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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

Dawn's 2007 Cornball Holiday Post

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

bread and puppet

"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Dawn's 2007 Cornball Holiday Post

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If you heard something that sounded like a whoop of great glee, that was me finally finishing my holiday cards for this year. If you requested a card from me, then you should have it already or it should arrive shortly; I sent out the cards for online friends first, last week, since they were going all over the US and world and I wanted to give them plenty of time to arrive. I know that Maryland-to-Maryland cards, at this time of the year, generally only take two or three days, so yes, my family got pushed to the back of the line! :^P

I am home sick from work today, since I woke up at 4:30 with the start of a sore throat and a head that felt like it was filled with cement. Since there was absolutely nothing for me to do at work today--I would have spent the day finishing my cards and writing gift stories--then I did not see the point of going to work, prolonging my illness, and exposing all of my coworkers and the inmates to my illness, right before Christmas when people don't need to be miserable and sick and sneezing over their roast beasts. (*eeewwww*)

My illness is totally my fault. This year--as in pretty much every December since I officially arrived at Adulthood--I did too much in too short of time. Sharon and Kirsty are over for the holidays, and we all went to dinner last night, and after everyone left, I got into the shower and went to bed at 10 o'clock like a little old lady because I've been exhausted for weeks now. And I'm still annoyed that this year, for the first time in years, I never got to making candy. So those of you who usually get candy from me for Christmas: I am not snubbing anyone. I am snubbing everyone because I didn't make candy at all! I hope to make up for it with some most awesome ice cream pies.

But the good news is that I am feeling better as the day progresses. The day off has also served a nice secondary function in letting me get some things done that I've been neglecting. Like laundry. Yesterday, after spending the day constantly rearranging the waistband of my underwear because all I had left clean were too small and kept digging into my hips (tmi, I know), then I realized that, yes, I need to brave the freezing cold laundry room and do some washing. (Though my lovely husband bought me a small portable heater for the laundry room! Awwww ...)

So anyway, this year, Bobby and I have tried a great new Christmastime experiment. We have hardly bought any gifts. We have decided to do things differently. Instead of spending a boatload on each other for crap that the other one will never use, then we got a few items that we need (Bobby got egg armor; I got a sewing machine and book on illumination that Master Tristan recommended) and are saving the rest to travel to England in the spring. And instead of buying our families junk that they don't want or need just to say, "I bought you something!" then we put together a big family dinner on Sunday at a really nice Italian restaurant in the area that we are paying for.

We cleared this with everyone ahead of time. Hey, I said, if they want junk or gift cards or the usual crap that we buy, then that's fine. But personally ... I'd rather spend time with the people I care about instead of spending money just to say that I spent money.

This has been a growing philosophy of mine for the past few years. It was a matter of getting Bobby to understand my views ... and the holidays are so personal for everyone that it wasn't something I ever wanted to force on him. Still, I would be lying if I said that it didn't create some tension, when I wanted to set spending limits and use the money we saved on a weekend trip or a really nice evening out, and we'd constantly exceed those limits ... and a year later, neither of us could remember what we'd gotten the year prior. And I still have Games Workshop models that cost a good deal of money, still wrapped in the box, from our first Christmas as a married couple in 2004. And Bobby still has DVDs that I bought him that we've never watched.

But this year, it was Bobby's suggestion, so of course, I was right on board. And I won't be dishonest: There have been times where I've felt uncomfortable and cheap and lazy, wondering if I am doing the right thing. It's just so ingrained in our culture that the holidays mean spending a load of money on gifts for people to show that you care. And I'm not opposed to gifts. But gifts just for the sake of giving things, without thought as to whether the recipient wants, needs, or will appreciate it, just doesn't make sense to me.

I keep telling myself that. In truth, receiving gifts has become an uncomfortable affair for me because half of the stuff I know I'll never use, and it just doesn't seem worth it. But I always worry that other people will feel sad or cheated, not getting loads of gifts for Christmas, but don't want to say that because my idea certainly embodies the true-meaning-of-Christmas message that serves as the capstone to every cheeseball Hallmark holiday classic: It's not the gifts you get but the joy that you share. All together now: Awwwwww ... Many an otherwise funny holiday movie has been ruined by that notion laid on thick with a putty knife.

But, at the same time, we confuse giving things with giving in general. Take what I consider to be the most detestable Christmas song ever written (and there are plenty that annoy me terribly, but this one actually disgusts me), "The Christmas Shoes." (Lyrics here) Last year, I was on the verge of ranting about this song in my journal, but everyone who I mentioned my misgivings about the song to in real life told me that I was either over-analyzing it or missing the point, and I was worried about much the same here and didn't have the strength to answer such comments at the time. But I've thought about it more and am now convinced that I am not over-analyzing it and I am not missing the point: The song is about a little boy whose mother could die at any minute, and instead of spending those last minutes with her, making memories that he will cherish for the rest of his life (and that will probably infinitely brighten what little remains of hers), he is out in a store, trying to buy her a pair of shoes with pennies and begging money off of strangers when he comes up short. Oh, and he wants her to look beautiful in case she "meets Jesus tonight," because we all know that Jesus really gives a shit about our corporeal beauty. But I digress.

My point in all of this is that, yes, we all echo the mantra about Christmas (or the holidays in general) being about giving, giving, giving. And yes, giving is good. The Felagund family gives to charity every year at the holidays. I give lots of time to making stories and cards and candy (well, not this year on the last bit ...) that I know will delight people. And I have given--and received--gifts that will be remembered forever.

But like "The Christmas Shoes," giving things for the sake of giving things reaches a point where it does more harm than good. What is that little boy missing while standing in a long queue to buy a pair of shoes? This year, without having to brave the malls multiple times looking for junk that would pass as gifts for people who neither need nor want anything material, it is amazing how much more I have been able to enjoy the holidays. Bobby and I have had time to watch multiple movies together, all of the classics of which we usually pick one or two each year. We have had time to drive around with the dogs looking at lights in the neighborhood. We went to the North Carroll High School choral program the other night, and we are going to Hershey Park on Saturday. We have had time for two shows and several dinners with our families. We have actually gotten to interact with each other more than tired, footsore salespeople in the mall.

Yes, I am still tired; yes, I am still busy because every minute between those activities has been crunched with different holiday tasks, but this is honestly the first year that I have really enjoyed our traditions since I was a kid. Usually, we run out of time and energy for everything that we want to do.

But anyway. The big Christmas experiment in the House of Felagund has not yet reached its full and complete conclusion, so we'll see.
  • I really love the idea of giving experiences and memories for Christmas, though it's not necessarily less stressful for anyone involved than giving material gifts. (Try scheduling anything with my family!) But I'd totally love it if my parents announced, "No presents over $5 for each other this year--we're going to dinner, then seeing a movie, and we're using the money we'll save to go to [insert exotic place here]."
    • True ... though I think for me, it just feels more like "stress well spent," if that makes any sense. :) I don't balk at stress, but I also don't see the point in subjecting myself to it for something that's essentially meaningless just because tradition tells me that I must. "You must go to the mall during Christmastime!" "You must get stuck in traffic in the Best Buy parking lot for a half-hour!" I don't mind either of these things if I feel they'll be worth it for the person I'm shopping for, but too many times these days, I just feel that they're not ...

      I hope that you and your family had a great holiday too, btw! :)
  • I'm a little curious -- why is giving Christmas presents such an all-or-nothing proposition? It seems like your choices are either "give useless stuff just for the sake of spending money" or "don't give anything, give time." Surely, somewhere in this vast, rich country, one must be able to find Christmas presents that would be wanted and/or needed.

    Or is there something else that I'm not understanding here?
    • Possibly. :)

      When one really does want or need anything, then yes. And that is the situation in which I find myself, personally, and many of my family.

      I am not a material person and what few things I need I tend to need in a rather pressing sense, like new clothes or shoes, and can't or don't want to wait for a holiday to give me an excuse to ask for them.

      My family wants or needs nothing so far as I can discern; queries as to ideas of what we might get them usually resulted in much hemming and hawing and, eventually, the purchase of "consolation gifts": "Hey, look, I got you something!" Recently, we'd been getting our parents "a night on the town": dinner certificates and vouchers for movies or movie rentals (since my dad won't sit in a movie theater), which worked well. This year, we decided to do the same thing but all at once, so that we could spend that time together.

      Sure, there have been times when I can find something a person will truly like or value. I mentioned that in the post. When this is the case, then I love giving gifts that are tangible items. For example, one year, Bobby, Sharon, and I chipped in for a set of dishes that my mom really wanted. She still uses--and loves--them. That was a good gift and something tangible to go under the tree.

      I don't love giving gifts when it's just junk purchased just to say that I gave a gift. And more often than not, in our family, that's what it was turning out to be.

      I hope that's clearer?
  • Well, ho, ho, ho and Merry Christmas to you too! Those lyrics of "The Christmas Shoes" are just plain nasty--eww, yuk. I, however, was never able to appreciate the famous O. Henry story ("The Gift of the Magi") about a couple who decide to exchange Christmas presents--she cuts her hair to buy him a chain for his watch and he pawns his watch to buy her a fancy comb for her hair. The point was supposed to be that materials things are not important, but love is... Unfortunately, I grew up very poor in an extremely materialistic society. The story made me feel suicidal. A nun in grade school asked me (the smart kid in my class) what this story taught us. I answered, "That being poor is really awful." Then she tried to redeem the situation and give me a second chance and asked, "Well, how does it make you feel about the young couple when you read it?" I said, "That they should just shoot themselves." I got the point. But couldn't resist being a real smartass. It is really gruesome for kids to be surrounded by a culture that teaches them to want what their parents cannot afford to give them and that buying useless things (often on a credit card) is what one SHOULD do at Christmas. I completely lost my thrill in giving when my son reached the age where he asked for things and purported to want to assign them to Christmas. (Like "I really want a new wetsuit, surf board, electronic game, etc." (usually something I did NOT have the cash for at the moment). "You can get it for me now and not get me a Christmas present.")

    I hope you enjoy your Christmas. It sounds like a wonderful idea. You'll remember the gathering forever, but you would never remember two years from now what anyone got anyone else for Christmas (unless it was so ludicrous as to become one of those a priceless bits of ridiculous family lore).

    Edited at 2007-12-20 10:17 pm (UTC)
    • You'd been spared hearing "The Christmas Shoes" on the radio? Oh, lucky you ...

      Though I've been spared "The Gift of the Magi," so maybe we're even. ;)

      My parents are gift assigners. They get us show tickets every year; they got us a mattress last year ... then they buy us Christmas gifts anyway. I think it's their way of getting off with buying us stuff that they can afford easily and we can't without making it look like charity.

      Unfortunately, the gathering had to be postponed since half of the family (including me) was sick with the flu. But we're hoping to reschedule for this Sunday, and hopefully, no one gets sick!
  • Hmmzzz *hugs* I still have an e-mail that I need to reply to, but something else go priority. You take it easy! Tea with honey, and I'd wish I could give you a bag of honey licquiorice to suckle on: works wonders.

    And yes! I got the kick ass card, wowie, I love it. I was looking at the door on which I have taped ribbons and it hangs snugly amidst other self-made christmas cards! Will take a picture if you want to.

    Speaking of giving, today I also got a card from someone else that moved me to tears, Nienna's daughter send me a drawing two weeks ago that I loved and got a honorary place at the fridge, but today I received a unique Christmas letter with a photo from her own collection (she's on your flist, so by now, if she reads the comments, she will hopefully smile). Anyway the small story or memory deeply moved me, also because in a way, it almost seemed she brought me back to my own childhood. That is what giving is about. Besides that she snuck in a magnet for on the fridge that had me grinning. It is a connection, from my own 'belief', I think that Yuletide is about connecting, combining strength and knowing that as of tomorrow light will overwin darkness. Time of introspectiveness is nearly over, we are reaching out again. No this is not alike the Christmas spirit at all of giving and spending oodles of money on presents. But then again, perhaps I am just different.

    This year we're staying at home. Hubby is a hermit and wants to spend Christmas with his family (the 3 of us), because for 12 years we travelled only during these two days, getting stuck at train stations while it was freezing cold (most often between -5 or -10C) and all of that. So I have been pondering what kinda dinner Kevin might like and I think we end up playing or watching movies together. No gift giving, as you say and as we both believe: during the year we can get us anything we need, Christmas shouldn't be different. Instead I rather concentrate on the meaning of this time of the year and preventing that Kevin raids the Christmas tree ;)

    So hug Kirsty and Sharon for me and have a fab time coming Sunday!
    • I also got a letter and a magnet from our mutual friend that was so unexpected and delightful! Actually, I usually enjoy the cards from online friends so much more than those from RL people, whom I can usually tell bought a discount box of cards and scribbled their names without even knowing (or caring) which card would go to which recipient. Or they'll send us Christian cards, which is even funnier, since neither Bobby nor I is Christian. Just goes to show who knows us best. ;)

      On traveling for holidays ... yes! For so many years, I felt like I spent most of my Christmas in the car going from house to house because Bobby and I weren't married, and though we counted each other as our primary family, try telling that to annoyed parents! One of the good things about finally getting married is that we can count as a family unit now and put each other first, then take care of the rest. And now that we have a house, we can occasionally host holidays and let others do the traveling!

      I hope that you and your family had a great day! *hugs*
  • Hmm, haven't got the card yet...Did you send it to TX or CO? (If CO, it might just be sitting in my mailbox!)

    That song reminds me of those stupid annoying chain emails that usually end with "If you don't send this to 30 people, God will SMITE YOU!!!"

    We used to give little "gift certificates" for things like making dinner or cleaning the house.

    I hate buying gifts because I never know what to get. Sometimes things jump out at me. This year, my brother jokingly told me to buy him a dildo. I am sorely tempted to do so, as a joke. >:)

    This year has been a pretty low-stress Christmas, except for Louis de-decorating. *femurs!* And grades, but that technically isn't Christmas related.
    • I sent it to TX, but you got yours later than the rest of teh flist because I sent yours a couple days later, as you would have been traveling on the day I expected it to arrive, and I wanted you to arrive before it did. :)

      Anyway, I hope you have it by now ... ?

      That song reminds me of those stupid annoying chain emails that usually end with "If you don't send this to 30 people, God will SMITE YOU!!!"

      *sneeerk* Have you ever read the glurge gallery on Snopes.com? It collects those sorts of emails, and funnier than that, reveals the darker messages in some of them. Kind of like "Christmas Shoes," once you look past the cheap sentimentality, what's left isn't really the message that anyone expects.

      This year, my brother jokingly told me to buy him a dildo. I am sorely tempted to do so, as a joke. >:)

      My sister-in-law (Bobby's sister) has been threatening to buy my dad butt beads for two years now ...
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  • Oh, Dawn. Your card was here when I got home today. It's beautiful. Thank you so much.
    • You're welcome! I'm glad that it arrived safely. Dealing with the post office is always a crapshoot.
  • I see your point, but I do think there is more to it.

    People show their love in different ways. For some people, giving gifts (*not* spending money - giving gifts) is how they let people know that they care about them and were thinking of them. For others, it's giving compliments, or doing something nice and thoughtful for the other person... Heh, I haven't thought that much about it, but here's a guy who's broken it all down: Five Love Languages

    Whether you buy into his categories or not, I think it is important to realize that there are many ways of showing someone we love them. If you choose to do one instead of another, that is fine - especially if what you are doing is going to be more meaningful or memorable. It's just important to make sure we understand what the other person values - my sister has always enjoyed the idea of secret gifts and wrapping them in interesting ways, so if I just gave her something without even wrapping it, she'd be really disappointed. Whereas my brothers are more into 'hand over the loot - don't worry about wrapping it up or anything.' If your family wasn't really getting much out of rote gift exchanges - it's good to rethink them. Being generous can take many forms, and isn't always (or even often) measured by how much you spend. If we all think back to the best gifts we've ever received - they likely weren't the most expensive thing we ever got. So I hope your family dinner goes well, and sparks a new tradition and many memories that you can share in years to come.

    I do sometimes hesitate to justify things with 'and so then I can take a trip!' because that always feels like I'm shortchanging someone else. I think it's better to think of it as you are - 'I really want to spend some great time with you, so we're going to -"

    About the song - there are lots of reasons to dislike it, but it's mostly just depressing to think about a kid losing his mother at Christmas, no matter how you dice it. As for what to do when someone is dying - it is natural to want to give them a chance to have the thing they've always wanted. My dad has had busy weekends all fall, and just had a free one this past weekend. But we got a call that his brother-in-law has two weeks to live, so my dad drove up to visit him. He wanted to talk to him, to have a chance to say goodbye - but my uncle wanted him to set up a drill press at his work bench in the garage. So...he did. By himself. He certainly questioned *why* he was doing this...but thought, if that's what the guy really wanted, and he's not long for this world...well then, who is he to argue? For my uncle, it's tools. For the woman in the song, it's shoes. If the boy can give his mom something that will make her happy before she dies...well, that is important to him. You are questioning why his being at her bedside holding her hand won't make her happy (fair enough!)...but some people need to do something to feel they are contributing. 'Just being' doesn't make any sense to them.

    Maybe these are character flaws. I'm not trying to justify any of this. Just...I think it is worth understanding that something that seems meaningless to one person can be really important to someone else (as you know - you strike as a very sensitive person who is well aware of how people can be...much moreso than me!)
    • I suppose that, for me, the song has never given me any impression that the dying mother was a "shoe person" or really would have been made that much happier by the gift her son sacrificed his last moments with her to give. I'm not one to pass judgment on the last requests of others--I recognize that sending someone to do or get something that one has always wanted may be a way to avoid thinking or talking about the inevitability of the situation, if nothing else--but the feeling I've always gotten from the song is, "Mama gave up lots of stuff to make life as good as she could for us; now she's dying so I'm going to spend money to get this thing that I think she would like," and--from the narrator's PoV--"I found the true meaning of Christmas in giving money to this strange kid to buy this gift for his mother." Personally, I think it would have been even more generous of the narrator to get the kid a taxi home so that he'd not only get there quicker but safer (because, really, what the hell is a "little boy" doing out in shops by himself?), and it's things like this that really turn me off on this song: "I threw money at an issue so that makes me a good person." I just don't see any indication that anyone has considered whether that gift was well-informed or even something that the woman would have wanted.

      Personally, given the impression I have from the song that the woman is self-sufficient to the point of being being self-sacrificial, I imagine she'd also be terribly mortified that her son is out begging money off of strangers on Christmas Eve, "dirty from head to toe," and pretty much making it look like every care she tried to give him and every lesson she tried to teach him came to naught. But then, I have been accused before of reading too much into this song ... blame hearing it 100 times a day on LITE102 from Thanksgiving to New Year! :^P
  • Hey you! How's it going? I'm sorry to hear that you are sick but you had better get plenty of rest and be perfectly healthy for the fulfilling of the Felagund Christmas Experiment. ;p

    Whoa, I have a lot of catching up to do with your news and the other people on my f-list, since I haven't been around in ages.

    Your views on Christmas and gift-giving are pretty similar to mine. (not that this is surprising, or anything) I'm not a big fan of wasting countless hours in crowded places, buying junk and wrapping it nicely either. The kind of gifts I like to give and receive consists of symbolic, funny stuff that doesn't cost a fortune and will put a smile on anyone's face. Good, quality time spent with your loved ones is worth a lot more than fancy gifts (however Hallmarkish that sounds!) So, this year, on the 25th, I want my family to come with me to Sibiu (because I have to work on the 26th) and have a nice, long stroll through the awesomely decorated streets. (Since Sibiu has been the European Cultural Capital this year, they went all out to make the place look extra shiny for the holidays) Also, I'd like to take everyone ice-skating, even though neither of us can skate and we'll all end up with sore bottoms. But that's what the holiday spirit is all about, eh?

    I'm off to read some of your pressie stories. I am totally behind on that to the point where Tarion is all but kicking my ass for it. ;)

    Take good care of yourself and have an excellent time this Christmas. Give Bobby and everyone else my best wishes!

    • That sounds like lovely Christmas plans! Did it work out as you'd hoped? :)

      I'm all for Hallmarkishness. ;) Part of it, I guess, is that I really do enjoy being with my family. For people who aren't lucky--like I am--to have a really cool family, I can see the value (and relief) in buying a gift or a gift card and finding that superior to spending time. Some of the stories I hear about people's families make my skin crawl.

      Now my family is scary but only in the most delightful ways. ;)

      Our dinner hasn't happened yet ... we all ended up with the flu! It's been a pretty miserable holiday, but we've done our best with it.

      Best wishes to you and yours too! *hugs*
  • I wish my mother-in-law (who is extremely nice as mothers-in-law go) shared your views about gifts but no way, she'll always buy gifts for everybody and so everybody feels that they can't *not* give and the circle continues one more year. Even in 2001, I now remember, when the whole country collapsed on the 20th of December (the president had been kicked out, the savings were frozen in the banks, there were riots in the streets) she took the trouble of getting something for everybody. So out we go again to get silly but original or fun or at least useful gifts (a pair of socks *ewww*). I'm particularly proud of what we got for my youngest nephew (12 years old) who likes to cook: an apron and a cook's hat for -rough estimate- between $6 and $7. You should also consider that here it's summer: yesterday the temperature hit 37º and we almost died. Luckily a cold front blew the heat away and today is a lovely day (not higher than 25º) and the shopping was more pleasant.
    I'm not too sure what's the correct way to say it in English so I'll shift to Spanish: Feliz Navidad! I hope you have a great day on Sunday and everybody enjoys the dinner
    • Feliz Navidad tambien! :)

      As for Sunday ... well, we all ended up with the flu, so we've postponed our dinner plans. Talk about bad luck, but for everyone being sick, we've still had a pretty good time on Christmas Day itself.

      Now you m-i-l has gift-giving dedication! I am reminded of when I turned eighteen and a tropical storm blew through Maryland. (A tropical storm being a grade below a hurricane; I still think it was a portent, a sign of things to come on my coming-of-age! ;) Bobby really wanted to get me a Playstation for my birthday, so he was out driving in the near-hurricane; powerlines are down everywhere, tree branches covering the roads, and he's worried about getting me a damned video game. I yelled at him for that, but we had fun with the Playstation (though the storm knocked out my parents' power for eight days so it was a while before we could play it) and we still joke about it to this day.
  • Passing by ;)

    I just sent you e-mail, forgive me delay!
    • Re: Passing by ;)

      Great idea about a dinner instead of gifts and a trip t England instead of not important stuff (though I'm sure you and Bobby know what to buy each other to avoid junk, don't you?). I hate junk presents - useless, kitschy, unwanted, bought just to buy anything, pure waste of money, I rather prefer nothing than forced anything I have no idea what to do with.
    • Re: Passing by ;) - dawn_felagund - Expand
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