There’s a stealth David-and-Goliath battle being waged at my house. I’m David, the puny, anti-consumerist mom. Goliath is a mythical reindeer with a perfect red nose, his own theme song and he’s toting a sleigh full of shiny presents. I’m the nag; he’s the stag. Needless to say, my three-year-old daughter, Plum, is cheering for Rudolph.
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As an eco-conscious, no-gift buzz kill who’s Jewish to boot, Christmas is a particularly fraught time for me. Though my husband, Ben, converted to Judaism, said conversion doesn’t extend to his family. I try to push back against the parade of well-intended clutter that comes at us, but I seem to be losing the fight. Every year I tell everyone no presents, but they ignore me, because having a no-gifts rule is like telling people you don’t want dessert: yeah, right.
I’ve tried to set our gifting tone by giving reusable or edible things, in the hopes that those around us will join in. In place of store-bought presents, I started making granola with Plum when she was born. (Admittedly, I did most of the heavy lifting that first year.) We spend a weekend producing a huge batch of the stuff and packaging it into cute, recycled gift boxes. Yes, it’s a bit twee (organic! locally made!), but Plum loves the smiles that greet her when giftees see the label with my goofy rendering of her face. Of course, this is all about to change.
Where Plum was once content to give and receive flowers (OK, weeds) from our garden, she now eagerly awaits the wonders she’s requested. And how can I fault her? I remember coveting the yule tidal wave of presents that washed over my friends on Christmas morning as a kid. Hanukkah, with its promise of eight days of token delights, never matched the largesse of my friends’ Christmas hauls.
I understand that these formative years of stuff-wanting are a near inevitability. And yet I still believe we can temper them. I know that a weekend spent arm deep in buttery oats won’t replace my daughter’s desire to get flashy, packaged things for people — or expect them for herself — but I do see her feeling proud and happy when we make something together. Especially something she can sneak handfuls of into her mouth.
Pounding on my anti-materialist drum seems to be working. When my son, Teddy, was born this fall, an acquaintance sent a giant, generous gift bag full of plastic bibs and bobs we already had. And while Plum really wanted to unwrap the basket on her little brother’s behalf, she understood when I told her we had to pass it on to people who could better use yet another sippy cup or rattle. Meanwhile, she saw the tired joy with which I greeted another friend’s delivery of a homemade macaroni casserole and peach galette. Even a three-year-old votes for peach pie over plastic.
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I know that I’ll have to adapt as Plum’s desires swell in tandem with her growing knowledge of the rhinestone-studded world around her. And I also know I’ll have to be polite when grandparents shower her with the stuff I refuse to buy. But at the same time, we’ll keep making granola. And now, with her baby brother on the scene, perhaps a little something from him, too. I’m thinking dehydrated fruit snacks.
Sarah Lazarovic is an artist in Toronto. She has two kids and way too much stuff.
A version of this article appeared in our December 2013 issue with the headline "Mama Scrooge," p. 62.