Mighty Jenn (mightyjenn) wrote,
Mighty Jenn
mightyjenn

doesn't it feel like christmas?

How am I not myself?

Sometimes I feel like we are just living the same day over and over. It doesn't matter whether you did anything good or bad on previous days, nor your intentions or destiny in future days, really the sun just rises on the current you and in anticipation of its setting you try to live this day right. The day you saved a life or worked for social justice is the same as the day you bought an SUV or let someone down and today none of them matter. Some days feel distinct though, not just another appearance of the day ball but a special day that marks time for us because we've seen it come before, but not since 365 1/4 day balls ago. Tomorrow I'm going to be doing Christmas day again and it feels so odd not to do it with anyone in my family. It certainly doesn't erase Christmases past, but if life is just a series of time slices, and we can only occupy the current one, then tomorrow changes Christmas for me.

My family is not into Christmas as she is normally celebrated. We're not religious and nowadays there are no kids about usually. And we're even pretty sporadic about the whole gift thing. Really, by backward induction, giving Christmas presents is stupid. I'm not a Scrooge; I love giving gifts. But I prefer to give them at birthdays or, ideally, whenever the hell I feel like it. Birthdays are nice because they are about one particular person at one time, and making them feel special and loved. Christmas gifts have the same goal, but they fail because it's actually about everyone at the same time, and no-one ends up feeling all that special. They end up thinking, "Wow, I wasted a lot of time shopping and spending approximately the same amount everyone else spent on me for gifts we probably won't like as much as what we could have bought ourselves, unless of course you consulted my wish list, or I asked your husband to ask you what you wanted, which basically turns it into an errand devoid of any creativity or imagination. Net gain: negative $, negative time." Really it's true of any holiday with an "exchange" of gifts (um, I guess I'm thinking only of Valentine's Day here, because I can't think of any other gift exchange occasions).

If you'd like a more formal analysis of why Christmas gifts are stupid, allow me:

  • Let x be the present I purchase you and y be the present you purchase me.
  • Cost: {x,y} -> R is the function returning the cost of purchasing a present (a real number).
  • Enjoyment: {x,y} -> R is the function returning the enjoyment (in dollars), or value, the recipient gets from a present.

A recent study shows that on average Enjoyment(of any present) = .8 * Cost(of said present), so purely from the standpoint of economic efficiency, gift-giving, ANY gift-giving, is stupid because of the lost utility of 20% of the purchase price -- no one gets the utility of that cash, except the merchant who sold the gift. UNLESS of course the gift-giver and/or gift-receiver receive an intangible "spirit of giving" benefit with value equal to 20% of the present's cost, which is possible. But I think that when two people give and get a gift from each other too proximally in time, it invites comparison of the cost/benefit variety and it's possible to become aware of the wasted utility in an exchange of equal cost but not necessarily equal value, or value equal to the cost. 'Irrational exuberance' would be an apt characterization, were the term still available.

But here's what I do like about Christmas. I enjoy that it's vacation time I can spend with people close to me, on a day when most commerce is shut down, so we can have a slow, leisurely, quiet day to enjoy each others' company. My family is not the closest or most traditional, but we do have a tradition by default. Most Christmases we spend together we have a nice little routine of remembering at the last minute before the stores close to stock up on booze and some fancy finger food, and then spending the next 40 hours: at home consuming said booze and appetizers, playing board games and watching movies, going out for Chinese or Thai and browsing at Powell's. It's totally not about the gifts, but about the quality T-I-M-E (yes, I just quoted Beyonce and, yes, I do think that it is the most precious gift of all [time and attention from someone you love, not Beyonce quotes]). Anyway, something about our Christmas tradition makes that rising of the day ball seem both new and old and, perhaps irrationally or sentimentally, it feels like we've all been here together forever and maybe we always will be.
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