Merry Christmas! — if you celebrate Christmas. Whether or not you do, keep reading, because this post is for you.
We humans have craved winter holidays (like Christmas) ever since we figured out how to make fire. They’re about surviving the long darkness.
What sustains us in the cold, hard winter? What depletes us?
Sustenance holds our lives together. Real food. Homes we want to come home to. Clothes that warm us. Shoes that support our locomotion. Work that pays our way in the world, hopefully work we feel good about doing. Sustenance.
Moreover, sustenance holds up the quality of our lives. Arms we want to be held in. Books that expand our minds. Music that expands our hearts. Hospitality that we extend, or receive. All of these are sustenance.
Gift-giving was invented to remind us that we sustain each other.
We give presents, whether at Christmas, Hanukkah or other times, to remember that we’re connected to each other. We need each other. At their best, gifts symbolize that we are each others’ sustenance.
But gifts that we can’t afford deplete us. Millions of people have dug themselves deeper into debt this Christmas, or Hanukkah, etc., by buying gifts on credit.
I have empathy. Many of you know that I credit-carded myself into a bankruptcy back in the 90’s. I have intimate knowledge of how seductive credit cards are. Using them feels great in the moment.
Buying on credit seems like the obvious solution, the strategy that makes our plans move forward like clockwork.
Credit cards help us look good and maintain game-face.
Yet, when we debt in order to give, gifting becomes anti-sustenance. It becomes depletion.
Gifts we can’t pay for with what we currently have mean that we’re pretending we are materially richer than we are. We are training others to expect things from us that aren’t realistic. We’re not learning how to give gifts we can afford.
The credit card interest we pay over time means we end up paying much more than the items were ever worth. And a high percentage of Christmas gifts, especially children’s gifts, end up in land-fill within a year. The earth’s resources get depleted with both the production and disposal of unneeded items.
Riding a mainstream Christmas-consumption train that is fueled by credit cards makes us poorer in what matters. It depletes us rather than sustains us.
Let’s focus instead on what truly sustains us in the winter darkness: relationships, integrity, home, connection to nature, each other, and that which is greater than ourselves.
If you’re really brave and you’ve received a holiday gift you know represents debt for the giver, consider offering, in private, to return the gift to support their solvency. You could suggest sharing an experience together, instead. Even if the giver declines, you’ll have helped him or her see that a different path is possible than gifting via debting.
If you or someone you care about has burdensome credit card debt, here are five tips on breaking free of credit cards.
It’s 9:30 a.m. here on Christmas morning, time for my husband Thor and I to give some simple gifts to each other. Later, we’re hosting friends and family for dinner. We have zero debt and a strong financial net worth, despite both being very dollar-poor earlier in our lives.
Being rich in what matters involves having the power to change our habits, and change our lives. Next week I’ll write a New Years post on a practical, completely doable way of creating the change you want in your life.