Wednesday June 7th 2023

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‘Tis The Season To Be Distressed. Or Not.


Despite what marketing executives would have us believe, the Holiday Season is not a warm, carefree, cozy time for many, if not most of us. It is a season packed with stress—emotional stress, time stress, expectation stress, financial stress—the list goes on, much of it related to gift-giving.

A lot of our gift-giving is about wanting others to love us, or our own self-esteem. How many of the grandparents reading this, feel like buying gifts for a grandchild is a competition with the other set of grandparents? Or, are you parents competing with an ex-spouse for children’s love? Would you like to stop the whole family gift exchange because it is a financial burden, but your better-off siblings don’t?

Studies show that we get more happiness and long-lasting memories out of experiences rather than material objects. Spend a minute right now and scan your memories. Do you find long gone stuff in there, or do you find time with someone you loved?

One toy I do remember and still have almost 60 years later is an octopus made of scrap yarn from my grandmother. She gave it to me with a name: Priscilla Lavae. We made it together. With 23 cousins, the opportunity to have my own time with Gram was indeed very special. Today when I look down at the countless brown age spots on my hands, I don’t say “Ugh.” Instead I am reminded of Gram and her spotted hands guiding mine while we made Priscilla Lavae.

And, I think of my beloved Uncle Joe… I don’t recall the things he gave me, I remember driving around the mines on the Iron Range or going fishing. He told me jokes and stories, and he was clearly happy to be spending time with his niece. I felt loved. With minimal expense these two adults cemented my adoration of them forever.

One Christmas, a sibling put together a small collection of favorite family recipes as her family gift. I treasure that little handmade booklet. Each time I open it I am reminded of all the cooks who perfected those recipes, and feel so grateful to have it.

This photo taken 66 years ago is the cover of the little cookbook and features my mother, grandmother, and a brother in the foreground. I’m still in the making under that maternity blouse. Photo courtesy of the author.

So, this season, focus on the memory-building experiences. If you are a grandparent, use the gift of your time. Take a drive with your grandchild. Tell stories about their early childhood, their parent’s, or your own childhood. Make something with them and teach them a lasting skill. If you are competing with your ex for your children’s affection, you can be sure the children will remember the competition and not the love. And, bowing to the pressure to spend more money than you want will only create resentment. No happy memories there.

Give the gift of memories to your loved ones and have a truly happy Holiday Season!

Mary Ellen Kaluza is a Certified Financial, Housing, and Reverse Mortgage Counselor.

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