holidays

Christmas Gift Buying: Did It Really Used To Be More Fun?

As I wandered around shopping for gifts today … online that is, not at the mall… I started to get nostalgic for the good old days when I would stroll purposefully from store to store looking for perfect gifts for my family and friends.

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There were always some “special” gifts to shop for during those years.

When my mother was still living, for example, I would buy her several gifts from four or five stores.  One gift, at least, would be something she wouldn’t expect like a silky bathrobe, a new watch or a beautiful sweater that wasn’t in her budget.

Then there was my girlfriend Patty. She and I exchanged Christmas gifts for many years before deciding a few years ago that we had about everything we needed at this age and that we would only exchange birthday presents.  Before that, however, I was always trying to find the perfect gift for her at boutiques, or Saks or Nordstrom’s. It had to be different, it had to be classy and it had to be great.

(I can’t decide if the gift hunting for Patty or for my mom was hardest – it was probably a tie. Patty said she had the same issues buying gifts for me.)

In the early days of our starry-eyed romance, when we were struggling financially as we started a new company, gift-giving between me and my husband Ray was special. He loved to surprise me; I loved to surprise him. He once bought me a size small vest that could have fit me when I was 10 years old – maybe.  I liked the fact that he saw me as a small woman even though I’ve never been one.  And, I once proudly presented him with an expensive brown cashmere sweater, which he said he loved but never wore.  I now know brown is his least favorite color. We had so much fun shopping for one another that we would even take $20 on Christmas Eve day, ride together to the mall, go our separate ways for thirty minutes and shop for stocking stuffers. So romantic!

By the way, Ray and I have only had one rule over the years:  no more than 5 gifts.  He has always given me at least 8 gifts and I’ve always stuck to the rules (which tells you a lot about us).

Presents under our tree last year – almost all of them for me and Ray. Someone cheated. Hint: It wasn’t me.

Presents under our tree last year – almost all of them for me and Ray. Someone cheated. Hint: It wasn’t me.

And then there were Ray’s two daughters, their husbands and our five grandchildren who came into the picture in the 90’s and 00’s.  It was such fun to shop for all of them! Beautiful sweaters, blouses and jewelry for the girls or sometimes household items like serving platters that they wouldn’t buy for themselves as they started out in their new lives with husbands and babies.  There were also carefully chosen shirts and pullovers for the guys. And, we’d buy toys and more toys for the grandkids. (We still cringe about the time we bought one of the first life-sized dolls that could be “programmed” to talk. It was even able to say Happy Birthday to your grandchild on the correct day of the year. When our granddaughter woke up the day after Christmas and the doll said “Let’s play”, she got scared, said the doll was too bossy and refused to play with it again. Obviously, grandma and grandpa had gone overboard.)

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In my memory, I had a great time searching for all of these gifts, along with presents for my siblings, nieces and nephews, several employees and a few friends. I would go from store to store, smiling at little kids on Santa’s lap, enjoying the ringing of Salvation Army bells in the distance, being part of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas crowd, and inhaling chocolate, cinnamon and evergreen scents swirling in the air.

If I’m really honest about this whole gift buying thing, however, I spent a lot of time agonizing over finding the right gifts and even more time getting irritable as my feet started to hurt, as the shopping bags got heavier and heavier and as I stood in line behind people trying to use a $5.00 off coupon that expired two months ago.

And I’m not even going to talk about gift-wrapping, other than to say that Ray would conveniently find something else to do far from the house when I started getting out the paper, bows and scotch tape. No amount of Christmas music or scented candles ever got me in a good enough mood to wrap what seemed liked hundreds of gifts at the dining room table with an aching back.

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So, maybe I’m not that nostalgic. Online shopping is easy and fast. I can quickly scan a lot of options, I can use an auto-fill function to put in my address and credit card numbers, and I can even get things gift-wrapped and sent directly to my relatives and friends – with delivery tracking included.

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These days, the teenage grandchildren want gift cards anyway.

Ray’s daughters, now in their 40’s,  have all the clothes and household items they need, so restaurant or entertainment gift cards purchased online seem to work well for them and their husbands.

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Ray and I still buy gifts for each other, but let’s just say we give each other a lot of coaching and “hints” about what to buy, then act surprised on Christmas morning. By now, he knows the clothing brands I like, and I know his. I tell him every year that I’m allergic to wool. He tells me every year he doesn’t need underwear. We get gift receipts. We talk about how many gifts to exchange. He still doesn’t stick to the rules. We buy about half of our presents for each other online and watch carefully for the boxes being delivered to our door so that only the addressee opens them.

So, I’ve been asking myself. Do I really miss shopping malls? Santa? Salvation Army bell ringers? Mingling with busy shoppers in various states of good and bad cheer?

Not so much.

But what I do miss is coming home exhausted but satisfied after finding those few perfect gifts for the very special people in my life – gifts chosen with love and care and sore feet!

Cathy Green

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Hurrah – It’s December!

I am really hoping we can go back to being fabulous this December.  That means understated but caring buying, sending good wishes by any means possible and respecting any approach to celebrating the religious or non-religious meaning of the ending year, and the start of a new one.  And of course, enjoying the heck out of YOUR traditions from stringing lights to giving to charity.

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November can be a cruel month.  Remember November 22, 1963 and President Kennedy’s assassination?  Of course you do.  It is a classic, tragic, shared boomer memory.  President Kennedy’s death united us all.  And much of what we began to understand as “fabulous” was defined by his young widow’s grace and dignity in her own, and the country’s, loss.  Jackie was a woman many of us began to admire greatly for her public restraint and calm.  Of course she was devastated, but she was private in her grief.  If social media existed, we can’t imagine Jackie sharing anything but short poignant statements and calls for healing.

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This November’s election was the shocker of our political lives.  Whether you are a Trump or Clinton voter, things this month have been tense, weird, and more than a bit confusing.

I never prayed so much for help to NOT SAY what I so desperately wanted to say; and, for the wisdom and guidance on what to say to my friends and family no matter how they voted. I had a few harsh words with one of my closest friends which I quickly regretted. A few minutes on social media demonstrated that standards of being elegant, restrained, and otherwise fabulous were much less common if not non-existent.  Seeing some “reactions” to events this month, made me, the eternal optimist of human positive behavior, feel fabulousness was perhaps a lost dream that our own daughters, nieces, and grands would never be able to emulate.  Yikes – November must end!

But wait, there’s more – as they say on infomercials. My business partner called to tell me he had been injured over Thanksgiving weekend, on the mend but in pain.  A member of my family who shall remain nameless had one of those dysfunctional family holidays that may win Bill and my annual prize for the most ridiculous family event in 2016.  A close business associate shared that her company was turning upside down with a complete new CEO and team — she’s the CIO trying to keep it all working.  Being fabulous? Taking things in stride? Seeing humor and hope in every event – however odd, hurtful or just stupid?  November has tested us.

But, as noted, I am THE eternal optimist.  I believe we CAN be fabulous again this December by getting quiet before all the hoopla and listening to our higher selves whisper to us – ‘it is all OK’.  We need to remember fabulous women we admire – from Notorious RBG – the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, to the shining star Jennifer Lawrence, who keeps showing Hollywood that women do deserve the same rewards as men, and are still at full speed fabulousness.  There are women being fabulous in business, non-profits, politics, fashion, and just leading ordinary lives.  What they all have in common is calm, grace and a focus on what they can control; and most importantly in this self-important, post-truth time, not taking themselves too seriously.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Jennifer Lawrence

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Jennifer Lawrence

My dear friend Betty and I spoke this morning.  We agreed it is time to “think local” and get involved – seriously involved – in what matters to us.  That and of course, continuing to try to feel great, look great, and give thanks for all our blessings – while having a sense of humor about ourselves.  People who lack a sense of humor and can’t laugh at themselves will never be fabulous.

I never thought I would be looking forward to the rush: writing too many Christmas cards, shopping and trimming the tree. Whatever the world is up to, I am not reading about it as avidly as I did pre-November.  Rather I am sending light and prayers to help situations I cannot control.  Then I sit down and have a great glass of wine, alone or with friends – and strategize about new ways to keep being fabulous in December.

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Here’s to tinsel – shiny but completely uncomplicated!  And Netflix, thank God we can binge watch series’ between stressful moments.  Happy December everyone!!

Patty

Merry Christmas! Don’t Underestimate Gift-Giving

Many people are now donating to charities in lieu of gifts and cards. Who can argue against this trend? That said, I have learned not to undervalue giving gifts that are personal, demonstrate insight into who the recipients are, and make those recipients feel special.

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One year when things were particularly hectic (still working full time) I thought of doing the “charity in lieu of gifts” thing. I still sent cards, but skipped the friend gifts and sent them a notice of our choice and information on the charity. Someone I love very much told me she was disappointed because she looked forward to the gifts I had given her. My righteous choice didn’t make the season merry — just easier for me. I should have known better.

The art of giving includes knowing who to splurge on, who to call and talk with and who to just send a card and a funny note. Another lesson learned: I don’t have to keep the giving “even” – just personal.

 

Even re-gifting is OK if you know the recipient would like such a gesture. Every once in awhile I give someone a book that I bought and loved – and in that book I write a note to them about why I chose to give it to them for Christmas. Time and effort absolutely count.

Here are a few more thoughts on holiday giving for women like Cathy (fellow blogger and friend) and myself who are or trying to be fabulous even if they are exhausted by the holidays!

  • Do send a card, personal note, or give a call to all relatives and close friends over 65 — they will appreciate it and really want to put your greeting up on their bookshelf or hear your voice at the holidays. If you can afford it, send them a gift too like flowers. It will bring joy.
  • Buy a small thoughtful gift for people who have made your life special this year. This should not become a permanent forever list but a list that should change yearly. Tell them why you wanted to get them something and how their kindness made you feel — it will touch their heart.
  • You may have to choose between sending each cousin a card/note (even the ones who never are in touch) OR instead sending something small to your elderly single neighbor, your hairdresser, or favorite store owner. Always choose the people who have helped you or need you — you are not living somewhere and interacting with people for no reason. Your cousins likely don’t care.
  • When in doubt over gift-giving, here is a “test” I give myself. I think of what would make this person smile, or what she or he would want, need or be thrilled by. If I do not care what they think, want, need or would be thrilled by then I pass.

Yes, there is too much commercialism – but don’t be miserly either. Fabulous means joyful, generous, caring and fun. Oh damn — I can’t just get those Starbucks Gift Cards for everyone I know if I follow my own advice.

There Is a Middle Ground to Celebrating the Holidays

Tis the season to be merry; or flipped out; or hugely annoyed. Or ’tis the season to be simply working like heck on achieving that “Zen approach” to holiday bliss that usually alludes us. Let’s agree to ignore the discussions and musings about the standards that have slipped away. No, you will not get thank you notes. Yes, you will get email greetings, and too many photos of gorgeous children. And yes, some people will be stupid and cheap.

Back to Zen work – breathe deeply and then say out loud: “om shanti”.

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What makes a woman fabulous at the holidays?

Yes, looking good — a new slinky dress or a pair of ‘holiday wow’ shoes can’t hurt. Please skip anything that is a sweatshirt and has decorations on it. I had one with reindeer – it is resting in peace. And new candles and self-pampering treats never hurt.

But, while self-love is a golden rule of ‘fabulous’, this really is the time of year to focus on others. Fabulous at the holidays means using all that over-60 knowledge to be part of the happiness of the season – no matter what is going on in your own life. Don’t be a doormat (never fabulous) but don’t buy into the “no one cares anyway” dark approach either. Over-60 women have hurt ourselves by acting through many things — but at the holidays, a little (or a lot) of acting may be just the right thing.

The danger for over-60 fabulous women is to give into one or the other extreme styles that seem to be trending. One of those extremes I will call the “had it up to here and not going to do anything style”. These women dump holidays by the side of the road completely and make it clear they don’t approve of all the “waste” or “overindulgence”. They decide making themselves happy is what is most important. Being selfish, letting yourself completely off the hook, or being cheap is never fabulous. At the holidays it is obnoxious.

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The other extreme are those over-60s traditionalists that can’t think of having any holiday celebration that is not filled to the brim with all that was, or all that has to be. This being the case even if half the family doesn’t care or is bored silly. Let’s call these women the “holier than thou holiday scolds”. These women disapprove of any celebrations not focused on their own religious beliefs or narrowly defined explanation of how to have a “true” Hanukkah or a “true” Christmas or true Solstice celebration. For this style there is no “season” but rather a narrow view of what makes for proper celebrations — and they are going to a place of worship, a bar, or nowhere but their kitchen where everyone agrees with them.

 

The holidays, with all its drawbacks (overdone, sad for many, over-commercialized, too much food and drink, and just an excuse to shop till we drop) are a time when everyone who matters should rise to the top of our lists, and everyone that doesn’t can wait till 2014.

We should use some of those old 60s tunes to get us in the mood — the Chipmunk Song anyone?

Additional photo credits here, here and here.

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