The Gift of Presence
The folks at Opploans asked me to contribute my expert advice on borrowing for the holidays. They put together this in-depth and beautiful e-book about holiday borrowing with tons of tips and information to get educated about borrowing. My column is on page 2 of the ebook, or on the web here.
When I was thinking about what to write, I could come up with a dozen reasons why going into debt is the wrong choice around the holidays: short term gains in the form of pleasure or someone else's happiness, in exchange for long term financial difficulties if you aren't able to pay off the credit card balance, interest stacks upon interest and you feel farther and farther behind.
But who wants to be reprimanded when they are stressed out, under pressure, and fearing the emotional responses of others' who they may disappoint?
Instead, I wrote about a Christmas many years ago, when my family didn't have a lot of income. What do I remember about that particular Christmas? I remember my family, my traditions, and what brings us together. Recalling the memory brought up a lot of emotion and a lot of gratitude. And you know, I don't even know what I received that year! Or most years, for that matter. I do remember what has real meaning.
The Gift of Presence
In light of the intensified work I've been doing to try to be more present in my daily life and interactions, it's become clear that presence and meaningfulness are connected. Intention and meaning. Intention and presence. Memories that hold true meaning.
I still love the spirit of Christmas, the decorating, the baking, the beautiful colors and creativity that people shine forth. I double down on awareness and gratitude. I also double down on 'me' time because without holding myself in a grounded, centered place, it would be much more difficult to find presence or avoid otherwise stressful situations.
My wish is for everyone is to find moments of genuine, heart-filled presence this holiday season!
FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY DURING THE HOLIDAYS
When a client asked me to contribute to an e-book about managing finances around the holidays, with the underlying message of responsible borrowing, I knew I faced a tough task. The intent of the book is commendable and bringing awareness and education to borrowing is needed. However, this is a touchy subject during one of the most stressful times of the year.
As an aside, I don't understand how Christmas became so stressful. When did this happen? Did it creep up or was it the advent of Cyber Monday? More importantly, why did we let it happen ...
Back to the client's request and my dilemma. On the one hand, we can all appreciate the pressures of gifting, especially for those with kids and the way everything about our lives can be on display through social media - instantly and live.
On the other hand, short-term gains can lead to long-term trouble when credit cards get loaded up, and double digit interest rates and compounding interest (at those rates) take bigger chunks out of monthly income, and there is a real risk of falling behind on payments. Consider that 14% of people are still paying off their holiday gift debt from 2016.
We choose our actions. We make a choice. We have a choice. And often we let the fear of emotional backlash, disappointment, anger and a whole host of other emotions cloud our judgement. We'd rather not face these uncomfortable feelings. They are unpleasant. They are tough. They are not pretty. So we cave in. We push them away by piling onto the credit card or dipping into savings accounts. We kick the 'emotional discomfort can' down the road.
We've been led to believe by our society and through intensified marketing and media that asking for, and getting what we ask for, is the modern spirit of Christmas. As I was preparing the article, I remembered an event from many years ago. This memory became the article and the message I had been searching for, without the need to devolve into cliches.
THE GIFT OF PRESENCE
Christmas is my family’s favorite holiday. It always has been. Since I can remember, my parents, my sisters and I would prepare for the big day as early as possible. Trimming the tree, decorating the house, baking cookies and getting into those little chocolate countdown calendar windows. We loved wrapping presents and setting gifts for each other under the tree.
There’s one Christmas in particular that I'll always remember. When I was 14, right before the school year started, our family moved across the country and my parents didn’t have steady income. At first, nothing about this Christmas seemed different than the other years. We set up the tree in our new living room in early December and me and my sisters were our usual, excited, chocolate-eating selves all month.
On Christmas morning, we ran out to the living room to see what gifts my parents laid out the night before, still tagging them ‘From: Santa’. What we saw wasn’t what we expected. There weren’t that many gifts from Santa. The tree, the room … felt almost empty. We were visibly disappointed. I remember feeling miffed and even angry.
While my sisters sorted the gifts, I glanced back toward the hallway. I saw my Mom crying into my Father’s arms. This is not how they wanted our first Christmas in our new home to be. They didn’t want us to feel like we couldn’t have what we wanted. That they couldn’t give us what they had been able to give us before. That they had disappointed us, on such a special and meaningful day. My heart sank.
My Dad said something to my Mom. She nodded. She wiped her tears, turned toward the living room, and with a big, heartfelt smile and a red nose, came onto the scene to wish us Merry Christmas. Then, she did what she always does: cracked open some mandarins to snack on while we started our Christmas day together, chatting excitedly and sharing hugs and kisses for our gifts. There weren’t many, but it didn’t matter.
We carried on with our traditions, with the things we loved most about this holiday: preparing a big Christmas lunch together (we’re an Italian family!), watching movies in the afternoon, playing games, munching on sweets, heading outside to play in the snow with the dogs, then getting right back to preparing our Christmas dinner, watching more movies and eating panettone. This is our Christmas. Every year. And we love it the same, no matter what’s under the tree.
Our holidays, and the meaning of the holidays, run deeper than the gifts we unwrap.
That year, my parents made a difficult choice. A choice that had uncomfortable emotional consequences. But after that moment of disappointment and sadness passed, we still had our family and the traditions that kept us looking forward to this time of year, every year. My parents also showed us that they weren’t going to let presents ruin family tradition and a special when we truly all hang out together-- being there with each other, being present, and being a family.
This year, what can you do to give the gift of presence? Your presence. To really be present with family and loved ones. To enjoy the moments and the nuances. To know you’re making memories. To feel the energy, the warmth, and the love. To remember why you celebrate.
What if the physical gift became less important? What if the meaning of Christmas is more about being with family and loved ones, enjoying traditions, having fun, and creating experiences? What would you do if you decided that this Christmas is going to be about less presents and more presence?