I love Thanksgiving, not only for what it is, (a day to reflect on our blessings, spend time with family, and of course, eat large quantities of comfort food) but also for what it is not. Aside from the menu, it's a fairly low-pressure holiday without lots of expectations. The focus is not on gift-getting or giving, it's about being. Being thankful, being content, being together. This explains why it's always a bit shocking for me to switch gears from "I'm-thankful-for-what-I-have-Thursday" to "I-need--to-hit-the-malls-to-buy-everything-I-need-Black Friday."
And so it begins: the season of hustle and bustle, shopping and wrapping, baking and decorating, stress and excitement. The girls and I will bake cookies until our freezer can't hold anymore. And I will spend hours shopping online and in stores, looking for just the right gifts for the special people in my life, all while trying to stay within budget.
With all the advertising my kids see on television, they are being convinced of all the items they cannot live without and made their lists way before Black Friday. This year, I started finding notes from my second-grader in August. Some have only the necessary details: "Dream Lites, from the people who brought you Pillow Pets. Website: www.dreamlites.com, you havet'a use a credacard." Others are thoughtful and well-written, like the one I recently found taped to my bedroom door:
"Dear Mom and Dad,
I decided what I want for Christmas now. I want the American Girl Caroline for Christmas please. I want it really bad. Thank you for your time."W
As the girls get older, their lists get shorter, because the items on the lists get more and more expensive. And in many cases, the smaller the item, the bigger the price tag. In some ways, it was easier when they were little because there were so many affordable choices. I remember feeling thrilled to find that the toy-makers were bringing back all the toys I played with as a young girl: Care Bears, Cabbage-Patch Kids, Smurfs and, my favorite, Strawberry Shortcake and all her friends. Only later did I realize that this was a conspiracy, and parents my age were the target. If the elves could stir up nostalgic feelings from our own childhoods, then of course we would want to buy all the same toys for our children that we played with when we were younger, along with all the toys we wanted, but never received. I always wanted an Easy-Bake Oven but never got one, so this toy was a must-have for my daughters. Now, several years and several batches of miniature cookies later, I understand why my mom never went for it. Baking with light bulbs does not produce very tasty treats.
Every year, I am faced with the same challenge: how to create a magical, meaningful Christmas without going overboard. Some years we have thought of creative ways to simplify things, like when my sisters and I decided to do a toy swap among the nieces and nephews. Our budgets were tight and our kids were at the perfect ages to make this work. By making our gifts or exchanging toys we already owned, we saved money, reduced toy-clutter in our homes, and the kids were just as happy as ever. My niece was thrilled to receive a My Little Pony castle, complete with an extensive pony collection. And my daughter loved the handmade earrings her aunt gave her.
We also choose at least one giving project to participate in, such as Operation Christmas Child or Angel Tree. This helps us to remember the needs of others during a time of year when the emphasis is largely on making our own wish lists.
My goal this year, like every year, is to make the most of our moments together with family and friends, focus on the significance of Christmas, and minimize stress. In other words, I want to carry the spirit of Thanksgiving into the season of Christmas. These two holidays have more in common than pumpkin pie. Because no matter how you slice it, we are very, very blessed.
• Becky Baudouin is a freelance writer and speaker. She lives in the Northwest suburbs with her husband, Bernie and their three daughters.