Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Five Dollar Christmas

It must have been 1974 or 1975. I was in my full-blown back-to-the-land mode, living in Chicago and planning a late-Spring move to a decrepit farmhouse on 40 acres in Wisconsin. I was very focused on not wasting money—or anything, for that matter—and the prospect of the excess our family exhibited each Christmas was beginning to worry me. Not only did I hate to see my parents and siblings go into debt for a materialistic splurge that no one really needed, I knew I couldn’t meet the gift expectations myself.

Suddenly, it came to me: the five dollar Christmas. I’d convince the family to place an extreme limit on how much each person spent, in the name of rediscovering the real meaning of Christmas. Gifts would be handmade, or hand-me-downs, or thrift shop finds. To my amazement, the family bought the idea, lock stock and barrel. Oh there was some grumbling from my sisters, who were used to getting whole new wardrobes on Christmas morning, but everyone agreed to observe the limit.

I remember buying my dad the paperback edition of The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook for $4.95. (In the first throes of the organic lifestyle, I was sure my parents were eating too much meat and over-cooking their vegetables, and dad did most of the cooking.) But it’s what he gave me that I’ll always treasure. He made a trip down to Southern Indiana, to the farm where he was raised and asked my uncle if he could scavenge around in the barn. There he found it—the two-man saw he had used in the summer of 1933 to cut wood and make enough money to travel to the Chicago World’s Fair that fall. It was a gift to say he supported my “move to the land,” and an affirmation of the love we both held for Chicago. I still have it today; it hangs on the wall above my desk reminding me of the payoff that comes from hard work. And it didn’t cost a dime that Christmas.



At 6:19 PM, Anonymous Cousin Patty said...

Michael, What a great story. I have convinced my siblings to keep gifts between $10&15. It will be interesting to see what happens. My brother-in-law is balking that you can't but anything for that. Hope to see you, I know where to find some very nice $3.49 shiraz!

At 9:47 PM, Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

I sure wish I could get away from the rat race in Detroit and move to a rural area. Great Christmas idea.

At 9:46 PM, Blogger Freudian Slip said...

What a cool idea :)

We sure do get carried away with gifts sometimes, things start to lose meaning.

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous craftmatic bed said...

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