American in Spain

Why Christmas Is No Longer Special

January 6, 2011

thumbToday is Kings Day, the traditional gift giving day in Catholic Spain. For people who prefer Christmas to be more about Baby Jesus than the North Pole, it makes more sense to give gifts on Epiphany, when tradition says that the Wise Men allegedly gave gifts to Jesus.

This morning, my mother-in-law articulated a concern I've been feeling but had yet to put into words:

Christmas isn't special anymore. It used to be more special.

When someone says something like this, my immediate reaction is to attribute it to the Golden Age Fallacy, the fallacious idea that life was generally better in the past. Normally this is because we forget just how creative and free and exciting it is to be a child, so, looking back, we see our childhood as a time of simplistic ideals and, gosh, is life complicated now as an adult! That and the fact that the media has built up Christmas as being so incredibly special that the reality can never live up to our expectations.

But I think there's more.

What happened to Christmas is that the general level of wealth and consumerism has increased. I am a really difficult person to buy a gift for. Why? Because whenever I want something in a reasonable gifting price range, I just buy it for myself. When people have less disposable income, then gift giving is more meaningful.

Whenever my daughter sees her Spanish grandparents, which is about every 2-3 weeks, they always have a new toy and a bunch of candy for her. No wonder Christmas (or Kings Day) morning isn't special! This is due partly to Nora being an only granddaughter, partly to an increase in availability of cheap Chinese plastic crap, and partly to an increase in disposable income across the Western world. I don't blame them for seeing a toy in a shopwindow for only 5€, 10€ or 20€ and saying, "Ooh, Nora would like this!" The fact that we all have an extra 20€ to spend on unnecessary luxuries is wonderful, and I wouldn't change it for anything, but it's definitely making special gift giving holidays less special.

My daughter is not yet two, so she doesn't really understand what it is to anticipate future events and possessions, a mental skill upon which much the excitement of Christmas is based. I very much look forward to experiencing the magic of Christmas through her eyes in the coming years.

I still think, however, that for those of us that are lucky enough to not live from paycheck to paycheck, the best gift, for adults, is a goat.