Published: Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 1:07 p.m.
For decades, Deborah Crevelli watched as the Christmas gifting ritual “snowballed” into a crazy, commercialized obligation of massive overspending.
MORE GIFT IDEAS
The Gift of Time
“Our family gives gifts to the children and young adults. For each other we give the gift of time. One year it might be help on a project around the house, or a trip to the coast & a picnic. It might be wine tasting or beer tasting - almost all outings include a meal. It isn't always cheaper than a present, but none of us needs anything and the time spent together is the point. There's usually a small consumable gift under the tree like wine, coffee, cocktail napkins, etc.”
Gifts for the Greater Good
“For years we were just nuts in our house with the gift-giving. I think it became a sort of contest, with some competitive overtones; who got the best, most, biggest sort of thing. It was pretty silly because we all love to bargain shop, so we were getting ready for the post-holiday sales while opening our gifts. We cut the addition, cold turkey, and it wasn't painful at all. Now we look for a gift that represents something bigger. A scarf from The Greater Good Network to help people, animals or the planet - or a wrist bracelet acknowledging a donation to the Team Jesse Foundation, formed to honor Sgt. Jesse Williams of Santa Rosa who was killed in Iraq. We enjoy the ‘thing' but the gift is far greater!”
Claire Light, who is 91, said her family has just gotten too big to buy for everyone. So they play Pirate Bingo, using cards that slide a cover over the number if it is called. Up to 70 people can play.
Each person playing must bring at least three gifts, wrapped in newspaper to assure anonymity. They can be things that are homemade, home-baked, bought at a garage or white elephant sale.
The children hand out the Bingo cards to everyone, including the babies. Someone with a loud voice is designated the caller. A Bingo is vertical, horizontal or diagonal and if a player gets more than one at once he can pick up two presents. The cards aren't cleared after each Bingo. The game just continues until all the presents are gone.
The second round of the game goes this way, according to Light: “Don't open the presents yet, but clear the Bingo board and start calling numbers again. Once the first Bingo is called, set a time limit. We set a clock for five minutes and the caller calls the numbers as fast as he or she can.
“If someone gets Bingo, they can steal a present from someone else. While he is stealing a present, his collection of gifts can't be stolen. Presents can be hidden anywhere in the room or on the person. When the clock rings the game is over. Everyone can open their gifts. If they don't want their present they can try swapping or giving away what they don't want.”
What was supposed to be the season of peace and time shared with family and friends had devolved into a month-long shopping and wrapping chore. One year she simply declared, “Enough.”
The Healdsburg grandmother and her husband, John, a retired history professor at Santa Rosa Junior College, both grew up during the Depression and World War II, when Christmas was simpler but sweeter.
“Gifts were not exchanged between uncles and grandparents and aunts. You didn't give gifts to cousins and nieces and nephews,” she remembered. “Each family took care of their own kids and once that gifting was over in the morning, the rest of the day could be enjoyed as a celebration of the family.”
Five years ago, they told their four adult children they would give only to the grandkids — money for those over 13 and one special and “truly appropriate” gift for the younger ones. They would accept no gifts except handmade items from grandchildren.
It wasn't easy at first, she said. There were some hard feelings. But time has confirmed that it was the right decision, Crevelli said. Now she makes a giant fruitcake to split between two of her offspring and gives the other two a bottle of wine. It has liberated her to enjoy the holidays again.
“All four of them have everything you could possibly want and they're running out of room,” she said. “Their houses are congested and closets full of clothes.”
A record 247 million people shopped stores and websites Black Friday weekend alone, beginning before their Thanksgiving feast was digested and dropping some $89 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. A lot of those consumers were already overextended. An Oxygen Media survey found 47 percent of adults saying they spent more than they could afford for the holidays and 36 percent admitted going into debt.
Even those with money to burn can be burned out from buying for an ever-expanding list that now seems to include even pets. So much stuff winds up re-gifted or sold for a buck at next year's yard sale.
The Crevellis, however, have joined a new resistance movement to tone down the gifting that, to some, threatens to choke out the true meaning of Christmas and Hanukkah. They're creating new traditions to short-circuit the pressure to shop.
Tricia Hoffman of Sebastopol was raised Jewish. And while the 65-year-old retiree no longer observes the faith, for the close relatives who do, she sends Hanukkah gelt (money) so they can use it any way they please — whether to buy, save or donate.
She spends Christmas day with a friend who invites about 15 people over for food, talk and games.
“There's never been a gift exchange,” she said. “Just an appreciation of the friends we have and what we do have in life.”
Diana Scott of Santa Rosa said when her children and her sister's children became adults, they decided to draw names.
“We buy one $50 present for one person and small inexpensive stocking stuffers for each person,” she explained. Then they pool the money they would have spent on gifts and get a vacation rental for three days at places such as Tahoe last year, and this year at Jenner.
“Everyone agrees our trips are by far the funnest Christmases we ever had,” she said. “It gives us all time to relax, enjoy wonderful easy meals, play games, go for hikes, silly dance, watch Christmas movies in our PJs and just be together.”
Katherine Rinehart of Petaluma, an historian who works for the Sonoma County Library, about four years ago cooked up the idea of confining gifts to anything edible. Family members, equally weary of gifting that had gotten out of hand, quickly signed on. There are no rules except no Hickory Farms, she said with a laugh. Just so long as it's edible.
“We've exchanged everything from meatballs to cupcakes, homemade caramels to minestrone soup,” said Rinehart, who plans on giving frozen crumb-topped apple pies from Santa Rosa's Criminal Baking Company this year, after discovering their deliciousness at a restaurant.
“Edible gifts are a way to keep spending down and hopefully avoid giving a gift that ends up stuffed in a closet,” she said. “Plus for those in the family that are good cooks and bakers, it gives them a chance to show off their talents.”
You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at email@example.com or 521-5204.
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