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Common cents for the holidays

Posted: December 19, 2008 8:54 p.m.
Updated: December 20, 2008 4:55 a.m.
 

I'm greedy when it comes to Christmas presents. And this year, I wanna give more presents than anyone else gives.

That's right, I'm a greedy giver. After all, giving is better than receiving.

But every year I say I want to give more presents than everyone else gives, and every year I end up giving less than others. And I always feel guilty about it.

Last Christmas, my wife and I attended a holiday gathering with some "couples" friends. We all agreed not to give any gifts to each other so everyone could save some money. Instead, we'd just enjoy each other's company for the holidays.

My wife and I honored the agreement. We showed up empty-handed and made our presence known, ready to enjoy each other's company as planned. Our company showed up with gifts in hand and made it known that my wife and I were the only people without presents to give.

Our friends were more than generous.

I was furious. After all, giving is better than receiving.

Many years back, my extended family decided to put together a big ol' fun-filled family-style Christmas Eve gathering. Someone in the family (who has yet to reveal his or her identity) created a gift exchange as a means to save money, where each member of the family was designated to buy for just one other person, an individual assigned to each person through word of mouth.

As it turned out, the younger kids somehow got double the gifts, and the older kids didn't get any gifts at all. My sister and I were among the kids who didn't get a gift. Unbeknownst to the two of us, she and I were supposed to exchange gifts, which was bizarre since we usually exchanged gifts on Christmas Day anyway.

The family elders clashed over who was supposed to give who a gift, who spent more money, who didn't spend enough, etc. These grown adults in conflict made the Cuban Missile Crisis look like a bloodthirsty battle between snails.

I told everyone not to fuss on my behalf, that I wasn't upset I didn't receive a gift.

I was instructed to mind my own business while the adults argued about my missing present.

And just before my elders stormed out the door, wishing each other a merry life, some of them handed out cash to those of us who didn't receive gifts, vying to be named the biggest giver.

Yes, that was the Christmas I learned that he who gives most wins. That's when I learned giving is much better than receiving.

This Christmas season marks an all-time low in personal finances for nearly everyone I know. I heard through word of mouth among family members that we're to get creative with gift giving this year.

Some of my relatives are planning to make gifts for each other instead of buying them. Friends laid firm ground rules that there will be absolutely no gift exchange. Even some of the die-hard gift-givers I know will be settling for pulling names from a hat to cut down on the number of gifts they have to buy. I've already received the name of the person I'm to treat with a present.

I'm glad my family and friends aren't going to break the bank trying to give gifts they can't afford. I really don't need anything. And I certainly can't fund a ton of stuff for others.

But that's not going to stop me from being the biggest giver this year.

I want to be the one who shows up at a gift-less gathering with a Santa Claus bag of joy. I want to be the one who buys for everyone in the group instead of for the one person assigned to me in the gift exchange.

I don't care how much money I have to spend. I'm going to be the biggest giver this year. I'll go as far as to pull my wife and kid down into miserable debt with me.

After all, giving is much better than thinking.

Michael Picarella is a Valencia resident and a proud husband and father. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. To contact Picarella or to read more stories, go to www.michaelpicarellacolumn.blogspot.com.

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