Addendum to the Alternate Holidays Theme

Last time, I talked about how our family moved the celebration of Thanksgiving to focus on the essence of togetherness and family. Today, I’ll tell you how we approach Christmas to emphasize thoughtfulness and caring.

When we first got married, my wife and I were both struggling to get out from under difficult economic circumstances. At the same time, we were committed to making Christmas a special time for the new family we had created. She and I shared a passion for making things, and she had raised her daughters to value this, too. In addition, we enjoyed flea marketing as a family activity. Even though we called all of our destinations “junk stores,” we did not mean anything negative by it. Every one of us wanted to keep caring for objects that had brought someone else joy, but for whatever reason were no longer needed or used.

We made a rule: all presents given at Christmas had to be hand-made or pre-owned.

Before you have us committed to a mental health facility,


consider the effects this creates. It requires everyone to take a step back and really think about the other people. What do they value? What do they do? What will they use? It promotes self-awareness and reflection. What can I find or create that they will enjoy? How can I make them happy by my efforts? Best of all it frees us from the tyranny of the American planned-obscelescence industry. Where can I find meaningful presents that aren’t the new trendy electronic gimmicks? 

Of course, electronics can still be a part of our gift-giving. Once, I made my wife’s daughter a guitar amplifier out of simple components from Radio Shack housed in a cracker box.


(And now, a moment of silence for the passing of a great resource.)

Sometimes, I have made things to help people make other things. On different occasions, I have given my wife a vacuum-forming machine, a custom fountain pen made on the lathe, and a combination yarn winder and swift.


Sometimes I have found cast-off items that help people carry out the activities they love. My wife’s scientific daughter has gotten an antique binocular microscope that I had to disassemble and clean to make it usable, an old high-school triple-beam balance, and her own small portable telescope.

I have received incredible sweaters and socks, books about my hobbies, a final project from Industrial Arts class, a lettering guide for mechanical drawing, a custom-finished storage cabinet for my fountain pens…I could go on all day. I treasure them all, and I always will.

Everyone has heard that it’s the thought that counts. Nowhere is that more apparent than in our house.

Go Your Own Way

Because I’m such a confirmed curmudgeon, people always assume I’m against every innovation and change in the way things happen. Not true. However, in order for me to embrace a change, I need to be convinced that the new way helps me do what I already need to do, and do it better or more pleasantly than I could before.

Here’s an example: twenty years ago, I completely embraced the pay-at-the-pump concept of buying gasoline. I was willing to drive miles out of my way to a station that allowed me to use a debit card (no chance of getting in trouble by spending money I don’t have yet) at the pump, rather than going inside and having to talk to someone. By eliminating unwanted human interaction, that technology has made my life better.

It didn’t stop with gasoline, either. Paying at the pump made me realize how much I hated carrying cash and having coins rattle in my pocket. Now I simply don’t spend money if currency comes into play. I can’t remember the last time I had cash in my wallet. (It took me years to see the hideous redesign of U.S. money. But I care less than I wold have when I was young. I simply never use the stuff.)




Here’s another: my wife and I were among the first of what are commonly known as “cord cutters.” More than a decade ago, we realized that we paid a princely sum for cable television each month, and we had hundreds of channels coming into our house, but nothing we wanted to see was ever on. Perversely, we felt obligated to look for programs to watch because we didn’t want to waste what we paid to the cable company. We lost whole evenings scrolling through the channel guide (admit it: you have, too), and we’ll never get that time back.

When we finally cancelled our subscription, this was such an unusual phenomenon that the cable guy could not believe it; even when he was on our doorstep collecting our boxes, he kept offering price reductions and extended contracts to keep us captive. I had to tell him five times that we were really sure what we were doing.

We began streaming our programming through a dedicated computer connected to our television and stereo.


(The box that started it all.)

You see- we don’t fear technology, but we make it work for us rather than the other way around. All these years later, we cannot imagine having to watch something when the network decided it’s on and having to sit through commercials, or not being able to pause and refresh our martinis. Sure, the cable companies have since caught up by offering video recording capability and allowing you to skip commercials. But we figured out how to do it first because it made our lives better.

So, what made me think of all this now? The way we do holidays, like the Thanksgiving that has just passed. Like our electronics, our holidays exist to serve us, rather than our serving them.

Early last week, one of my wife’s co-workers asked her if she was “ready for the holidays.” For a moment, my wife did not understand the question because holiday stress is so far from our experience. Before we ever met, we had both realized how sick we were of racing around fulfilling perceived obligations when we should have been relaxing and enjoying time spent with the people closest to us. When we first moved into our house, we decided to be the hosts of Thanksgiving and Christmas so we could avoid the travel and the commotion of dropping by a gathering only to rush out to the next appointment.

This was a good start, but it still meant her daughters (and whatever boyfriends/husbands were in tow) could only stay for part of the day. The solution? Move the day. There’s nothing magical about the fourth Thursday in November. Turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes taste just as good on Friday or Saturday!


I guarantee we use more butter than you do.

Only now, our loved ones get their obligations out of the way when society demands, then spend “our” Thanksgiving relaxing with appetizers, cocktails, a roaring fire, an old-time radio show, a puzzle, a walk with the dogs, a meal, a James Bond movie (we don’t call it “Family Bonding” for nothing), a nap, some stargazing, or WHATEVER ANYBODY WANTS TO DO. No pressure. No expectations. But real thanksgiving for what we value. Now, everyone who has experienced our version can’t wait for it.

Some people have actually said to us that our holiday “doesn’t count” because it doesn’t happen when the [retail] calendar decrees.


All I can say is, I’ll think about you from my comfy couch while you’re standing in line to buy some gadget that’s already obsolete. And, trust me, I’ll be giving thanks.