I was doing some Christmas shopping at Borders, and at the checkout I saw this tiny felt giftbag with a penguin on it, meant to hold a giftcard. “Oh!” I thought. “How cute! So-and-so would really like this bag!” And it was on sale for 50% off—only $2.
Luckily I caught myself, like so many practical women before me I realized that the wrapping paper from last year was perfectly good enough for this year’s gifts. Because if we don’t watch it, we’ll spend $2, and $2, and $2 again, until we’ve spent $40 or more dollars on useless Christmas crap that will probably be thrown away.
Retailers are cunning that way. I once read a famous copywriter who said that there is a psychology of selling, where if someone makes one purchase they’ll be in the mood to purchase additional, unplanned items.
I love Christmas, and I know most of the readers of this blog love it, too. But part of what I really love is seeing the same items over and over again as I get older. The collections people acquire over the years—the sentimental items, worth money or maybe not. On my mother’s side of the family it would be these Santa mugs, placed on the room divider between the kitchen and living room, from probably the 1950s, that acquired chips over years of handling. As a child I would step into my granparents’ house during Christmas break and see those mugs, and know I was in for a few days of uncensored sweets, hanging out with my best-friend cousins, sweet pickles, and of course my loving grandparents and family. Those mugs still remain in my family, at a beloved aunt’s house.
On my father’s side of the family it would be an electric candelabra I would see in my grandparents’ window as we drove up to their Kansas City home at night. I would know that both my grandparents would be there in their cardigan sweaters to greet me, that there would be delicious chocolate chip cookies, and that if there was snow, I’d be sledding with my cousins on slopes so dangerous we could give ourselves concussions. I think my grandmother probably still puts this candelabra out at Christmas.
If there is a higher purpose in our severe recession, I think it is to remind us that there are more important things than money, and we should be thankful for the things we have. That if we give them a polish, we can see them as if new again.
Because the crappy light-up Santa tree topper, which doesn’t even have a face anymore, bought in 1965 (making that up) for 50 cents, proves so much more valuable with the memories it acquires than a newer, snazzier tree topper on sale at Macy’s.