've also been getting a steady stream of holiday-themed catalogs, with a wealth of options from personalized stockings to adorable little-girl Christmas dresses to the always-popular gift for all adult women: fleece-lined slippers in reds and greens. Fancy holiday candies. A needlepoint iPad case? Just the thing!

In Friday's Oregonian was the a&e Holiday Event Guide, with photos of Christmas ships and the Pioneer Courthouse Square tree lighting and the Nutcracker and ads for the Northwest Children's Theater performance of 'Willy Wonka' and -- hilariously -- the 'Festival of the Last Minute' at Saturday Market (Dec. 17 - 24). "Procrastinators Rejoice!" says the ad copy. Procrastinators should be quaking in their boots if they're already reading about procrastination on November 4th.

I've barely finished canning tomatoes and am ready for a week -- just a week -- of not planning for anything before we start planning for Thanksgiving. I'm not ready for Christmas shopping yet, with the exception of having the great comeback to all requests for toy purchases made by my kids: "well, let's put that on your Christmas list, shall we?"

But all these ads and the beginnings of decorations in the stores has got me already stressing about Christmas shopping, even that gorgeous and fun idea from Martha Stewart Living's November issue: an Advent gift chain (for which I had better start shopping today if I'm going to make it happen). I'm not even much of a shopper, but I get bit by the bug about December 19th each year and want to go running around town with a wad of cash. (My cash wads being as they are, this is rarely much of a run.)

Urbanmamas_advent_photochain

I was shaking my head derisively at all this precocious consumerism when I remembered -- I'd already bought one Christmas gift early (some cozy wool socks for my newest little nephew). And I asked my husband last night for the go-ahead to spend some of the family dime on the Icebreaker friends and family sale next week; for me and for Christmas gifts.

So yes, I do start shopping this early, probably because of all the glossy pretty pictures delivered to my mailbox and doorstep. Insidious! How about you: when do you start shopping for the holidays? How do you feel about the ubiquity of those happy smiling moms with cozy snowflake sweaters in your mailbox or email inbox? Does it make you happy or frantic? What would you rather be doing with your mental energies (if anything) other than worrying that you're already behind on your shopping?

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Okay, I'll freely admit it---I absolutely LOVE holiday shopping, along with pretty much everything else about the season!

I decorate (if I'm not working) the day after Thanksgiving so I can gleefully enjoy the decor for as long as possible. And naturally, I decorate not just the livingroom, but the diningroom, kitchen, master bedroom, my office/study, a little in the basement man cave and my daughter extensively does her room (including decor for her dolls). Both front and back porches are decorated, as well (and no, not with anything like inflatables).

As for shopping, it's a sort of ongoing thing, as year round I look for stuff for people on my list (including right after Xmas for next year). But I frequently do a LOT of it online (or at vintage/antique stores) and I really, really enjoy shopping.

Currently I almost completely have items either bought, ordered or know what I'm getting people. The exception to this being the hubby, who wants either an I-Pad or slippers, because that's how he is (yes, really, it's pretty much that sort of extreme all the time here).

Honestly, the only BAD thing about Christmas is that I'm overall (or at least like to think I am) a better gift buyer versus the gifts I typically receive--even though I probably spend the same or less money, because I'm an ace shopper. But that's okay, because it was still fun and I still totally dig the season.

Oh yeah--and the typical freak out I have Christmas Day while cooking dinner should anyone dare to enter the kitchen or interrupt my flow/grand gala plan. But that's a different story....

Oh---please don't think any of this implies I have unlimited funds and just spend my days leisurely perusing and purchasing objets d/art. Quite the contrary. I've managed to do all this through several stints of unemployment and financial curtailing..

Sometimes I think the holiday season seems too stretched out, but on the other hand, doesn't it always seem to fly? I like having more time to think about the holidays. I too shop early - and often year-round. When I see something right for someone, I get it. I hear you Zumpie - I like the shopping too, and I think I'm pretty good at it!

My stress for the season is that our family lives far away, so I have to plan anyway for sending packages - including overseas. Good thing I'm a planner, but it is sometimes a drain to get everything set early in December so packages will arrive on time!

I have really, really dialed back on all things Christmas over the past few years. I used to go all out, much like @zumpie. Christmas shopping was done no later than Thanksgiving (it had started on the day after Christmas the prior year) and the decorations were up and everywhere--inside and out--no later than the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Come hell or high water, Christmas Day would be at my house, and I'd do all the food for all the family and friends (in my tiny kitchen--ugh.) Oh, plus the grandparents on Christmas Eve for something special, and again for breakfast on Christmas morning. Oh, and season concerts, parties, events--nothing could be missed. Did I mention the cookie exchange? And gifting all of the neighbors with cookies (I made dozens of 10-12 kinds.) All of this on top of being a single mom with a full-time job.

As my daughter got older and busier with school, sports and social things, all of this started to really, really stress me out and it felt more like a nasty chore, and I was a total beast to be around.

I finally asked my girl what she wanted out of the season. Her answer was that she wanted to visit Peacock Lane and drink hot chocolate, shop at Crafty Wonderland, wake up on Christmas morning and have her grandma there, and have family and friends over to play games on Christmas Day. And a mini-vacation on her Winter Break.

Now we do just that. Peacock Lane and Crafty Wonderland are a must, and other seasonal events happen as we feel like it, and as we're able. Grandma spends the night Christmas Eve; we do movies and a simple dinner that evening, and waffles on Christmas morning after we're done with presents. Friends and family come on Christmas Day; we play board games and I make a big pot of soup and a dessert, and the rest of the food is potluck. Then my mom, my daughter and I take a close-by trip--this year and last we're visiting Seattle.

We don't have a lot of money this year - three kids 5 & under, all in daycare 3 days a week, and the recession still looms. So we're dialing back the gifts this year. Usually, we do a few big gifts (and, lately, we'd been CraigsListing those gifts, as kind of a "green Christmas" - but also to get more bang for the buck). This year we did the big CraigsList gifts for birthdays, which are all around fall (a drumset and a dollhouse).

For Christmas, we took piles of books to Powells to trade. It was surprisingly enough to be able to spend back at Powells in a generous amount of books and gifts for the kids. For ourselves, we spent some money this fall at a silent auction for charity and bought some time in Bend, which will be a nice respite in the winter. We are also doing some homemade stocking stuffers, e.g. felt animals for their felt boards, which was a homemade gift last year that's still a hit. I already have the felt, so it will cost nothing. And I may sew some gifts that have been sitting on my shelf waiting for me to sew (again, costing nothing, as I already have the supplies).

More than gifts, I think my kids really enjoy the ritual of Christmas time. My MIL bought us a few Advent calendars, one where you place animals and other nativity characters that build the story onto a manger scene, and one where you read a small book that tells the nativity story and then place it on the tree (the books are small ornaments). We light a candle before bed, read the story, and place an animal on the nativity. The kids LOVE this - they are kind of sad when it's over, after a whole month of this. They love the Christmas tree all lit up, and all my little Christmas houses that light up. They love the Christmas cookies that we make and singing Christmas songs together. They LOVE looking at Christmas lights outside. I think de-emphasizing the gifts and just celebrating the rituals and our own practices as a family will make it special this year. So I'm looking forward to it.

p.s. I LOVE shopping too. Just not where the bank account or my heart is this year.

Our winter solstice traditions and rituals have nothing to do with gifts. It is very freeing not to feel you have to spend money and time shopping for material goods.

Tryon mom, would love to hear about some of the winter solstice traditions and rituals. I am trying to incorporate these more as I am not really Christian so a lot of the Christmas stuff doesn't work for me and my family.

As a Christian family we struggle with the comodification of the holiday and so strive as much as possible to keep it non-materialistic and more about what we will give as opposed to what we will recieve. I do not like to shop and so we create alot of handmade gifts whether they be knitted or sewn items, baked goods or works of art ( sets of printed note cards, etc). I love to decorate and get into the Advent season and it becomes a way to cast out winter darkness and a time to redouble efforts to reach out to the lonely, the forgotten and the less fortunate so that everyone can find joy in the season. This year the need is greater than ever with so many families struggling and so it's vitally important to reach out and do what we can.

Hi there - the link to the icebreaker friends and family sale is not working. Would greatly appreciate if you could provide some details!

oh, Tom, sorry! I think you have to have already "liked" Icebreaker on Facebook for it to work. the sale is 10-8 next Friday, November 18, at the touch lab Portland in the Pearl on Burnside. I think they only take visa/mastercard/amex.

Christmas is so close and yet there are so many things still to get. Why is it that kids expect to get everthing these days?

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