First of all, I was baptized and raised as a Christian, so I call it Christmas and always will think of it as Christmas. It’s not “the holidays” to me. It’s the season for Christmas lights and Christmas decorations and a Christmas tree and even some Christmas carols. Including “Adeste Fideles.” That’s my personal heritage.
However, more and more, Christmas is simply a time of year when I try to do the minimum that is socially acceptable, and bag the rest of it. Our family situation is that none of us gives gifts anymore. Lack of vast amounts of money to waste, lack of lots of young children who hope for presents, and also, lack of false pride. I am proud to say that my family members (and friends) don’t try to front with each other, or pressure each other into a spiral of unwise spending. Some of us give a gift or two informally, but these are all modest (under $15) and casually delivered at random moments. A book, a calendar, that sort of thing. There is no more presents-under-the-tree ceremony. I’ll miss it. I was the last holdout, for years carefully shopping and then going into orgies of wrapping. But no more. I didn’t buy any gift wrap in 2009 and I’ve got plenty left from prior years. Only there’s nothing to wrap. It’s over, and I’m not fighting reality.
My major stress originates with the traditional holiday baking. I’m still baking cookies and pies and tarts (yes, of course I make all these from scratch). But it’s a struggle against reality. Everybody I know is dieting or else does not want to eat officially unhealthy foods (white flour, white and brown sugar, real butter). So who is there left to bake for? And as for ingredients, I’ve tried whole wheat flour in several incarnations and it makes a lousy cookie. I’ve experimented with cutting sugar and fats, replacing them with nothing or with applesauce or whatever, and that produces a lousy brownie with the heft of a chiffon cake. (Never heard of a chiffon cake? Too bad you missed the 1950s. They had desserts then. With frosting.) And there is the hassle of replacing sugar with supposedly safe substitutes only to discover that there isn’t a substitute that someone on the Web isn’t claiming is toxic. And don’t get me started on baking with substitutes for wheat flour. There’s not much joy left in this traditional Christmas endeavor except the physical pleasure of handling the ingredients and making something edible out of them. Which no one wants to eat. In the next few years, I may finally stop baking entirely.
But even though I am not buying Christmas presents, and the baking is tailing off, I am still spending money regardless of my cash flow, and that of course causes stress. I bought a new lawn tractor this week. My 20-year-old Craftsman tractor was pronounced dead at last. So now I have a new one. Brakes that work! An engine that doesn’t smoke! A mower deck that doesn’t drag on the ground! This winter will be fun. I use the tractor all season to haul wood, so that’s why I bought it now.
Unfortunately, a lawn tractor is expensive. Start at $1,000 and go up, way up. I didn’t. Go up, that is. My John Deere dreams are fated to remain fantasies, I fear. I went for low-end practical and no frills. And yet another credit card balance transfer in my future again, I expect. This is not my ideal way of paying for major purchases, but in this economy, considering my cash flow (and those still locked-up CDs I won’t be able to and am not willing to touch for months) it is practical. What I find humorous about it this time around is that Sears was not offering a six-month or one-year payment plan as they often do, and which their employees told me is offered through Citibank. So when I get the bill and I balance transfer this to one of my credit cards, Citibank won’t be in the running. (Because it would be in effect a Citi-to-Citi transfer, and they don’t allow them.) Citi’s rivals will get my balance transfer fee. It would have been smarter for Citibank to offer that six-month deal directly through Sears, but huge corporations aren’t very flexible even when there is an easy profit to be made. They are massive and I am not, and they won’t make any adjustments for me.
That’s why I am content to work this system in my favor as I can, and will feel no sadness or guilt when our government finally, years from now, allows Citibank and its ilk to die. Or Sears goes the way of other classic American corporations. Compare them to ocean liners if you will. Eventually too big to move with agility. Hard to slow down or turn around. A dying breed, or rather, a product that was once cutting edge and now is merely specialized (cruise ships, oil tankers, and container ships). Even though I still do use credit, I can see our mammoth credit systems coming to a natural end of their cycle and with it their ruthless hegemony over us. What comes next I can’t guess. But something will, and I won’t shed a single tear when it happens.
I’m much more likely to sigh over not baking apple pies anymore.