By RON HART
We finally did in the Hart family what I have secretly wanted to do for years: we agreed not to exchange Christmas presents. Sadly, we decided this a bit late as I took off Dec. 9 to shop, unknowingly on “Call In to Work Gay Day,” which, along with my stylish new tighter-fitting pants, has done nothing to quell the office rumors about me.
While it took some family members time to get their heads around the idea, not giving gifts this year has worked remarkably well. Those in the family who opposed it when we sent out e-mails telling them that we were not going to get into the one-upmanship of present buying this year have now really embraced the idea. We suggested donating to charity, helping a needy local family, volunteering, or perhaps pooling our Christmas money and bidding for that U.S. Senate seat in Illinois on behalf of a family member.
The idea that Christmas has become a pressure-packed ritual of buying for our family in return for them buying for us in equal measure misses the intent. When did bringing myrrh and frankincense morph into buying X Boxes and Wii for bratty kids?
So many families have more than they need. Want is often disguised as need. And if we want something, we tend to get it for ourselves.
The awkward annual ritual of having to strategize and anticipate what family members and friends want for Christmas is a no-win proposition. Then, we get in our SUVs and head to crowded malls (which historically do not have sales before Christmas to take advantage of this) to buy Chinese-made trinkets or poorly fitting clothes for family.
Then comes the ritual of the giving of the gift. The only thing acted out in America more around this time of year than a Charles Dickens play is the “just what I wanted” face that 90 percent of us feign. The pressure of having to like a present may be worse than the self-induced pressure to please someone with a gift. I find both unnecessarily stressful in equal measure.
Partially to blame is the advertising of Madison Avenue. Ironically, the liberals in New York say they oppose everything capitalistic, yet they make commercials implying that you are a jerk if you do not hand your mate keys to a Lexus with a bow on it sitting in the driveway. If you want to give your spouse a car that is fine with me since O.J. Simpson will be making the license plate. But being guilted into buying by overly suggestive ads is not good. Perhaps this explains Americans’ problem with debt.
I have always found hypocritical the way the New York Times will have a maudlin article about, say, starvation in Darfur juxtaposed with a Saks Fifth Avenue ad for a $1,250 pair of Gucci shoes. It seems ironic that the two men most admired by the liberals at the New York Times are Hugo Chavez and Hugo Boss. Too many folks will buy that $1,250 pair of shoes to wear to a fundraiser that they paid $100 to attend that is way more social than charitable.
Men are particularly hard hit this time of year. Since we clearly have no idea what women want the other 364 days of the year, it is unrealistic to expect that we will guess right on Christmas. Men have wasted more time doing this than video buffering.
In the vein of “What would Jesus do?” I think we all need to evaluate what Christmas really is and we have allowed it to become. Christmas seems to have evolved into something more like “What would Paris Hilton do?”
Perhaps we are too willing to live for the here and now and to go into debt for things we do not need. We must take care of those who we know need the basics of life first. If Hurricane Katrina taught us anything, it is that our dysfunctional government cannot take care of the citizens of this country. Those who can afford a $400 game that our kids will toss aside before the last football bowl game is over should consider how good it would be to give that money to an efficient soup kitchen in their area.
Ron Hart is a Southern libertarian columnist who writes a weekly column about politics and life. He worked for Goldman Sachs and was appointed to The Tennessee Board of Regents by Lamar Alexander. Hart is an investor in a real estate venture in Wilson County. His email: RevRon10@aol.com.