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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Holiday spending: How much is too much?

Published: January 20, 2012
Section: Opinions

Despite the joy of the holiday season, I cannot help but notice the burdening stress of holiday shopping. For some, it seems the entire season has been transformed from a time meant to be spent with family and friends to an insane frenzy of market-driven spending. Our holidays have been utterly commercialized, and many of us do not seem to notice.

In the past, when I have voiced my opinions on the foolishness of overspending during the holidays, I have been labeled a scrooge. Yet, I cannot help but argue that the price tags attached to gifts are by no means any rational testament to the relative strength of a relationship, as some seem so adamantly to believe. Rather, tossing cash away as if it has no value on frivolous gifts that are so generalized demonstrates a lack of effort. Simple gifts that truly speak to an individual’s personality or interests are far more indicative of a genuine relationship.

For example, I unfortunately had to suffer and listen as couples I know discussed the exchange of their holiday presents. Girlfriends may boast about how wonderful their boyfriends are as they flash their new coach purses, only for the relationship to end a few short months later in a cheating scandal, messy tears and residual anger over spending so much on gifts for each other.  Receiving expensive gifts can also be awkward, creating unfair obligations to reciprocate an equally costly gift in return while also creating strained friendships. What amazes me even more is those individuals who manage to max out their credit cards, spiraling into debt during the holiday season.

In my own family, my siblings and I usually do not exchange gifts and, if we do, it is a simple gesture. For instance, a package of my brother’s favorite gum may equate to a birthday gift, while I have been given many homemade cards. When I ask my parents what they would like for Christmas, they adamantly tell me to save my earnings for college tuition bills rather than spending it on unnecessary gifts. As a student managing two part-time jobs, I honestly appreciate my family’s lack of emphasis on gifts.  I’d much rather form long-lasting memories than spend my holidays obsessing over purchasing costly gifts and standing in line at the retail stores.

Even my roommates and I manage to keep the gift exchanges simple but sweet. One of my roommates, for example, made us all necklaces with different charms based on our personalities, and we absolutely love wearing them. I gifted a ridiculous owl stuffed animal in return, a spoof on the Brandeis mascot, and received a cute little planner from my other roommate to keep track of all my classes. Gifts such as these are humorous, useful and truly show how well we have come to know each other.

I am not saying to negate gift exchanges altogether, but I am saying that keeping it simple is far more genuine. Don’t base the degree of someone’s affection on the amount they spent on your gift. If you judge a relationship so strongly on material factors, clearly that is an issue in itself.  When you look back upon your past holidays, whichever it is that you celebrate, which memories come to mind? Do you even remember what gifts you received two years ago? I can honestly say I have absolutely no idea. When I recall past holidays, I remember my grandfather’s nativity set, the delicious food and my loud Italian family crowded around several tables. And that’s the way I think it should be.