News & Articles
Browse all content by date.
How should one feel around the holidays? Should I be automatically propelled to be in a jovial mood because I hear Christmas tunes on the radio? My strongest holiday sentiment is resisting buyer optimism. At the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church annual rummage sale I already snagged four to five designer blouses, which arrive every year from a New York donor who has access to state-of-the-art samples and designer overstock. I wrote out a check to the Damiano Center two weeks before Thanksgiving because I felt guilty taking a purse and boots after transporting someone less fortunate there. During the Christmas season of 1992 I was living near Madison, Wisconsin, where a group of protestors raged against excessive shopping sprees in front of a mall.
Black Friday should consist of a meeting of the Dead Heads or a candle-lighting ceremony for Joan Jett and the Runaways. The very words symbolize and connote doom. I will give a pass to the people who want good deals, but I question my inner devotion to all things non-material. Isn’t it a crime to always have to shop at the Goodwill or Savers? Is it an act of self-persecution to never buy anything nice from Macy’s or J.C. Penney? My son has no problem shelling out $60 for Xbox One games. Why do I have such self-loathing related to shopping?
I think it’s my mother, Lorraine, who wore a wooly head scarf around her head. My grandmother called it a babushka. My mom kept her winter jacket for twenty years and had dresses and skirts stored in the basement from the ’40s that we could readily access. We were the first line of vintage clothing in the 1970s in White Bear Lake. My friends would come over and borrow poodle skirts from my mother during ’50s days at the high school. My mother was thrifty. She didn’t fix her teeth because she wanted her children to inherit more money. She went back to work when I was 14, as head nurse at the Ramsey County nursing home, so she could pay for my twin’s and my college. My dad was a 3M-er.
My Leninist-Trotsky roots were bathed in the thriftiness of my Finnish mother, who grew up in the Depression. I believed in a collective society where no one gets an edge financially. I thought it would produce a less selfish, egalitarian society. It wasn’t until I had my first child in 1991 that I embraced a material culture. I bought disposable diapers, onesies, towels, baby blankets, powdered baby formula, toys, and a gauntlet of conveniences to nurture my young daughter. I then became thankful for living in America. I was tired of being against the grain. I didn’t have to endure price wars and shortages like my friends from Bulgaria described.
I now shop online for my son’s casual needs. I just hunted for a good pair of gloves because we have four unmatched pairs at home. I look for quilted shirts, men’s jeans, and a few collectibles like Woody Allen movies on eBay. To live in America is a privilege. I resented being from an upper-middle-class family in the 1970s. I wanted to be among the poor and suffering. I was given that chance in Norfolk, Virginia, and Los Angeles. Now I am just a plain old mom from the Midwest who wants the best for her son. He has the best and has been given the best.
My daughter died on Christmas Day, 1992. Maybe that’s why I somewhat postpone the joy of Christmas in my mind. She was a beautiful, happy child who was delicate and playful. I postponed giving her Christmas gifts even though there was a voice inside my head forewarning me to give the gifts early. She died at 21 months of a failed heart transplant surgery. My gift was surviving. The real gifts come from within. Not last-minute shopping that will temporarily provide comfort to a family member or friend. The gift is here and now and in the anticipation of sharing. I still feel that old St. Nicholas spirit drive up in me at peculiar moments. My tears fall at the sight of a well-lighted Christmas tree. No matter how long the moment lasts, I treasure it to elude any pain.