Excerpt from “Zero Budget Christmas”

Here’s another excerpt from my book Zero-Budget Christmas. Buy it now and you can read it while you’re camping out in front of Best Buy tomorrow night!

I don’t want it to sound like we don’t look forward to or enjoy Christmas. In our family, we love Christmas more than any other holiday. My sister loves Christmas so much it probably would count as a diagnosable psychological disorder along the lines of people who become obsessed with astrological events.

We love Christmas so much, in fact, that we tend to go a little nuts in the gift-giving department.

I think we can trace this back to my mom, who was the source of all Christmas spirit in the family. Giving was an important part of her life. I mean, just the act of giving. It was important to her in the way that, say, money or status is important to other people. It was how she marked the success of her days.

This characteristic showed itself most brazenly on holidays, including birthdays. My dad said that no one in his life had made a big deal about his birthday until he met my mom.

Even when I, as a child, didn’t think that the Easter Bunny was that big a deal (I knew he was pure minor league compared to Santa), Mom would not let an Easter pass without giving my sister and me a basket full of chocolate bunnies and jelly beans and little plastic toys guaranteed to break upon human contact.

But she definitely found the greatest fruition of her giving impulse in Christmas. If Christmas didn’t exist, Mom would have invented it just to have an excuse to give away gaudy amounts of gifts. The older my sister and I got, and the more financially secure Mom and Dad got, the higher became the pile of gifts under the tree. Eventually the underside of the tree was no longer expansive enough to contain Mom’s generosity, and it spilled out from under the tree and took over half of the dining room.

Now, as financially stable as Mom and Dad were, we never made it to “rich.” During my childhood, the family made it from upper-lower-class all the way to lower-upper-middle-class — just shy of upper-middle-class but firmly entrenched somewhere in the general middle-class area. So, it wasn’t like we were getting Gucci massage chairs and personalized llamas for Christmas. But as far as the wants of middle-class American teenagers went, I think my sister and I made some pretty respectable Christmas hauls. Mom was smart with her money and got a lot out of her Christmas shopping dollar. And clearly, when it came to giving gifts to her family, she put a lot of stock in volume.

Her giving got so voluminous, in fact, that it gave rise to the concept of the “bonus bag.” At some point during the run-up to Christmas, Mom would just get tired of wrapping presents. So she took everything she had left for each of us and just threw it into a giant garbage bag and tied it closed with a festive red ribbon. “And here’s the rest! Merry Christmas!” she would say as she dropped the garbage bags into our laps.

Of course, that attitude rubbed off on all of us. I was careful with my money as an adult, but Christmas was where I kind of let things slide.

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