It was Christmas in July.
No, seriously. The lights weren't up but I had started racking my brain about who I had to get gifts for, who I had to mail gifts to early and who I had to think extra hard about because they are the most impossible people to buy gifts for in the world.
Twenty-seven degrees. Ding Dong Merrily on High.
And then it was Christmas again in August, September, October, November, and still, even right now. Except now it actually is Christmas. So you can see how I am completely freaking out.
Because I am buying nothing new for Christmas. Nothing new. I can't just scoot to the mall, lay down my credit card and buy my way out of holiday overload.
Yeah, yeah, I hear ya. Everyone's swamped. The holidays are stressful, blabbity, blabbity, egg-nog bloating, chipped a nail, triple-booked parties, no time to shop...
Sorry, but I've got you topped. I'm buying nothing new. Get it? I've got to make every present I'm giving.
Look, I always plan early to tackle the holiday deluge—I start making side-of-my-daytimer lists in August. Which is good. Great, even. Except they look like this:
Mom - ?
Dad - ???????
Nann - photo?
You get the picture. I'm a well-intentioned failure.
But I'm not a complete boob; I'm not one of those Christmas-Eve-at-11pm-at-the-drugstore kind of shoppers. Still, I never quite get a handle on holiday gift-giving as early as I'd like.
This year? It's a whole different box of goo-filled chocolates.
This whole buying-nothing-new thing started back in February as a pact between a group of about a dozen or so. The reasoning seemed good at the time—we'd decrease our impact on the environment and steer clear of the trappings of consumer culture, at least a smidgen. Now, in December, the reasoning is still sound, but the follow-through is one big goddamn pain in the arse.
And, yes, I'll answer the daft questions now—food is exempt from this year-long exercise; I'm not dumpster-diving. Also off the hook are products that fall under the rubric of health care or safety, like birth control pills or smoke detector batteries. These provisory categories allow for a mind-boggling array of interpretations. Take, as an example, mascara. After about four months it not only gets gunky, it's an honest-to-Betsy metropolis of bacteria, all jostling up next to each other in a unicellular frenzy, waiting for their turn to jump off the brush and go lick your eyeball. Clearly, in consideration of this, buying new mascara is a safety issue. But I could just as easily avoid the germs by not tarting myself up every morning like a painted lady.
See, it all depends which way I want to argue the thing (and, well, yeah, I have been buying mascara). But I'm really trying to stick to the spirit of this buying-nothing-new thing. And that means no mascara—or anything else new—for people this season.
Here's what that decision all comes down to: either I'm a grinch or a grouch.
Grinchy people don't give gifts at all. Let's face it, the term is no longer strictly Seussian, it has come, like Scrooge, to describe anyone who scrunches up his or her nose in the face of jingling bells and excited children. The Grinch label stands for anyone who bald-face scoffs at the elation that attends the holiday season. Anyone who refuses, out-and-out, for no particular reason, to give gifts.
But a new meaning's been born. The new grinch, as defined by the New York Times in late November, is "the green evangelist of the family—the impassioned activist bent on eradicating the wasteful materialism of the holidays." Don't get excited, recyclers—people hate that kind of grinch too.
I don't want to be hated, OK? But if I'm not wallowing in some form of grinchitude, then it appears I am
destined to fall in footstep with western culture's other great green eccentric. Because hand-fashioning 30-odd gifts is making me grouchy. I mean, how many scarves can I knit? How many felted tea cozies can I put together? And who wants this shit, anyway?
Not my nephew. He wants a game for his Wii—SpongeBob's Atlantis SquarePantis. And not my daughter. She asked, inexplicably, for a plastic snowman. Now where the fuck am I going to find that used?
So what am I left with? After my little fingers have been worn to nubs from tippy-tap-typing all day on my computer and then crafting all night to make half-ass gifts for everyone I know? I'll tell you what I'm left with, two weeks before the blessed birthday of Jesus Christ when I'm supposed to have all my shit together (like I planned I would, back in July!): one third of my gifts made and the rest left to figure out.
So the spirit of the environmental pledge I've made will be gobbled up—in part—by the commercial so-called spirit of the Christmas season and I will fall back on the caveat to this season of buying-nothing-new: gift certificates.
For experiences, that is, not objects.
Unless they're charity items—you know, all those goats and chickens and mosquito nets you can buy from Oxfam and Foster Parents Plan on behalf of the privileged many on your list for the people who actually need them. (Problem there is, I gave a shit load of those goats away last year and I like to keep things fresh.)
So it's gift certificates. For dinners. For used clothes. For museum passes. For
massages. For Brazilian waxes. (How's that for a conundrum? I'm buying nothing new for a year to decrease my impact on the environment and I'm willing to buy every man, woman and child on my list a free pass to create a mountain of hairy wax-balls that get tossed in the trash. Maybe I'll go with pedicures...no! Rats! Chemical solvents and lacquers! Maybe...)
See? No wonder I'm grouchy.
The pitfalls are inescapable. And the only way to buy myself out of it is to not buy myself out of it—which, if you're following, is to buy nothing. At all. For anyone. But then we're back to me = the Grinch. And that's no good either.
I'm trying to make the holidays fun. Really, I am. Because I love Christmas. I buy into all the sucrose promise of the season—I literally get verklempt when I hear my favourite carol, "Good King Wenceslas" (it helps when it's the Skydiggers version, too).
He is good, King Wenceslas. And what does he give for Christmas, to yonder peasant he sees gathering wood for his fire?
Pine logs, meat and wine. Everything for a fine evening's enjoyment. Bam!
He hikes those gifts a good league hence, no less (that's an hour's walk, in case your knowledge of obsolete medieval measures is wanting, or, for some reason, you have no
access to Wikipedia). He tromps with the food and fuel through a blizzard, and he doesn't stop, even though his page is all, like, dude, it is too dark, and too blustery and too goddamn cold (and, am I even getting paid for this, sire!?)
I guess Wenceslas was buying nothing new, too (with that food exemption tossed in). Not only that, but he sourced his gifts locally, and he didn't use greenhouse gas-emitting machinery to speed it to its recipient.
Most importantly: he did it on short-call. The lyrics to "Good King Wenceslas" tell us the King arranged his gift on the fly and "forth they went," he and his page, on the evening of St. Stephen's Day. That's December 26. And he didn't start getting his shit together in July.
Maybe that's my problem. I'm planning too much.
Lezlie Lowe is sewing, right now, even as you read this. Can you hear her cursing? You can read her buying-nothing-new blog at myspace.com/lezlielowe.